As free-agent season gets underway, it’s fair to guess who the Orioles will target, or whether they’ll try to add to the staff with a trade instead. Here are some questions that need answers.
Who will be the pitching coaches? The Orioles will have new pitching coaches next season, and before free agents sign with them, they’d like to know who’ll be coaching them.
Chris Holt, who has been the pitching coach and director of pitching for the last three seasons, will leave the major league club and return to an organizational-wide role instead. Holt had a similar role in his first two seasons with the team.
Darren Holmes, who’d been the bullpen coach and assistant pitching coach, has left the organization.
There are two obvious internal candidates. One is Justin Ramsey, who has been the pitching coach for Triple-A Norfolk for the last two seasons. He’s also been the pitching coach for Single-A Delmarva and Double-A Bowie.
Ramsey has worked closely with two pitchers whose success will be vital in 2024, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. He’s also worked with some of the other top young arms who finished 2023 at Triple-A Norfolk — Justin Armbruester, Chayce McDermott and Cade Povich.
Ryan Klimek began with the Orioles as an intern in 2017 and worked his way up to major league pitching strategy coach this season. Klimek’s brother, Steven, was a pitcher in the Orioles’ organization from 2015-2021.
Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde have mostly hired coaches without much major league playing and coaching experience, although they have made exceptions.
Elias hired Doug Brocail, the former pitching coach of the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers who also pitched in the majors for 15 seasons. Holmes pitched for 13 seasons for eight major league teams and was the bullpen coach for Colorado for five seasons.
Another exception is bench coach Fredi González, who’ll be starting his fifth season with the team. González had coached and managed the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins.
What kind of free agents could sign? Over the last two winters, the Orioles have signed veteran starters Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson, and both moves worked out well. Lyles signed a one-year, $7 million contract with a one-year option, which the Orioles declined. Gibson signed a one-year, $10 million contract.
Some of the names that The Athletic’s Jim Bowden has linked with the Orioles are Jordan Montgomery, whom Bowden predicts will receive a five-year, $127 million deal; Aaron Nola, whom he thinks could get five years and $125 million; Sonny Gray (three years, $64 million); Eduardo Rodriguez (five years, $90 million); and Lucas Giolito (two years, $64 million).
One pitcher who had been linked with the Orioles last offseason and by Bowden, Texas’ Andrew Heaney, picked up his $13 million option with the Rangers.
Elias has yet to sign a major league free agent for more than a year, and fans are skeptical that he’ll do that now.
Monday at 5 p.m. is the deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers of $20.325 million to free agents. Montgomery, who was traded by St. Louis to Texas at the deadline, and Giolito, who was also traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Los Angeles Angels and waived to Cleveland, are ineligible for qualifying offers.
Rodriguez opted out of the remaining three years and $49 million of his contract, so he’s not eligible, either.
Gray and Nola should receive qualifying offers by Minnesota and Philadelphia.
If the Orioles sign a free agent whose team had given them a qualifying offer, they’d surrender a draft choice, likely their third-highest pick.
Would they consider signing a top-shelf reliever? Probably not. Josh Hader, whom Bowden rates as the eighth most attractive free agent, could get a three-year, $67 million deal.
While the Orioles certainly could use a reliever like Hader and with closer Félix Bautista out for 2024 after Tommy John surgery, it’s hard to think they’ll spend that much, as well as a draft choice, since Hader should be given a qualifying offer, too.
The Orioles have had excellent results with developing relievers from within, and while they’re likely to add a reliever or two via free agency or trade, they seem unlikely to spend their money there.
Is there a chance that Gibson returns? Probably not because it’s unlikely that he’ll duplicate his 2023 success at 36. While Gibson led the Orioles with 15 wins and 192 innings, his 4.73 earned-run average was the highest among starters.
Last year, Gibson wasn’t ranked among the top free agents, and this year, in a far weaker class, Bowden ranks him 40th. If Gibson doesn’t receive suitable offers, it’s possible that he’ll re-signs with the Orioles, but the guess here is that he’ll find a better one-year or perhaps two-year offer elsewhere.
His maturity and leadership were key to the Orioles’ success, but another team probably will benefit from those qualities in 2024.
No Gold Gloves for Orioles: Leftfielder Austin Hays, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and catcher Adley Rutschman were each finalists in American League Gold Glove balloting, but none won the award.