Orioles general manager Mike Elias continued a methodical and productive offseason with the acquisition of left-hander Cole Irvin from the Oakland A’s on Thursday.
Irvin is the second veteran starter the Orioles acquired in the last two months, and he becomes the only left-hander in the rotation. He joins Kyle Gibson, who signed a one-year, $10 million free-agent contract last month. He’s also six years younger than the 35-year-old Gibson.
Irvin is less expensive, as well. He won’t be eligible for arbitration until after this season and has four seasons before free agency.
Last season, Irvin had a 2.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), Gibson had a .7, and the starter he ostensibly replaced, Jordan Lyles, had a 1.0.
The Orioles have many candidates for the rotation. Besides Gibson and Irvin, there are Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Austin Voth, Tyler Wells and rookies DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez.
Mike Baumann, Spenser Watkins and Bruce Zimmermann remain on the 40-man roster, but their chances of making the club became more difficult with the addition of Irvin.
Irvin thrived pitching in Oakland. He had a 3.07 ERA in 17 home starts but a 5.27 ERA away from the Coliseum in 2022.
He doesn’t have much experience pitching at American League East parks. Irvin has pitched just once at Oriole Park, Rogers Centre and Yankee Stadium and twice at Tropicana Field. Irvin hasn’t started at Fenway Park, where the Orioles open the 2023 season against Boston on March 30th.
The Orioles also acquired right-hander Kyle Virbitsky, who should start the season at Double-A Bowie.
For the first time, Elias traded a player he drafted for the Orioles. Infielder Darell Hernaiz, who was the team’s 16th-highest rated prospect by MLB Pipeline, was sent to the Athletics. Hernaiz was the fifth-round pick in 2019 behind Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers, outfielder Zach Watson and infielder Joey Ortiz.
Henderson, Ortiz, Connor Norby, Coby Mayo and Jordan Westburg were rated higher than Hernaiz, who had 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and 32 stolen bases in 36 attempts in the minors last season.
The Orioles also have signed second baseman Adam Frazier and right-handed reliever Mychal Givens as free agents this offseason, and traded for catcher Brian McCann.
None of the five veteran acquisitions are headline makers, but each has a chance to add depth to a club that increased its win total from 52 to 83 and remained in the playoff hunt until the season’s final weeks.
The Orioles designated left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez for assignment, and if he passes through waivers, he could rejoin the competition for the bullpen, though his chances to make the Opening Day roster aren’t strong.
Another pitcher who will have to prove himself during spring training, which begins on February 15th in Sarasota, is right-hander Andrew Politti. who was the Orioles’ selection in the Rule 5 draft.
With a number of potential starters, some may slide into bullpen roles, creating a crunch for Politti, Keegan Akin, Logan Gillaspie Joey Krehbiel and Nick Vespi, who recently had hernia surgery.
The Orioles will have several experienced pitchers ready at Triple-A Norfolk. They’ll also have some of those infielders on hand.
With Rutschman and McCann, infielders Frazier, Henderson, Ryan Mountcastle, Jorge Mateo, Ramón Urías, and outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander assured of beginning the season with the Orioles, that leaves only three open positions.
Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers appear to be good bets to make the club, which would leaves just one spot. Left-handed hitters Terrin Vavra and non-roster invites Franchy Cordero, Lewin Díaz, Ryan O’Hearn and Nomar Mazara could be in the mix.
The Orioles need a backup first baseman. They could go with McCann, Rutschman or Santander or one of the non-roster players.
For several years, fans have been disappointed by the Orioles’ lack of offseason activity. Many are still disappointed in the club’s failure to sign a free agent to a multi-year contract, but Elias has addressed the club’s apparent needs — veteran starters, experienced second baseman, veteran reliever and backup catcher without giving up much of its future or any of its present.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB