Orioles' priorities remain the same as Winter Meetings approach - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Orioles’ priorities remain the same as Winter Meetings approach

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer USA TODAY Sports

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A week from now, the Winter Meetings in Nashville will be underway, and the guess here is that this week will be full of activity on the free-agent and, perhaps, the trade market.

It’s been an exceptionally slow start to free agency. Only two of MLBTradeRumors.com’s top 50 free agents have signed, and the highest-ranked one, Aaron Nola, one of the best starters on the market, returned to the Philadelphia Phillies for seven years and $172 million.

Reliever Reynaldo López signed a three-year, $30 million contract with Atlanta.

Kyle Gibson, who was ranked just outside of the top 50, moved from the Orioles to the St. Louis Cardinals for a one-year, $12 million contract, a raise of $2 million over last year, at age 36. He also got a 2025 option. Lance Lynn, also outside of the top 50, signed with the Cardinals on the same day as Gibson for $11 million in 2024.

On Sunday night, the Detroit Tigers reached agreement with another Top 50 free agent, right-hander Kenta Maeda on a two-year, $24 million contract, according to The New York Post.

Besides Shohei Ohtani, who isn’t going to pitch in 2024, the biggest buzz last week was about 25-year-old Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who TradeRumors believes will command a nine-year, $225 million deal, one that’s clearly out of the Orioles’ comfort zone.

While other free agents don’t have to sign before or even after spring training starts, because of the Japanese posting system, Yamamoto must sign by January 4th, so his market could move quickly.

Yamamoto is considered the third most desirable free agent, and the pitchers just behind him, Blake Snell (seven years, $200 million) and Jordan Montgomery (seven years, $150 million), are out of the Orioles’ price range. So is the top reliever, Josh Hader, (six years, $110 million.)

There’s been no discernable movement in the markets for Snell, Montgomery or Hader. Nor on lower-price pitchers: Sonny Gray, Eduardo Rodriguez, Marcus Stroman or Lucas Giolito.

The Orioles are also in the market for relief help since closer Félix Bautista will be out next season after having Tommy John surgery. While López appeared to be the type of reliever they could have used, the three years he received from the Braves seemed out of the Orioles’ range, not the $10 million annual salary.

Also on the agenda is an announcement on the Orioles’ coaching staff. With the reassignment of Chris Holt to director of pitching for the organization and the departure of assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes, the Orioles need at least two new coaches.

Ryan Klimek, the Orioles’ pitching strategy coach, remains on staff, and he could fill one of the positions. So could Justin Ramsey, who’s worked with many of the young pitchers on the Orioles’ staff. Ramsey has worked his way up in the organization and was at Triple-A Norfolk the past two seasons.

There was a report that the Orioles had interest in Andrew Bailey, who recently signed as Boston’s pitching coach. It isn’t known how many outsiders the Orioles have interviewed.

With free agency already here, clarity on the pitching coaches could help free agents decide on their next destination.

There will always be trade chatter at the Winter Meetings, and Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias will be circulating. Popular names such as Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes and the Chicago White Sox’s Dylan Cease are of interest to the Orioles.

However, the Orioles don’t have a lot of expendable, attractive young pitching that rebuilding or retooling teams may want. Their highest-ranking pitching prospects — Chayce McDermott, Cade Povich, Seth Johnson and Justin Armbruester — have promise, but none appears to be major league ready. Only McDermott (10th) is among their top 10 prospects.

Johnson had Tommy John surgery shortly after the Orioles acquired him from Tampa Bay in the three-way trade that sent Trey Mancini to Houston. The Astros sent McDermott to Baltimore. Johnson threw only 10 1/3 innings in five rehab starts in 2023.

The Orioles have excellent infield and outfield prospects, but even if one of these pitchers are included in the deal, it might not be  enough to get Burnes or Cease.

Under Elias, the Orioles have been quiet during the Winter Meetings, although Gibson’s signing was made official last December in San Diego. Elias has continued the team’s history of taking a flyer or two during the Rule 5 draft, which concludes the meetings on December 6th.

With four openings on the 40-man roster, the Orioles can draft another relief prospect or two, though their drafting position will be lower than in previous years.

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