It’s time for the second part of our monthly mailbag. On Friday, I answered questions about free agency, and now we’ll move on to other topics. Questions may be edited for length, grammar and clarity.
Question: Last season, the Orioles brought in Jordan Lyles and Robinson Chirinos. It seems like they both got a tremendous amount of credit for the Orioles’ turnaround — Lyles being an innings eater and mentoring the young pitching staff, and Robinson getting credit for upgrading the defensive catching and being a mentor to Adley Rutschman.
It seems strange that the Orioles pivoted and let Lyles walk and signed Kyle Gibson for just $1 million less than what it would have taken to pick up Lyles’ option. If these guys were so instrumental in the Orioles’ turnaround, wouldn’t it have been a no-brainer to bring them back? From: Jeff Hobson via Facebook
Answer: Jeff, the Orioles thought Gibson would be better in 2023 than Lyles, and with so few choices left in the free-agent market, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them re-sign him. Chirinos hit just .179 and the Orioles lost 14 of the last 18 games he started in 2022. He’ll be 39 next June, and I think they’d like someone younger to back up Rutschman.
Question: How many prospects are expected to debut in the coming season? From: @ZackAttack8211
Answer: Zack, I think Grayson Rodriguez will be in the rotation to start the season, and I expect infielders Joey Ortiz and Jordan Westburg and outfielder Colton Cowser to debut during the season. I also think reliever Noah Denoyer and perhaps starter Drew Rom will get a look. Perhaps we’ll even see Maverick Handley get a shot at being Rutschman’s backup.
Question: Did it surprise you that Ramón Urías won the Gold Glove at third base? I don’t follow the other third basemen well enough to know. From: @ChicoSalmonFan
Answer: I was astounded that Urías won the Gold Glove over two other noted third baseman, Toronto’s Matt Chapman and Cleveland’s José Ramirez. I’m happy for him, but both played many more games at third than Urías did.
Question: Who is Andrew Politi’s main competition to make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster? From: @jstarkbk
Answer: Jason, Andrew Politi, who was the Orioles’ Rule 5 pick, has an excellent chance to make the club as a reliever. I think his main competition comes from some of those who pitched out of the bullpen last season — Keegan Akin, Mike Baumann, Logan Gillaspie, Joey Krehbiel, Spenser Watkins, Bruce Zimmermann and Nick Vespi, who’ll represent Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Watkins and Zimmermann could compete for a bullpen role if they aren’t in the starting rotation.
Question: How many baseballs didn’t make it over the new left-field wall in 2022 (nearly 30 feet deeper and 6 feet higher) that would have in 2021? From: @KerryPeterson19
Answer: Kerry, according to Jason Bernard, manager baseball research and development for Major League Baseball, there were 57 balls hit this year that would have been home runs in 2021 and 31 were hit by the Orioles.
Question: When is the deadline for settling arbitration cases? From: @PeterDjsazon
Answer: Peter, there are six Orioles who are up for arbitration this year — Austin Hays, Jorge Mateo, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Dillon Tate and Austin Voth. If they haven’t agreed to a new contract by January 13th, they exchange contract figures with the Orioles. Even though they made exceptions last year with Trey Mancini and John Means, they’ve said they’ll go to arbitration if contracts aren’t settled by January 13th.
Question: What’s a reasonable timeline to see John Means back in the Orioles’ rotation? From: @belikemike_14
Answer: At this month’s Winter Meetings, Mike Elias said he expected Means, who had Tommy John surgery in late April, to return this summer. I would say June or July is a reasonable target.
Question: Do teams shop their top farm talent to see what teams might offer or are those players generally just filler pieces in deals for veteran MLB players? Thanks. From: Rick Staley via email.
Answer: Rick, top prospects are never just filler pieces. They’re often the most important part of a deal for a veteran player. It’s much more common for the veteran players to be shopped, and the shopping team asks for top young talent.
Question: How true is the big market/small market teams narrative? Or is it more a question of the owners’ willingness to spend? And, if that is a valid framework, where does the Orioles’ budget rank? From: Ben Schenck New Orleans, LA via email
Answer: Ben, according to Cot’s Contracts, they estimate the Orioles’ Opening Day payroll next year will be $60.6 million, 28th in the major leagues. Other smaller market teams — Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Oakland — are the others in the bottom 5. While Oakland is in a large market, their revenues are low because of a substandard stadium.
The outlier of the small markets is San Diego, which they estimate will have the third largest Opening Day payroll at $229.5 million. The other top 5 teams are the Mets, Yankees, Phillies and Blue Jays.
Question: Are the O’s going to continue with $10 bleacher seats on Monday-Thursdays like last season? From: Fred Andres via email
Answer: Fred, I’m not sure, but I think the Orioles will continue aggressive promotions on Monday-Thursday. As you may have read, Monday-Thursday night games before Memorial Day and after Labor Day will begin at 6:35 p.m.
Question: I know the schedule in the American League East will change as MLB moves to a more balanced schedule. Do you think that change will be advantageous for the Orioles winning more games and making the playoffs? Or is that shift more beneficial to the other powerhouse teams in our division? Or no difference? From: Brad Seeley via email
Answer: Brad, in games against the other four AL East teams, the Orioles allowed 380 runs, an average of five per game. In games against all other teams, the Orioles allowed an average of 3.8 runs. They were 34-42 against the AL East and 49-37 against other teams.
While the other teams also will benefit, I think it helps the Orioles because it will keep their pitching fresher. Allowing fewer runs means fewer relief appearances and a stronger bullpen.
Question: What is the current construction status/eta on the O’s Dominican Republic facility? From: Jon via email
Answer: Jon, Mike Elias addressed that question at the Winter Meetings. “I’m not ready to announce when it’s going to open, but it’s going really well … The construction looks really cool. It’s coming along. It’s very weather-dependent with shipping delays, with Covid. You kind of buckle up for some delays. Other teams that are building have shut down construction. Fortunately, we’ve been able to avoid that. It’s coming along. I think in this coming calendar year, we’re going to start getting in there at some point in time and maybe have programs as part of the [Dominican Summer League] season there.”
Question: As someone who has watched DL Hall climb through the minors, I want to see him succeed as a starting pitcher. With the Orioles not appearing to be spending more money on starting pitchers, do you think Hall gets a chance to earn a spot in the rotation? Or do guys like Austin Voth and Kyle Bradish have an edge? From: Ethan Cruz via email
Answer: Ethan, the Orioles hope that DL Hall will be a starting pitcher in the near future, but I think because of his lack of innings in the minor leagues, it’s hard to project him as a full-time starter in 2023. I think he could start the season in the bullpen or maybe even in the minors. I think Voth and Bradish have an edge as starters to begin 2023, but I think Hall has more promise and that he should be in the rotation sometime during the season.
Question: Even though the Legislature authorized hundreds of millions of dollars for stadium upgrades, and with Governor Hogan leaving office in a few weeks, the Orioles still haven’t signed a lease extension. Something doesn’t add up here. Are the Orioles unwilling to commit to a long-term lease, so as to make the franchise more attractive to a potential buyer? From: Birdman via email
Answer: Joel, I’m not sure what to think. I think a long-term lease will be signed, and I was expecting it to be signed during the latter stages of Governor Hogan’s administration. Your theory about driving up a potential sale price is something I’ve heard before. John Angelos has repeatedly stated that he expects a lease to be signed, and I think it will. I’m just not sure when.
Question: I count 11 Oriole pitchers on the 40-man roster who have started an MLB game. They are not desperate for starters. I know this sounds crazy but I think the Orioles should go to a 6-man starting rotation as early as April 6th. That way they can start both Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. Kyle Gibson will anchor the staff until John Means is ready. I assume Means will be ready 2 to 3 months into the season. Tyler Wells, Dean Kremer, and Kyle Bradish would all be in the rotation. With the exception of Gibson, they all need more major league experience. So why not just give it to them at least for a month or two? From: Mitch via email
Answer: Mitch, if you have six starters, that means you have only seven relievers, not eight. In order to keep them fresh, you’d probably need to option some relievers to the minor leagues, and they’d have to stay in the minors for 15 days. I don’t know that they have enough room on their 40-man roster to keep the relievers fresh. If pitchers go on the 15-day injured list, that complicates roster manipulation further.
Question: Do you think the new rules that will affect pitching and baserunning (pickoff attempts, base size, pitch clock) will cause most pitchers to adopt a slide-step delivery? Seems like it might be the only tool they have to slow the running game somewhat. What do you think those rule changes plus eliminating the shift will do to the average ERA ? From: JR On The Shore
Answer: Jerry, I am intrigued to see how the new rules will affect pitching and the game in general. I am especially intrigued to see if there is going to be a rebirth of the running game, which is something that would make the game more attractive to fans. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the widespread use of the slide step. I think eliminating the shift will make the game fairer, but it won’t have much of an effect on the game. I think the pitching rules you write about will have more effect.
Question: I’m curious why our minor league hitting prospects seem to struggle at the High-A Aberdeen IronBirds. There appears to be a long list of top prospects who had their worst statistics at Aberdeen. I believe this includes Adley Rutschman, Colton Cowser, and maybe too early to say Heston Kjerstad (noting fall ball performance). These guys seem to get promoted even before they show statistical improvement and appear to almost immediately start performing significantly better once they get to Double-A. From: Chris Quinn via email
Answer: Chris, I think this is an excellent question, and it’s something that I’ve wondered about as well. Rutschman played at Aberdeen when it was a Short Season A league in his first weeks in pro ball, and he hit .325 there. Gunnar Henderson, Cowser and Kjerstad all struggled there. Henderson and Cowser did much better when they were promoted to Bowie, and that’s because I think pitchers throw more strikes at Double-A than they do in High-A.
Henderson hit .231 at Aberdeen with a .343 on-base percentage. Cowser hit .258 with a .385 OBP with the IronBirds. I’m guessing that Kjerstad, like Henderson and Cowser, will hit much better at Bowie against pitchers who throw more strikes.
Question: Why so much hand wringing about acquiring more pitching? Bullpen is set. There are at least seven options for a decent starting five, not counting Means. From: Rusty Wallace, Annapolis.
Answer: Rusty, Robert Benedict also has a similar question, wondering if the Orioles should give the young starters time for development.
I count Kyle Bradish, Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer Grayson Rodriguez, Austin Voth and Tyler Wells as possible starters to begin the season along with DL Hall, Spenser Watkins and Bruce Zimmermann. Only Gibson has pitched a full major league season, and while Bradish, Kremer, Voth and Wells pitched well last season, only Kremer threw as many as 125 major league innings.
When Means comes back, the Orioles will be careful with him, and they’ll be especially careful with Hall and Rodriguez’s innings. Another dependable starter would help the rotation, and allow the Orioles to carefully monitor the innings of the other starters.
Question: Is Zac Lowther still in the Orioles’ plans? From: Dennis Esper via email
Answer: Dennis, Zac Lowther is still in the Orioles’ organization, but not on the 40-man roster. I don’t know whether he will be invited to spring training.
Question: What are you hearing about signing a backup catcher? Anthony Bemboom might be a good defensive catcher, but we have to get more than a .115 batting average out of that position in the lineup. We’re not going to sign a player who wants to play every day, but can we get someone who will hit .220? From: John Flato via email
Answer: John, it’s not unreasonable to want a backup catcher who hits .220 but finding a backup catcher willing to play 40-50 games a year and hits well may be difficult. Mike Elias said at the Winter Meetings he expected the catching market to pick up, and it has the last several days. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Orioles signed a backup catcher before the holidays, but I think it’s more important that they’re solid defensively.
Question: Please give us your guess about the Opening Day starting lineup? From: Anne Stalfort via email
Answer: Hi, Anne, thanks for the question. Ryan Mountcastle at first, Adam Frazier at second, Jorge Mateo at shortstop, Gunnar Henderson at third, Austin Hays in left, Cedric Mullins in center and Anthony Santander in right. Ramón Urías at designated hitter, Adley Rutschman catching and Kyle Gibson pitching.
Question: Is there any way to show the comparison of Houston’s rebuild vs. O’s rebuild to compare Elias’ work here and at Houston? Would be interesting to see if there are any similarities to free-agent signings this deep into the rebuild of both teams. From: David Slough via email
Answer: Dave, Mike Elias was responsible for drafting players at Houston, not for acquiring players via free agency or the draft. He drafted Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Jeremy Peña and Kyle Tucker, among others. Jeff Luhnow, who was the general manager before he was fired because of the electronic sign-stealing scandal, was responsible for trades and free agency.