Chris Tillman back with Orioles on $3 million deal

SARASOTA, FLA — One week after pitchers and catchers reported to Sarasota for camp, the Baltimore Orioles have twice the amount of pitchers in their starting rotation than they did seven days ago.

Late Monday morning, MLB Network Insider John Heyman reported via Twitter that the Orioles reached an agreement with 2013 All-Star pitcher Chris Tillman. The 29-year-old right-hander reunites with his longtime ballclub on a one-year, $3 million contract. With incentives, Tillman could earn up to $7 million this season, but that $3 million figure is fully guaranteed.

The news comes four days after Baltimore inked a two-year, $16 million contract with veteran Andrew Cashner, who is already throwing at Orioles camp. Along with Cashner, Tillman projects to join a rotation with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

Tillman has been with the Orioles since the infamous 2008 Erik Bedard trade that sent both Tillman and Adam Jones to Baltimore, along with three other players. From 2012-2014, Tillman went 38-16 with the Orioles, and made an All-Star appearance in 2013. Tillman ended the 2013 season with a 16-7 record, a 3.71 ERA, a career-high 179 strikeouts, and a 1.22 whip in 33 starts (206.1 innings).

In the second half of the 2016 season, Tillman began to experience discomfort in his right throwing shoulder, which turned into right shoulder bursitis. After a 15-day stint on the disabled list, Tillman returned for a handful of starts to end the 2016 season without any noticeable problems. However, Tillman’s shoulder issues continued during last year’s spring training, and he did not make his first start until May 7. Tillman made it through the 2017 season without landing back on the disabled list, but he had by far the worst season of his career. Tillman came out of 2017 with a 1-7 record and a 7.84 ERA in 19 starts (93 innings). His strikeouts fell from 140 to 63, and he gave up 24 home runs in 24 appearances, opposed to allowing 19 home runs in 30 appearances during the 2016 season.

The current status of Tillman’s shoulder is unknown, but Orioles fans will find out what shape Tillman is in when he undergoes the ever-so-daunting Orioles physical. Shoulder problems have prevented previous free agent pitchers from officially signing contracts with the Orioles (Grant Balfour), so it’s still very possible for the Orioles to get cold feet before Tillman officially signs his contract.

If Tillman is healthy, he could certainly play a key role on the 2018 Orioles. Starting pitching was clearly the biggest need entering camp for Baltimore, and a week into spring training they’ve doubled the depth they previously had in the rotation. It’s hard to fathom why the Orioles would bring Tillman back if his shoulder is still bothering him, so hopefully this agreement is a sign that the health of his shoulder is much better than what it was in 2017.

Even though adding two veteran pitchers is a boost, the Orioles still have work to do in the starting pitching department. General manager Dan Duquette has said multiple times that he would like a lefty in his rotation this season. None of the four starting pitchers Baltimore has are southpaws. Neither are in-house fifth-spot candidates like Miguel Castro or Gabriel Ynoa, or any of the top free agent names still on the market, like Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, or Alex Cobb.

Image Credit: Boston Herald

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