It’s time for our first offseason mailbag. We’ve received many excellent questions, and we’ll have Part 2 later in the week. Questions may be edited for length, style and grammar.
Question: Now that the team has shown it is ready for sustainable success, is there a possibility that the Orioles pursue a higher-tiered free-agent pitcher? From: Greg O’Brien via email
Answer: A similar question was asked by Adam Vorce. Greg and Adam, I think my answer is the same as it was last year. I don’t think the Orioles are going to pursue a top-shelf free-agent starter. I can’t see them being comfortable with committing five, six or seven years to a starter.
Because of their success, they could have a better chance of signing a mid-tier free agent if that pitcher thinks he could pitch in the postseason.
Question: How does the payroll of the Texas Rangers compare with the Orioles, and how do you explain the winless performance of the AL East in the postseason? From: Glenn Fuller, Laurel via email
Answer: According to Cot’s Contracts, the Orioles’ Opening Day payroll was $60.8 million and the Rangers was $195.8 million.
Glenn, I’m not sure there’s an easy explanation for the failures of the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles in the postseason. I thought the Orioles and Rays were the two strongest teams in the AL during the season, but that didn’t hold up in the postseason.
Question: What minor league players do you think have the best chance to make the Opening Day roster in 2024? From: Bill Connor via email
Answer: Bill, my guess is that Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, Connor Norby and Joey Ortiz have the best chance to make the Opening Day roster. I’d guess that Jackson Holliday will start the season with Norfolk and join the team relatively early in the season.
Question: What’s the likelihood that injured pitchers Dillon Tate and Keegan Akin can be ready to return to compete for a roster spot in 2024. From: Rusty Wallace, Annapolis via email
Answer: Rusty, I would guess that we’ve seen the last of Akin and Tate with the Orioles. They’re both eligible for arbitration, and I suppose if the Orioles were hugely interested in them they could cut a deal ahead of the deadline for arbitration, but I don’t think so. We’re not even sure about Tate’s injury. He pitched ineffectively in rehab outings, and while a healthy Tate would be nice to have, it seems unlikely that he’ll continue with the Orioles.
Question: I was wondering if they track the percentage of opposing batters who reach a 3-2 full count for each pitcher. It seems like Dean Kremer (and others) often gets ahead in the count, but it turns into a full count. Obviously, that translates to higher pitch counts and shorter outings, which seemed to be a weakness for our team this season. From: Rick Staley via email
Answer: Rick, batters facing Dean Kremer with a 3-2 count had a .220 average. He walked 35, helping to account for a .422 on-base percentage and struck out 41.
Batters facing Kyle Bradish hit .235 with a full count. He walked 23 with a .429 OBP and struck out 32.
With this small sample size, it shows a pitcher is more likely to keep a runner off base if he doesn’t get to a full count.
Question: I watched Kremer’s pitches as best as one could from a 32-inch TV. From 100 miles away (Philadelphia), there seemed to be little movement on his pitches, and far too many were up in the zone, crying to be smacked. Could have been his worries about his family in Israel, or perhaps he was just not “ready for prime time” as they say? From: Frank Friedman via email
Answer: Frank, Kremer acknowledged the difficulty of the situation the day before he pitched, and obviously the situation in Israel, where he has relatives, was upsetting. I don’t know whether it bothered him when pitching but both Grayson Rodriguez and Kremer recorded just five outs in their initial postseason outing.
Question: What prospects do you think the team would be willing to package to trade for a true ace? So many of them are being blocked to move up so what’s the point of having them if they aren’t willing to trade some? From: @NickChaps96
Answer: Nick, the Orioles traded some prospects for starting pitchers in 2023. They traded shortstop prospect Darell Hernaiz in the deal with Oakland for Cole Irvin, and left-handed starter Drew Rom and infielder César Prieto to St. Louis for Jack Flaherty.
My guess is that they’ll continue the strategy with young prospects, but now might think about trading established major leaguers for pitchers.
Question: Do you see the Orioles trading Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins or Anthony Santander? From: Kevin Gish via Facebook.
Answer: I think Anthony Santander is the most likely Oriole outfielder to be traded. Santander is a year away from free agency, and if they could trade him for a starting pitcher who has more than a year before free agency, that might be a good strategy.
I don’t see the Orioles extending Santander, Hays or Mullins this year. While Mullins was disappointing offensively last season, I think he has great value to the team. Both he and Hays have two years before free agency, and I think they’ll be around for 2024.
Question: Why does the streak of no series sweeps end with this playoff sweep? From: John McCaffrey via Facebook
Answer: John, the streak didn’t end with the playoff sweep. It was just pointed out that they didn’t get swept all season and were swept in the postseason. They’ll begin next season with 91 consecutive series without being swept, fourth longest in baseball history.
Question: Is Heston Kjerstad a liability in the outfield? From: Alan Reister via Facebook
Answer: Al, I’ve only seen Kjerstad play briefly in the outfield at the end of the regular season and in spring training. I think he’s probably an acceptable, but not spectacular, outfielder.
We’ll have the early part of 2024 to judge him, I think, because he’ll probably get opportunities in the outfield then.
Question: Why did the Orioles put Bryan Baker on the postseason roster and not Mike Baumann? Is Aaron Hicks a candidate to return? From: Kevin Whitaker via email
Answer: Kevin, I was among those who was surprised at Baker’s inclusion and Baumann’s exclusion. Baker had a 2.45 ERA in five previous appearances against Texas and Baumann pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings against them.
I had expected the Orioles to use 13 pitchers instead of 12 in the Division Series and didn’t expect Heston Kjerstad, who never got to play, to make the roster.
In the end, I don’t think it mattered, but, yes, I was still taken aback.
I would be surprised if Hicks returned.
Question: This may be off topic but will ask anyway. Do you have any thoughts after the Braves; issues with reporters in the clubhouse reporting something that wasn’t meant to be heard publicly? From: @Ionlyfollowos
Answer: I wasn’t in the Braves’ clubhouse and don’t know Orlando Arcia, so I’m not sure how I would have handled it, but postseason clubhouses are full of reporters who don’t regularly cover the teams and aren’t as familiar with players as those who do.
I think I know when something is meant to be reported publicly and what is meant as a joke. I don’t recall many, if any, instances of an Oriole player making an offhand negative remark to outsiders about an opponent.
I can recall a few instances when offhand remarks could have made for juicy stories in the short term but would have damaged the way I conduct myself with players in the long term.
Question: How are the ticket sales coming along? My follow-up is, how does this relate to the Orioles’ income streams and their resultant ability to re-sign our own or maybe a free agent or two? I understand they are not going to open their books, but what can you tell us? Do you know about how much they get from television and radio contracts, parking and merchandise? Luxury tax? Any other income streams? From: Brian Delumeau from Daytona Beach, Florida via email
Answer: Brian, little of professional sports team’s finances are publicly reported or available. I would guess that season ticket sales for next season will far exceed this season’s since many bought them to have the opportunity to purchase postseason tickets.
I don’t imagine the Orioles are going to sign any big-ticket free agents, and it would be a nice surprise if the re-signed any of their top young players to extensions.
Question: As a longtime Orioles fan I have followed the careers of former O’s draftees Trey Mancini and Christian Walker. In 2017, the Birds designated for assignment Walker and kept Mancini. Trey is a fan favorite, a fine player and a special person but did the Orioles make a mistake choosing between these two first basemen? Who do you think has had the better career?
Answer: Sully, it’s an interesting question. At the time, Walker and Mancini were competing not only with each other but Chris Davis, and we know how that turned out.
Mancini had a great start to his career and an inspiring comeback and was a huge influence in the clubhouse both before and after his cancer treatment.
Yes, in retrospect, the Orioles would have loved to keep Walker, but he was claimed off waivers from the Orioles by Atlanta and then by Cincinnati before Arizona claimed him. He didn’t become a productive major leaguer until 2019. I’m delighted for his success with the Diamondbacks, and I’m sure that Dan Duquette would like a do-over on that move.