As Orioles executives arrived at the Manchester Grand Hyatt for Major League Baseball’s winter meetings, the team’s fans hoped for a splash. Instead, the front office left San Diego with only a dose of reality.
During the week, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias gave a more direct assessment of his plans to increase the Orioles’ payroll, saying this offseason would represent the first step in a steady increase rather than the point. from which it soars. Two months remain in the offseason, and Elias made sure that was clear as he prepared to return to Baltimore with the club’s only additions of the week being an eventual starter, Rule 5 reliever and a handful of minor league signings.
“We still have a lot of players there,” Elias said. “It’s only the start of the offseason, so whether or not something materializes in a day or two, I think there’s been a lot of information gleaned here.”
Some of this information may be revealed over time. But for now, here are five things we learned from the Orioles’ time at winter meetings.
It will be a quieter winter than expected.
From the moment Elias said “it’s takeoff from here” in the same post-trade deadline interview in which he said the Orioles would try to make some big additions this offseason, an idea was naturally planted in the minds of the fans – even though that was not the intention. The sentence was further complicated when, at the end of the season, Elias declared that “greater investments in the major league payroll” were to come. “Liftoff” has become a measuring stick.
That concept was countered quickly and often this week in San Diego, with Elias reiterating on Monday that he used the word in reference to the state of the organization moving forward, not as a telegraph of his plans to move forward. winter, before saying Wednesday that the Orioles won’t “flip a switch” to maximize their payroll or playoff chances for 2023. Unless they stray from that, the rest of the numbers from the he offseason will be a gauge of the veracity of Elias’ statements.
Baltimore’s $10 million deal with veteran starting pitcher Kyle Gibson is comfortably the biggest guarantee Elias has given a free agent in his four years on the job, and he’s carried the projected payroll of Orioles on opening day more than 20% above last year’s mark. But a bump that still leaves the Orioles among the two lowest payrolls in the sport shouldn’t be called “significant.”
Their young core will be tested.
Manager Brandon Hyde described the state of the Orioles’ current roster succinctly but effectively.
“We have talented guys,” Hyde said this week.
And in large part, these guys will be expected to lead Baltimore to the playoffs, with Elias saying any additions, especially on the positional player side, will “supplement,…not stall” the organization’s young talent. .
The Orioles will benefit from full seasons of former No. 1 overall prospects Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson. The same could be true for top pitching prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, with another wave of minor league talent to come as well. After up-and-down seasons, Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays could be more consistent contributors, while Anthony Santander could improve on a season in which he led all hitters in homers. Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells will all have the opportunity to build on their successes in the Orioles rotation.
“We have a lot of internal talent in the organization, especially on the positional player side to sort of plan, and we don’t want to end up in a situation where we have to trade some of our key players because we’ve signed a guy to take their place,” Elias said. “It just doesn’t make much sense to us right now. I think we’re still on a very bullish part of things, given the uptrend here for the organization. We feel good where we are and we want to be very careful and strategic to build on this group that we have.
The rotation is far from complete.
Baltimore’s front office spent much of its time in San Diego looking for another starting pitcher, after finalizing Gibson’s deal on Monday. Several free agents who would easily rank at the top of the Orioles rotation remain available, with Carlos Rodón, Chris Bassitt and Kodai Senga being the most notable of this group. Elias, however, noted in a interview with MLB Network Radio that Baltimore thinks the pitchers are getting worse after the first season of multi-year contracts and that the club is factoring that possibility into everything it does.
Whether or not the Orioles add one more starter, they will travel to Sarasota, Fla., in two months with a lot to decide on their rotation. With Gibson assured of a healthy spot, there are four openings so far for a group of contenders most likely to include Kremer, Bradish, Wells, Austin Voth, Rodriguez and Hall.
Elijah noted that the Orioles were not prioritizing relievers this offseason, believing that some of those rotation candidates could move into bullpen roles. Wells, Voth and Hall have varying amounts of major league relief experience, with Hyde saying Hall, Baltimore’s No. 2 pitching prospect, would be stretched ‘to at least be a multi-inning guy’ in the spring before any decision on a role was made.
“As it is, as it is, I feel good with our guys,” Hyde said. “The more depth you can get in the rotation, the better. We have to stay lucky with injuries, and you’re always worrying about things in spring training. But right now the core guys that we have in terms of rotation had a lot of success in the second half and we want to see them build on it.
The difficulty of AL East remains a barrier.
It’s so true that, when asked if his efforts to improve Baltimore’s playoff odds this winter would be such that the Orioles could be ranked as favorites for the American League East, Elias quickly dismissed that possibility.
“Look, in the division that we’re in and the teams that were top of the division this year, where we came from last year, I think it’s really difficult to sit there and draw a course and say, ‘We’re likely to win the division,” Elias said. “Now you see young teams popping up all the time, and that will be our focus in spring training break, but with As daunting as the American League East is, I think our goal this year is to make the playoffs and put ourselves in a better position to make the playoffs, and that’s the stated goal.
The Orioles were the best team in the AL not to make the playoffs, but still finished fourth in their division, 16 games behind the New York Yankees for first place. Without major additions, it’s hard to imagine them closing that gap, especially after the Yankees shelled out $360 million to retain reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge.
The Boston Red Sox have taken steps to improve and could pursue more after the loss of shortstop Xander Bogaerts. The Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays have been relatively quiet, but both, like the Orioles, have young talent that should step up in 2023.
Gunnar Henderson’s house is on the left side.
In the final weeks before promoting Henderson for the stretch run, the Orioles had him experiment on the right side of the infield at Triple-A Norfolk. Prior to this streak, he had played only five professional innings as a second baseman and none at the start.
The organization pitched him as a way to increase his versatility in a playoff run, but it was also read as an excuse to keep him in the minors long enough for him to maintain his rookie eligibility in the offseason. . Once called, Henderson only spent three games at second base. This week, Hyde wished there were even so many.
“It was probably unfair to him, honestly, when I did that,” Hyde said. “It was mainly because I wanted to have all these guys in the lineup at the same time, and Ramón [Urías] played so well at third base. Kind of put Gunnar in a tough spot, honestly.
“He has already played two. To put it in a third, I wish that hadn’t happened.
Henderson is considered an above-average shortstop and positive defender at third base, and there’s no reason the Orioles are asking him to be anything else. He’ll spend 2023 on the left side of Baltimore’s infield, which has flexibility elsewhere. Holders Jorge Mateo and Urías have established themselves as valuable, but not entirely essential, players. Elias is looking for a left-handed hitter who would be a regular in Baltimore, with second base perhaps the most logical solution and Adam Frazier being the best candidate available in this case. But a flurry of prospects on the pitch are coming, and Elias has made it clear he doesn’t want to block them. Including Henderson, six of Baltimore’s top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America, are infielders, with all but one — 2022 first draft pick Jackson Holliday — having reached Double-A.
“I think we’re going to want to take advantage of the fact that we have this position group that we have right now in the organization,” Elias said. “I think that allows us to be a bit demanding.”