The Orioles, even after adding a candidate for their rotation on Thursday, continue to look for more starting pitching.
The O’s, according to major-league sources, remain interested in free-agent right-hander Yovani Gallardo, even though signing him would cost them the No. 14 pick in the draft and accompanying bonus-pool money.
General manager Dan Duquette seemed to downplay a pursuit of Gallardo as recently as Jan. 21, telling MLB Network Radio, “The question for us is, ‘Are we willing to give up our first-round pick?’ and so far that answer has been no. … I think we’re going to hang onto that pick.”
The pick, sources say, remains an issue for the Orioles, who have not chosen higher than No. 22 in the past three drafts. But the price for Gallardo could drop to a point where the O’s would believe that signing him would make sense.
The team on Thursday secured one potential solution, acquiring right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne from the Padres for minor-league right-hander Jean Cosme. Right-hander Alfredo Simon, a non-compensation free agent who was with the Orioles from 2008 to ’11, is another starting pitcher in whom the team has shown interest, sources say.
Despaigne, 28, left Cuba to sign with the Padres as an international free agent in 2014. Whether he can succeed in the American League is in question — he had a 3.03 ERA in his first 21 starts with the Padres, but a 6.29 ERA in his last 29, as noted by MLB.com’s Corey Brock.
Two years ago, the Orioles sacrificed the No. 17 pick in the draft to sign free-agent right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract. They could follow a similar path with Gallardo and possibly get him for a much lower price.
The O’s would hold five of the top 100 picks even if they forfeited the No. 14 selection for Gallardo. There also are ways for them to cushion the blow of losing the first-rounder, but each would come with risk.
If the Orioles signed Gallardo to a one-year contract, they could make him a qualifying offer next offseason and receive a compensation pick if he signed with another club.
The comp pick, however, would come after the first round, considerably lower than No. 14. Gallardo also would need to pitch well enough in the rugged AL East to merit the qualifying offer, which likely will exceed $16 million if the current system remains in place next offseason — the expected outcome with the collective-bargaining agreement expiring on Dec. 1.
Another option for the Orioles would be to redirect the money reserved for the No. 14 pick to a top international free agent. The O’s, however, have not been particularly active in the Latin American market in recent years.
As it stands, the Orioles’ Opening Day payroll is projected to exceed $130 million, surpassing the franchise record of $119 million from last season. The team is still looking for a right fielder, and could sign a left-handed hitting free agent such as Will Venable or David Murphy to platoon with Nolan Reimold or Dariel Alvarez.
The O’s already have committed $214.8 million to four free agents this offseason — first baseman Chris Davis, reliever Darren O’Day, catcher Matt Wieters and Korean outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim.