December has been quite a month for free agents. Nearly all the top free agents have signed over the past three weeks. The Orioles weren’t bidders, but they did sign three free agents
Starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, 35, signed a one-year, $10 million contract on December 2nd, effectively replacing Jordan Lyles, 32, who led the Orioles in wins and innings pitched this past season but wasn’t offered an $11 million option. They also signed second baseman Adam Frazier, 31, to a one-year, $8 million deal on December 14th. Former Oriole reliever Mychal Givens, 32, has a $3 million contract with a S6 million mutual option for 2024. That deal was made official on Wednesday and first baseman Lewin Díaz was designated for assignment.
There are still questions about the composition of the 2023 Orioles as baseball gets ready to take its annual holiday business pause.
Will they sign another starter? Most of the first- and second-tier starters have already signed, but there are quality names available.
Three of the most recognizable names linked with the Orioles pitched for the Boston Red Sox last season — right-handers Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Wacha and left-hander Rich Hill.
Eovaldi’s market has been slower than expected because signing him requires a team to surrender a draft choice. He rejected a $19.65 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox. At the Winter Meetings in San Diego, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that losing a draft choice was one of the factors he’d consider before signing a player who rejected a qualifying offer.
Wacha was 11-2 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.115 WHIP in 23 starts. Eovaldi was 6-3 with a 3.87 ERA in 20 starts.
If Hill pitched for the Orioles, he’d become the oldest player in team history. He’ll turn 43 on March 11th, and he’d be pitching for them for the second time. Hill was 3-3 with a 7.80 ERA in 14 games for the Orioles in 2009. The Orioles were in their final season training in Fort Lauderdale, Dave Trembley was the manager and Andy MacPhail the general manager.
Having a left-handed starter while John Means recovers from Tommy John surgery would be nice, but Hill averaged fewer than five innings a start in 2022 when he was 8-7 with a 4.27 ERA in 26 starts in his third iteration with the Red Sox.
Potential starters Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, Corey Kluber, Wade Miley and Michael Pineda all remain unsigned.
Lyles isn’t available after signing a two-year, $17 million contract with the Kansas City Royals.
Will they spend more money? According to Cots Baseball Contracts, the Orioles have an estimated Opening Day 2023 payroll of $60.6 million, 28th in baseball, and that’s not including Givens’ deal because it’s not official.
Last year, their Opening Day payroll was $43.7 million, last in the major leagues.
That’s an increase of nearly 39 percent but hardly enough to satisfy fans who expected more spending this offseason after Elias used the word liftoff. It’s possible that signing another starter will boost the payroll even more.
Will they trade for a starter? If the Orioles attempt to trade for an established starting pitcher, it could come around the middle of next month. January 13th is the deadline for exchanging figures ahead of arbitration hearings.
If arbitration-eligible players aren’t signed to contracts by January 13th, many teams refuse to engage in further contract talks before hearings are scheduled, and that’s when pitchers could conceivably become available.
The price of starting pitching was astronomical during free agency, and teams that have excess starters are likely to demand a heavy price in prospects.
At the Winter Meetings, Elias seemed to downplay this possibility, saying that it’s rare for teams to match up during trade talks.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote that the Orioles are getting calls on shortstop Jorge Mateo, one of their six arbitration-eligible players. Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Dillon Tate and Austin Voth are the others.
Interest in Mateo has come from teams that lost free-agent shortstops Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson and Trea Turner, Rosenthal reported. Whether the Braves, Red Sox, Dodgers or Twins can put together a deal that satisfies Elias will be interesting.
If Mateo is traded, the Orioles likely would play Gunnar Henderson at shortstop. Other options are rookies Joey Ortiz and Jordan Westburg.
Will they acquire a backup catcher? This market won’t get much attention, but it’s an important acquisition for the Orioles. They have two candidates on minor league contracts — Anthony Bemboom, who began the season with the Orioles last season, and Mark Kolozsvary, claimed on waivers from Cincinnati in October and like Bemboom, outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.
Candidates could include Curt Casalli, Kevin Plawecki and Austin Romine. Robinson Chirinos, who backed up Adley Rutschman in 2022, remains unsigned but he’ll be 39 next June.
Will they get a backup first baseman? If Diaz passes through waivers and is outrighted to Norfolk, he can still be in the mix for a spot as the backup to Ryan Mountcastle at first base. The Orioles claimed Lewin Díaz on waivers from Pittsburgh on December 2. nd
An intriguing name surfaced last week. Eric Hosmer was designated for assignment by Boston, and the 33-year-old would be an inexpensive answer to the issue. Hosmer hits left-handed, and San Diego, which signed him to an eight-year, $144 million contract that has three years to run, would pay the bulk of the salary.
A year ago, the Orioles signed Rougned Odor to play second base, but the Texas Rangers paid nearly all of his $12.3 million deal.
Once Hosmer passes through waivers, the Orioles and other teams can bid on his services.