Wednesday’s waiver claim of outfielder Sam Hilliard won’t make any headlines. It could affect the composition of next season’s Orioles’ bullpen.
To make room for Hilliard, the Orioles designated right-handed reliever Joey Krehbiel for assignment, and if he passes through waivers for the second time this year, he can refuse an outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk and opt for free agency instead.
Krehbiel was always a welcome and welcoming presence in the Orioles’ clubhouse, but in 2023 he pitched only six games for the Orioles. He had to watch as the Orioles opted to use other right-handers, Eduard Bazardo, Reed Garrett, Logan Gillaspie, Mychal Givens and Jorge López, all of whom are no longer in the organization instead.
Even though he’d pitched well for the Orioles through much of 2022 and lasted until the final two weeks of the regular season on the roster, Krehbiel didn’t pitch for the Orioles until August 1st, and not after September 10th.
He did get a quick trip to Arlington, Texas to serve on the taxi squad for the American League Division Series.
Krehbiel was terrific in the first half of ’22, with a 4-1 record and 2.18 ERA before a rough August and September gave him a 6.20 second-half ERA.
It’s likely that Krehbiel has pitched his last game for the Orioles, and the bullpen of 2024 may have some big differences from the 2022 and 2023 versions.
The biggest difference will be that the Orioles’ terrific closer Félix Bautista will spend the season rehabbing from last month’s Tommy John surgery instead of striking out batters in the ninth, and his successor is unknown.
It could be Yennier Cano, who at the least will have a key role ’24. Cano had a 2.11 ERA and struck out 8.1 batters per nine innings, precisely half of Bautista’s number.
Cano led Orioles’ relievers with 72 appearances and 72 2/3 innings, and allowed just four home runs in those innings.
DL Hall threw only 19 2/3 innings, but many of those innings were impressive, and he could be the closer.
Could the Orioles think about putting Tyler Wells, whose first half starts made him a contender for the All-Star team back in the bullpen while Bautista heals?
Or, perhaps it could be someone on the staff we’re not thinking about or a free agent yet to be signed.
The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, a former major league general manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals forecast the contracts of some top free agents.
Bowden ranks Texas’ Jordan Montgomery and Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola third and fourth and suggests both are fits for the Orioles, he doesn’t do the same for his top-rated reliever, San Diego’s Josh Hader, an Anne Arundel County product.
He ranks Hader eighth and suggests that Hader could attract a three-year, $67 million contract from the Phillies, Yankees, Padres, Rangers or Angels.
Bowden has two other relievers, Texas’ Aroldis Chapman and Toronto’s Jordan Hicks in his top 40, but didn’t steer either of them in the Orioles’ direction.
There will be less pricey options on the market and the Orioles are likely to sign one or two.
But if Cano and Hall are going to be in the bullpen in 2024, who may join them?
Danny Coulombe and Cionel Pérez both had solid seasons and are arbitration-eligible for the first time.
Interestingly, they’re both left-handers, and it would be interesting to see the Orioles begin the season with more than three left-handers.
Cole Irvin, who’ll be in the mix for a starting spot, is also left-handed, and half his 24 appearances were in relief.
Nick Vespi, who always seems to be an afterthought when considering Orioles’ relievers is also left-handed. Vespi who has 34 appearances in the last two seasons, can never seem to stay in the majors for long.
Bruce Zimmermann, who underwent core muscle surgery on October 19th, remains on the 40-man roster. He’s always an option for long relief, and the Orioles claimed left-hander Tucker Davidson on waivers from Kansas City last week.
The Orioles do have some interesting right-handed bullpen options. Mike Baumann, who was on the roster for most of 2023, but didn’t make the ALDS roster, was 10-1 with a 3.76 ERA in 60 games.
Bryan Baker and Jacob Webb are also right-handers on the 40-man roster.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Orioles sign some right-handers to fill out the 2024 bullpen.
Henderson, Rutschman, Santander Silver Slugger finalists: Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman and Anthony Santander are finalists for the Silver Slugger awards.
Henderson, who hit .255 with an .814 OPS, 28 home runs and 82 RBIs is a finalist among utility players. Rutschman, who hit .277 with an .809 OPS with 20 homers and 80 RBIs is a catching finalists, and Santander with a .257 average and .797 OPS is a finalist among outfielders. Santander hit 28 home runs and 95 RBIs.
Henderson’s competition is Los Angeles’ Brandon Drury, Tampa Bay’s Isaac Parades and Toronto’s Whit Merrifield.
The other catchers are Kansas City’s Salvador Perez and Seattle’s Cal Raleigh.
Other outfield finalists are Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena, Texas’ Adolis Garcia, New York’s Aaron Judge, Chicago’s Luis Robert Jr., Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez and Houston’s Kyle Tucker.
The winners will be announced on November 9th on MLB Network at 6 p.m.