Here’s Part 2 of our mailbag. Thank you for all the good questions this month. Questions may be edited for clarity, grammar and style.
Question: Since it’s been written that the O’s are essentially following the Houston rebuild blueprint, what did they do at this crossroad where on-field success and the farm talent pipeline hit their stride? What was their formula for transitioning to a perpetual top-tier team? From: Rick in Hagerstown via email
Answer: Rick, I don’t think the situations are as close as you might think. The Astros’ regime inherited Jose Altuve, a Hall of Fame player, and while they drafted Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker, they also missed on top No. 1 picks, Mark Appel and Brady Aiken.
So far, Elias’ drafts with the Orioles with Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Heston Kjerstad, Colton Cowser and Jackson Holliday could turn out to be even better.
The Astros did trade prospects for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and have spent money in free agency. We’ll see if the Orioles do the same.
Question: What are the Orioles’ top three needs/priorities for the offseason? Who are the top three Orioles who are trade eligible and the likelihood of trading them? From: @Dyhard
Answer: Dan, the Orioles’ three priorities in the offseason are pitching, pitching and more pitching. Seriously, I would say another starter, a candidate to close and an innings-eating reliever.
Any Oriole is eligible to be traded, but I think if they’re going to make a trade for pitching, they’d trade one of their veteran outfielders and/or one of their infield or outfield prospects.
Question: According to some reports, the Orioles are looking to deal Anthony Santander because he figures to qualify for a $12 million salary in arbitration. If the Orioles aren’t even willing to spend $12 million for a player of Santander’s caliber, do you think there is any possibility that the Orioles will make a serious effort to sign Rutschman and Henderson to long-term extensions? From: Birdman via email
Answer: Joel, I think the lack of a Santander extension could be tied into an attempt to eventually sign Adley Rutschman and/or Gunnar Henderson to long-term extensions.
While I would love to see Santander stay for the long term, the Orioles have outfield prospects. He’s a fine player, but Rutschman and Henderson could be generational and irreplaceable.
If the Orioles could sign Rutschman and Henderson to long-term contracts, they probably couldn’t afford many, if any, other long-term deals. If they could sign another player to a long-term contract, you’d probably want a younger player than Santander.
If they trade Santander this offseason, and it’s only a possibility, it’s because they wouldn’t want him to play out the 2024 season and leave the Orioles without compensation, unless they proffer a qualifying offer. They may well decide to hold on to him since they’re in contending mode.
Question: I’m confused about how many times Ryan McKenna has been optioned to Norfolk. It seems like he was over the limit in 2023, as he was up and down several times. What am I missing? What do you see as McKenna’s future with the Orioles or another team? From: Mike Taylor from Virginia Beach via email
Answer: Mike, George Knatz also has a question about McKenna. A player added to the 40-man roster can be optioned in three separate years. Players can be optioned to the minor leagues five times during a season. McKenna was first optioned to Norfolk in 2021, then again in 2022 and 2023.
We’ll find out on Friday if McKenna has been offered a contract for 2023. While his projected salary isn’t high, some of his value came from being able to be optioned. If he’s retained and the Orioles want him on the 2024 roster, he’d have to pass through waivers before he could sent to Norfolk.
Question: Why would the Orioles be interested in putting 30-year old-outfielder Sam Hilliard on the roster? He’s had a spotty career at best with Atlanta. The outfield does not seem to be much of a problem for the 2024 season with a successful 2023 from the current players and great potential from within the minors. From: Rusty Wallace, Annapolis via email
Answer: Rusty, Hilliard was a depth acquisition. Perhaps he’ll be taken off the 40-man roster, pass through waivers and serve as a depth piece at Norfolk. You never know if you’ll need an experienced outfielder because of injuries. Aaron Hicks played a larger role on the team than expected because of injuries to centerfielder Cedric Mullins.
Question: The Orioles have solid position players in the minors who are MLB material but not pitchers. What about our international minor leaguers? Any pitching prospects who may eventually make it to the majors? From: Larry Schultz via email
Answer: Larry, of the top 30 Oriole prospects in MLB Pipeline, there are 10 pitchers: Chayce McDermott (10th), Cade Povich (11th), Seth Johnson (15th), Justin Armbruester (19th), Carter Baumler (22nd), Jackson Baumeister (24th), Luis DeLeon (26th), Juan Nuñez (28th), Alex Pham (29th), and Trace Bright (30th). Both DeLeon and Nuñez are international prospects.
Question: I don’t know why anyone would think that Santander is overvalued at $12 million a year. He has been our most consistent run producer for two or three years, he plays a better than average right field and he is a switch-hitter with power from both sides. Instead of looking to trade him, the Orioles should be working on a four- or five-year deal for $45 or $50 million. From: Carl Sallese via email
Answer: Carl, I’m not one to estimate potential contracts, but I would guess Santander would fetch a lot more than $9 or $10 million per year for five years on the open market.
Question: What are the chances of the Orioles giving John Means and/or Anthony Santander extensions of a year or more during their arbitration negotiations? From: Bill Connor via email
Answer: Bill, I wouldn’t bet on either Means or Santander getting an extension over the next few months. I can’t see them extending Means because of his injury history and doubt they’ll offer a multi-year extension to Santander.
Question: I’ve seen a number of free-agent starting pitching targets mentioned for the Orioles. One name I haven’t seen linked to the O’s is Hyun Jin Ryu. Would he be a realistic option as a left-handed starter, mid-rotation at a bargain price? From: Kevin Lloyd via email
Answer: Kevin, Ryu wasn’t listed on MLBTradeRumors’ top 50 free agents. He was listed on their supplemental list of 22 others. He had Tommy John surgery in 2022, returned for 11 starts and went 3-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 2023.
I would think he could be an option, though, along with John Means, he’d give the Orioles two left-handers with recent Tommy John surgeries. I think they’ll want a pitcher with a little better injury history but wouldn’t rule him out as a possibility.
Question: What are your thoughts on a pitching coach? Can he make a difference? From: Steve Winnie via email
Answer: Steve, I think a good pitching coach can make a huge difference. The Orioles haven’t decided on who their pitching coaches will be in 2024, and I’d think potential free agents would want to know who the coaches are before they sign with a team.
Question: I think that it is more likely to trade for a pitcher with two or three years of club control than to sign a free agent pitcher for three years or more. Dylan Cease would seem to be a worthy target. What type of package do you think it would take to make the trade? Which prospects are considered untouchable in any trade discussions? (I would think Holliday would be one. Are there others?) From: Phil Cooke via email
Answer: Phil, I think the Orioles would be one of a number of teams that would be interested in Dylan Cease should the Chicago White Sox decide to trade him.
The guess here is that besides Jackson Holliday, the Orioles would be unlikely to trade Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad. I’d be interested to see if they’d be tempted to deal Coby Mayo, Connor Norby or Joey Ortiz in a major deal.
Question: Can you tell us how good defensively are the the up-and-coming outfielders in the O’s system? We hear a lot about their offensive abilities, but I would like to know who are the best in fielding. From: Gerry Mack from Jarrettsville, Maryland via Facebook
Answer: Gerry, the only top outfield prospect I’ve seen a lot of is Colton Cowser. I saw most of his games with the Orioles and he seemed tentative in the field, a lot more tentative than he looked in the last two spring trainings. I had been impressed with his outfield play in spring training and think he’ll be a lot better offensively and defensively in 2024.
I saw a bit of some of the other outfield prospects who played a few innings in Grapefruit League games but not enough to make a judgment. I haven’t seen Enrique Bradfield Jr. at all. Bradfield, last year’s top draft choice, has excellent speed and had two assists in 33 games at Delmarva.
Question: Have you heard anything about international prospects the Orioles are rumored to sign? From: Charlie via email
Answer: No, Charlie I haven’t. The 2024 international signing period begins January 15th. In each of Koby Perez’s years of signing players, the Orioles are getting linked with higher-caliber players, and I expect that to continue.
Question: I count seven internal options (Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, Jordan Westburg, Ramón Urías, Joey Ortiz, Connor Norby, and Coby Mayo) who are ready for an infield spot on the 26-man roster, and eight if you include Jackson Holliday (who would probably be ready by midseason if not at the start of the year). How do you think the Orioles rank them (1-8) from an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint? (Or, if it’s easier, how do you think the Orioles would slot them in groupings of excellent, good, fair, and poor?) From: Rick Newell via email
Answer: Rick, I don’t know how the Orioles rank their players internally, but I’d guess their rating system is quite detailed. By Friday evening, we’ll have a better idea of how they rate their infielders because that’s the deadline for offering contracts, and we’ll see if Mateo and Urías are offered 2024 contracts. That may make your ranking a bit easier.
Question: Could you explain exactly how the Wins Above Replacement numbers are calculated? Also, why are batting averages no longer the most important statistic? From: Glenn Fuller of Laurel via email
Answer: Glenn, according to MLB.com, for position players, WAR is calculated by using the number of runs above average a player is worth in his batting, baserunning and fielding, plus adjustment for position, plus adjustment for league, plus the number of runs provided by a replacement-level player.
It measures a player’s value in all facets of the game by figuring how many more wins he’s worth than what they call a “replacement-level player” at his same position.
WAR is considered a more encompassing stat than batting average, though I think batting average is still useful. In today’s game, a player with a lower batting average but more doubles and home runs is considered more valuable than a player with a higher average who doesn’t have as much power.
Question: I realize I’m late with a question but I really need an answer. Can you please enlighten us fans on MLB’s logic when making the schedule. I know a fair amount about the game but the scheduling has always confused me. They can make sure they end the season in division during the final few weeks of the season. Why is the schedule so random and complicated? How did it get to be the way that it is?Why don’t they have a simple schedule formula? Why 162, specifically? What a random number with zero mathematical logic? From: Dan A. from the Oregon Coast
Answer: Dan, it’s the Internet so I can squeeze in another question. When the leagues expanded from eight to 10 teams in the early 1960s, they went from 154 to 162 games. In a 154-game schedule, teams played 22 games against each other, and 18 in a 162-game schedule. It got more complicated with more expansion, divisional play and an odd number of teams in each league.
If MLB expands to 32 teams, there will be realignment of divisions and easier scheduling.
Note: Gunnar Henderson finished eighth and Adley Rutschman ninth in the American League Most Valuable Player vote. I voted for Shohei Ohtani, Corey Seager, Yandy Diaz, Marcus Semien, Julio Rodríguez, Henderson, Kyle Tucker, Bobby Witt Jr., Luis Robert Jr. and Yordan Alvarez.