Questions about Orioles' starting pitching - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Questions about Orioles’ starting pitching

Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said at this week’s General Managers’ meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona that he’ll be looking for a front-end starter to fit into the rotation for 2024.

With that in mind, let’s look at some questions about starting pitching:

Is Tyler Wells a starter or a reliever?

It probably would be best for the Orioles if Wells joins Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Grayson Rodriguez and John Means in the starting rotation.

Wells was terrific in the first half of the season with a 7-4 record and a 3.18 earned-run average. In his final eight starts before the All-Star break, Wells allowed two earned runs seven times and one earned run once.

Inexplicably, his first three second-half starts were a disaster, allowing 11 runs on 10 hits and walking nine in nine innings.

The Orioles had seen enough and sent Wells to Double-A Bowie. Wells worked at the Orioles’ pitching lab in Bel Air and threw 14 2/3 innings in relief at Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk before he was recalled as a reliever.

In 20 starts, he threw 108 2/3 innings. He threw 10 hitless innings as a reliever.

Wells pitched in each of the Orioles’ three Division Series games against the Rangers, giving up one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings.

When he first joined the Orioles as a Rule 5 pick in 2021, Wells worked in the bullpen and advanced to closer before his season ended in September because of right shoulder discomfort.

In 2022, the Orioles wanted to try Wells as a starter, and he threw 103 2/3 innings, but he had two stints on the injured list with oblique and shoulder injuries.

Perhaps at next month’s Winter Meetings at Nashville, we’ll get some clarity on Wells’ role in 2024.

Without closer Félix Bautista, who won’t pitch in 2024 because of Tommy John surgery, and no obvious right-hander, Wells could become the closer. If he moves back into the rotation, the team might monitor his innings closely.

Would a six-man rotation help Wells?

It’s always a possible question, and perhaps the Orioles would try it again in 2024.

The Orioles could protect Wells and Means, who returned late in the season from Tommy John surgery, with a six-man rotation. They used it for a few weeks to help limit the innings of Bradish, Kremer and Rodriguez.

Starting the season with it could be problematic because they’d be limited to a seven-pitcher bullpen.

More likely they would begin the season with five starters and eight relievers and perhaps shift to a six-man rotation later in the season. It’s easier in the final month of the season because teams add another pitcher, and a six-man rotation and eight-man bullpen is more manageable.

What’s Cole Irvin’s role?

Irvin had three rough starts to begin 2023. After the third one, he was sent to Norfolk on April 13th with a 10.66 ERA.

He spent most of the season with the Orioles, with 12 starts and 12 relief appearances. Irvin’s remaining nine starts were much better than his first three, and his 12-start ERA was 4.81. In 12 relief appearances, Irvin had a 3.26 ERA.

If the Orioles add a starter in free agency and Wells is also a starter, Irvin is probably a long man in the bullpen who could be used as a spot starter.

If Wells goes to the bullpen, Irvin could be a swingman, giving the Orioles another left-hander in addition to Means.

Irvin doesn’t have any options left, so the Orioles can’t freely option him to Norfolk as they did in 2023.

What kind of a starter could the Orioles sign as a free agent?

At the GM meetings, Elias said that the Orioles would have a lot of competition for top free agents because many other teams will be seeking the same pitchers.

It would be surprising if the Orioles entered the competition for Blake Snell, Aaron Nola or Jordan Montgomery. MLBTradeRumors.com predicts Snell will command a seven-year, $200 million contract; Nola and Montgomery six years, $150 million.

Sonny Gray is predicted to sign a four-year, $90 million deal, and Eduardo Rodriguez a four-year, $82 million deal.

The Orioles probably will pursue shorter deals, such as those that Lucas Giolito or Marcus Stroman are likely to get (two years, $44 million). Kenta Maeda is predicted to get a two-year, $36 million contract.

Is a free agent more likely than a trade?

I think Elias will look at both the trade and free-agent markets for starters. The Orioles can deal from their surplus of infield and outfield prospects as they did to acquire Irvin and Jack Flaherty at the trade deadline, but I don’t think he has a preference.

In the event of a trade, Elias would want a pitcher who has more than one year before free agency.

Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles questions next week. Please email yours to: [email protected].

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