BALTIMORE -- While the Orioles crossed a major item off their to-do list over the weekend, in agreeing to terms on a seven-year deal to bring back Chris Davis, the rotation is still a priority.
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said all offseason that the club is interested in upgrading its pitching staff. While the bullpen again looks to be a strength, Baltimore has yet to add a starter with less than a month until camp begins. The O's ranked 25th in the Majors in starting ERA last season, pitching to a 4.53 mark.
The best available option remaining on the free-agent market is Yovani Gallardo, though the right-hander turned down a qualifying offer from the Rangers and would cost the Orioles their first-round Draft pick (No. 14 overall) that they're hesitant to part with. Re-signing both Matt Wieters -- who accepted his qualifying offer -- and Davis already limits a Draft that was setting up to be one of the most important for the organization in recent memory.
On a smaller scale, Baltimore has also been linked to reclamation project Doug Fister, though his reported contract demands are high. Veteran lefty Mark Buehrle could emerge as an intriguing option if he decides to play. Wei-Yin Chen's departure gives the O's an all right-handed rotation as of now and the 37-year-old Buehrle -- on the short list of free-agent lefties -- has not made it clear whether he will retire or pitch in 2016.
There's also potential for the Orioles to add a starter via trade, though one of the teams with the biggest surplus -- the Rays -- is a division rival and could be hesitant to deal within the American League East. San Diego, Arizona and Seattle are also teams that are rumored to be at least listening in on multiple starters.
If the Orioles don't add a viable rotation pitcher, they'll be tasked with covering the loss of their most dependable starter in Chen, who signed as a free agent with the Marlins, and banking on the rest of the rotation to improve. Chen was the only O's pitcher who made a minimum of 10 starts and had an ERA under 4.00 last season, going 11-8 with a 3.34 ERA in 31 games.
So who will step up?
Miguel Gonzalez had been the model of consistency until last season, when he was hampered by injury and went a disappointing 9-12 with a 4.91 ERA. Chris Tillman (11-11, 4.99 ERA) showed flashes of being the Orioles' go-to guy; Ubaldo Jimenez (12-10, 4.11) has been streaky his entire career and is capable -- when he's on -- of being utterly dominant. There's also the belief that Kevin Gausman, 24, will come into his own this season. Gausman, who has shuffled between Triple-A and the Majors the past few years should be a regular fixture in the rotation and able to build on a 2015 campaign in which he went 4-7 with a 4.25 ERA in 25 games (17 starts).
Even if the four mentioned above hold serve, the O's depth will once again be tested. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, who each made their debut last season, will be among the candidates vying for the fifth rotation spot, assuming Duquette doesn't sign a sure thing in the next few weeks.