Orioles' roles for Wells, Hall still unclear as Winter Meetings near - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Winter Meetings Coverage

Orioles’ roles for Wells, Hall still unclear as Winter Meetings near

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan USA TODAY Sports

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The Orioles need another starter. They also need another bullpen arm, maybe two.

When the Winter Meetings begin on Sunday, much of the chatter pertaining to the Orioles will be about their looking for a starter.

They already have Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Grayson Rodriguez and what they hope is a healthy John Means.

There are two other pitchers who could be part of their starting rotation or in the bullpen.

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Tyler Wells began 2023 as a starter and had a wonderful first half. Wells was 7-4 with a 3.18 earned-run average with 103 strikeouts and just 24 walks in 104 2/3 innings and a legitimate consideration for the American League All-Star team.

But something happened as the second half of the season began, and Wells had three horrible starts, allowing 11 runs on 10 hits with nine walks in nine innings. The Orioles demoted him to Double-A Bowie.

After that, he pitched 14 2/3 innings for Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk before his return as a reliever in September.

Wells threw five hitless innings as a reliever, giving up just one walk, and 3 1/3 additional scoreless innings in the three Division Series losses to Texas.

Do the Orioles need Wells as a starter? Or, without closer Félix Bautista, do they need him in the bullpen?

Perhaps there’ll be more clarity in the next several days in Nashville.

Reports indicated that the Orioles had some interest in Aaron Nola, who returned to the Philadelphia Phillies on a seven-year, $172 million contract.

In an exceedingly slow free-agent market with only Nola, Kyle Gibson, Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn (all St. Louis) and Kenta Maeda (Detroit) signed to new deals, the Orioles will spend much time meeting with agents and talking trade about available starters with other teams.

The Orioles also have DL Hall, their No. 1 draft pick in 2017, whose progress through the system was delayed by injuries. After making his major league debut in August 2022 as a starter, each of his 28 appearances have been in relief.

This pas season, Hall was 3-0 with a 3.26 ERA and struck out 23 while walking five in 19 1/3 innings.

Is Hall firmly entrenched in the bullpen?

Without Bautista, the Orioles don’t have a confirmed closer. From the left side, there’s Hall, Danny Coulombe and Cionel Pérez. From the right side, there’s Yennier Cano, and possibly Wells.

Which of them will close next year? Perhaps all of them, or maybe the answer will come from outside the organization.

Even after his audition in the bullpen at the end of 2022, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias was projecting Hall as a starter. Is that still the case?

Reports from the New York Post had the Orioles in contact with relievers Josh Hader, Jordan Hicks, Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman.

Unless the market for Hader is much softer than the six year, $110 million MLBTradeRumors.com predicted, I can’t see the Orioles participating. If they’re going to spend that amount of money, which is unlikely, they’d spend on a starter.

Hicks, who was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays from St. Louis at the trade deadline, could fetch four years, $40 million. The estimate on a Chapman contract is two years, $24 million. MLBTR.com doesn’t rate Kimbrel as one of its top 50 free agents.

Under Elias, the Orioles have yet to sign a free agent to a multi-year contract, and it’s possible that one will be handed out in the coming weeks, but a four-year deal to a reliever might make Elias uncomfortable.

Chapman pitched for the Chicago Cubs when they won the World Series in 2016 with Brandon Hyde as first base coach, and the Orioles’ manager has always been an admirer.

However, the Chapman the Orioles faced last year with the New York Yankees and this year with Kansas City and Texas isn’t the same one who intimidated them in previous years. In seven outings against them in 2022, Chapman had a 12.60 ERA. This past season, at 35, he had a 7.71 ERA in three games. He pitched a scoreless 1 2/3 innings in the Division Series.

Kimbrel, who was one of baseball’s best closers when Orioles bench coach Fredi González managed him with the Atlanta Braves a decade ago, struggled in the National League Championship Series for Philadelphia. During the season, the 35-year-old Kimbrel managed a 3.26 ERA with 23 saves while still striking out 12.3 batters per nine innings.

You’ll be hearing other names over the next several days, and perhaps the Orioles will emerge from the four days in Nashville with another pitcher or two. It seems more likely that they’ll use the time to assess the trade and free-agent markets and won’t get caught up in a bidding war.

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