There are still more than two months until pitchers and catchers will report to Sarasota for spring training, and that gives the Orioles plenty of time to make additional moves.
Many fans were disappointed by the lack of activity at last week’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, but despite many starting pitchers signing then, there are still a number of quality starters available on the free agent market.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias spoke for about 45 minutes in three separate daily media briefings, and there weren’t a lot of specifics offered.
It’s clear that Elias views the 2023 Orioles as a playoff team. They were only four games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the final wild-card spot. They needed 87 wins for a playoff spot in 2022. There’s no telling how many they’ll need next season.
It’s also clear that Elias knows there’s quite a distance between the Orioles and the New York Yankees, who had the funds to re-sign Aaron Judge to a nine-year, $360 million contract. Two offseasons ago, they had the money to sign one of the game’s best starters, Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract.
“The division that we’re in and the teams that were at the top of the division last year, I think it’s really hard to sit there and chart a course and say we’re likely to win the division,” he said.
“You see teams pop all the time. That’s going to be our goal when spring training breaks. With as daunting as the American League East is, our goal is to make the playoffs. That’s been the stated goal. I also think that our team and our organization is going to continue to get better in 2024 and 2025 and 2026 and 2027.
“I don’t think we want to steal from those teams to juke the odds of the 2023 Orioles getting in the playoffs. We see this as a window. We have to be a little bit careful about how we go about that. That doesn’t mean we’re not looking at trades where we’re either trading prospects or maybe trading players on any good team. We’re being mindful of the next several next years because I think we have a very healthy coming up for us.”
They’re looking at possible trades, but Elias wasn’t necessarily clear about his strategy.
“First and foremost, we’re looking at our 2023 team, our chances of getting into the playoffs, who really helps with that cause, going out into the market to see if we can get deals that line up fairly well,” he said.
“You’ve got to play in the market, so it’s competitive and you’re got to pay the going rate, what we see as guys who will give us a boost. I think we have a lot of internal talent in the organization and especially on the position player side to plan it forward and we don’t want to run into a situation where we’re having to trade some of our core players away because we signed a guy to take his spot.
“It doesn’t make much sense to us right now. We’re still in a very hopeful part of what’s I think is going to be an upward curve here for the organization. I feel great where we’re at. We want to be really careful and strategic about building on this group that we have.”
The Orioles were linked with two pitchers who signed hefty contracts last week, right-handers Taijuan Walker and Jameson Taillon, but it’s clear that those deals were far more and for longer than the team was willing to pay.
The 30-year-old Walker signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Phillies, and the 31-year-old Taillon’s four-year contract is worth $68 million.
Both contracts are far above the deals that were predicted and paying $17 million per year for Taillon and $18 million per year for Walker were above the Orioles’ price range.
There are still a number of serviceable starting pitchers on the market. Carlos Rodón is out of the Orioles’ price range. He’s reportedly looking for a seven-year deal. Others including Chris Bassitt, Nathan Eovaldi, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling, Noah Syndergaard and Michael Wacha are still available.
The markets for Bassitt, Eovaldi and Rodón are quieter than for some of the others who’ve already signed because the team that signs them will need to surrender a draft choice as compensation since they both declined $19.65 million qualifying offers.
Elias said that losing a draft choice was part of the calculation the Orioles would have to consider in deciding whether to sign a player.
He did say the payroll would rise but wouldn’t estimate how much.
“I think we’re going to get into a mode where we find a very solid water level for what the Orioles payroll is going to be,” Elias said. “It’s going to be best done in common with the revenues and attendance going up, which is going to happen when the team gets more competitive.
“Again this isn’t something where we’re going to flip a light switch and get to our max capacity again. I think there were years recently where the team was over its means and when I came in, we were kind of still feeling that from years prior, but that’s in the past now and we’re in a very good spot. I’m extremely confident that we’re going to take the plan to its logical end course, which involves continually increasing the payroll, and it’s going to start this year.”
Gibson vs. Lyles: The Orioles did announce the signing of Kyle Gibson to a one-year, $10 million contract on the first day of the Winter Meetings. That move left some fans wondering about why Gibson was signed instead of simply exercising Jordan Lyle’s $11 million option for 2023.
Gibson is three years older than Lyles but has had a better major league career. His 2022 stats (10-8, 5.05 ERA and Lyles’ 12-11, 4.42) were similar.
Gibson, whose lifetime record is superior to Lyles, allowed 9.4 hits per nine innings while Lyles allowed nearly 10. Both gave up 1.3 home runs per nine innings and their strikeout/walk ratios were similar, too.
The Orioles think that Gibson can mentor a young staff just as Lyles did, and that he’ll take advantage of pitching in Oriole Park and improve on last year’s numbers with an excellent defense behind him. In six lifetime starts, Gibson has allowed just two home runs in 32 2/3 innings in Baltimore, and that’s before the outfield dimensions were changed.
Note: Adley Rutschman is the first Oriole to profit from the new $50 million pool for top players who are not yet eligible for arbitration. Rutschman earned $1,177,555 for finishing second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. The money will be paid by the Orioles and reimbursed by Major League Baseball.
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