Opening Day is just over a day away, and while the Orioles have a few roster decisions to make before the noon Thursday deadline for setting the 26-man squad, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is clear. He expects this to be a winning season for the Orioles.
“We’re right in the thick of things,” Elias said on Monday in Sarasota. “We don’t have it easy, and we’re still young. Some of these guys are going to take a step forward. Some of them are going to regress.
“I think it’s a really talented team. I think we’re starting off with a solid rotation.”
Kyle Gibson will start the opener against Boston’s Corey Kluber at 2:10 p.m. on Thursday at Fenway Park. Dean Kremer and Chris Sale are scheduled to start on Saturday, and Cole Irvin will face Tanner Houck on Sunday. Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells are the other two starters.
“The bullpen is a little banged up right now,” Elias said. Relievers Mychal Givens and Dillon Tate will begin the season on the injured list.
“The positional group is really strong, beyond 1 to 9. I think we’ve got great options at every position. It’s a really good lineup. It’s going to be an entertaining, exciting season.
“I think we’re going to be scrapping and clawing the whole way and my goal is that we get to the trade deadline and we’re in it, and we’re looking to add to this group for the first time since I’ve been here.”
Last season, the Orioles registered a remarkable 31-game increase in wins from 52 to 83, their most since 2016. According to projections from SportsBetting.ag, the Orioles are predicted for 77 wins.
“I think they’re young, and they’re talented,” Elias said. “We have depth. We have different people we can go to if some people aren’t working or they’re getting hurt. We have flexibility to do that. I think that can be hard for projection systems to capture that. I’m not ignorant to them. We have our own that we look at internally. We like this team, and we like our chances. We’ll see how it goes.
“I feel very firmly we’re on an excellent trajectory that this group is going to help us take a step forward and that we’re going to have a great season, and it’s going to be a second in a row exciting season of Orioles baseball, and I’m really proud of this group that they’ve gotten us over that hump and we’re talking like this right now.”
The Orioles play 52 games against the American League East rather than 76 games as in past years because of the balanced schedule in which each team will play each other at least once.
“We’ve got to go beat the Red Sox, the Blue Jays, the Rays and the Yankees,” Elias said. “We’re respectful of what they bring to the table, that’s for sure.”
Politi back to Boston: After the Orioles added left-hander Danny Coulombe to their 40-man roster, they designated their Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi for assignment. No other team had interest in Politi, who had a 6.23 ERA in nine spring training appearances for the Orioles, and he was returned to the Boston Red Sox, from whom he was drafted last December.
The Orioles, under Elias and Dan Duquette, have been a landing spot for Rule 5 picks. Anthony Santander, drafted under Duquette, and Tyler Wells, a 2020 pick by Elias, were terrific choices.
Because of the Orioles’ history with Rule 5 picks, many, including me, had surmised that Politi was going to make the club, but it became obvious that even if Elias thought he was good enough to start the season, it was unlikely that Politi would remain on the roster all season, as Rule 5 picks must do.
With Coulombe’s addition and Politi’s deletion, there are two spots undecided, and the Orioles will choose among Mike Baumann, Logan Gillaspie and Joey Krehbiel.
Those three have options remaining, enabling the Orioles to send them to Triple-A Norfolk freely, something they couldn’t have done with Politi.
While Baumann’s 5.84 ERA wasn’t much better than Politi’s 6.23, he was converted to a short reliever late in camp and had 16 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings.
Gillaspie, who had a creditable 3.12 ERA in 17 games last year, often has been overlooked in bullpen projections, but he had a statistically strong spring, allowing just one unearned run on three hits in seven innings, striking out 10 and walking two.
Krehbiel had a strong first half and a weak second half in 2022, had a shaky beginning to camp, allowing eight runs in 1 2/3 innings, but finished with six hitless innings.
With improving postseason chances and a stronger minor league system, the team is less reliant on Rule 5 picks than it has been in the past, and Politi returns to Boston, hoping he can get a big league shot soon. If his contract is purchased by the Red Sox, Politi will have three options remaining and can be sent to the minor leagues at will.
Note: The Orioles will premier their “City Connect” uniforms on May 28th.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB