The postseason is over, and now it’s time for the Orioles to begin planning for 2024. Spring training will begin in just over four months in Sarasota, and despite the wildly successful regular season that produced 101 wins, the most since 1979, and an American League East title, the Orioles have huge questions to answer.
Do they have enough starting pitchers? Kyle Bradish showed that he was an elite starter in 2023, and he’ll receive some Cy Young Award votes.
Despite their rough performances in Games 2 and 3, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer are dependable starters, and perhaps more than that.
Kyle Gibson is a free agent, and it seems unlikely that he’ll be back with the Orioles. At 36, another one-year, $10 million contract may not be offered.
The Orioles do have John Means, but he started just four times in September in coming back from his April 2022 Tommy John surgery, and he was left off the Division Series roster with left elbow soreness, though manager Brandon Hyde insisted he could have pitched if the Orioles had advanced to the American League Championship Series.
Tyler Wells was their best starter in the first half of the season, and after three difficult starts to begin the second half, went down to the minor leagues and resurfaced last month as a reliever, appearing in just four regular-season games and each of the three ALDS games. Just before the end of the regular season, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that Wells’ future was as a starter, not a reliever.
If Means and Wells are healthy, that’s great, but the Orioles need some depth. Cole Irvin, who was 1-4 with a 4.42 earned-run average, is a depth candidate.
They could trade for another starter or sign one to a short-term deal as they did with Gibson or Jordan Lyles.
None of the Orioles’ best starting pitchers in the high minors—Justin Armbruester, Seth Johnson, Chayce McDermott or Cade Povich is likely to begin 2024 with the Orioles.
Armbruester, McDermott and Povich all split 2023 between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, and Johnson, who’s already on the 40-man roster, pitched just 10 1/3 innings after August 2022 Tommy John surgery. Each of them may pitch for the Orioles next year, but the team needs some veteran depth.
Who closes in 2024? Félix Bautista won’t pitch in 2024 after Tuesday’s Tommy John surgery in Arlington, Texas.
After Bautista injured his elbow on August 25th, most of the opportunities to close went to Yennier Cano, who had a 2.11 ERA overall, but a 5.79 ERA after September 1st. Cano didn’t allow an earned run in 11 innings when he pitched the seventh, had a 1.83 ERA in the eighth and 3.80 in the ninth.
It seems the best option other than Cano could be left-hander DL Hall. Elias has insisted for several years that Hall’s future with the Orioles was as a starter, but he’s only had one major league start, and that was in his debut in August 2022.
Hall didn’t allow an earned run in his last seven regular-season games (8 1/3 innings). In 3 1/3 innings against Texas in the playoffs, Hall gave up just one hit, walked one and struck out six.
The Orioles could also sign a free agent in case Bautista isn’t as dominating when he returns in 2025.
How will they handle their arbitration-eligible players? The Orioles have an unusually high number of players eligible for arbitration, 16.
Of those 16, a number of them may not return. Relievers Keegan Akin and Dillon Tate finished the season on the 60-day injured list, and Tate didn’t pitch at all in 2023.
MLBTradeRumors predicts that reliever Jacob Webb could get $1.2 million in arbitration, and infielders Jorge Mateo, $2.9 million, and Ramón Urías, $2 million. Those numbers may be too rich for the Orioles, who could find cheaper replacements in their system.
Jackson Holliday, Connor Norby and Joey Ortiz will need roster spots in ‘24.
Elias may try to cut deals with these and others eligible for arbitration. Irvin, who pitched for the Orioles and Norfolk, has a $1.8 million estimate. Outfielder Ryan McKenna has the cheapest number, $740,000.
The Orioles would probably like left-handed relievers Danny Coulombe ($2.2 million) and Cionel Pérez ($1.3 million) to return, and surely they’d like to retain the first base combination of Ryan Mountcastle ($4.2 million) and Ryan O’Hearn ($3 million).
Means, who has started six times in the last two seasons, has a $5.93 million estimate in his final season before free agency, and Wells is valued at $2.3 million in his first season of arbitration eligibility.
The starting Orioles outfield — Austin Hays ($6.1 million), Cedric Mullins ($6.4 million) and Anthony Santander ($12.7 million) — are all eligible. It will be interesting to see if Elias is tempted to move any of them. Santander has one year left before free agency, and there’s been no indication that the Orioles want to extend him.
Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad both need playing time, and the Orioles also have Hudson Haskin and John Rhodes as 2024 possibilities with Dylan Beavers, Enrique Bradfield Jr. and Jud Fabian not far behind.
Will they sign any of their free agents? The principal free agents are Gibson, right-hander Jack Flaherty, second baseman Adam Frazier, outfielder Aaron Hicks and reliever Shintaro Fujinami.
It seems unlikely that any will return, though if there’s not a market elsewhere for Gibson, perhaps he comes back.
Call for questions: Next week, I’ll be answering offseason Orioles questions. Please email yours to: [email protected].