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Four questions ahead of MLB’s winter meetings – The Mercury News

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Beyond a few additions — and subtractions — on the waiver wire, it’s been a quiet start to the offseason for the Orioles. That could change next week once the Baltimore brass arrive in San Diego for winter meetings.

These will be the first winter meetings held in person since 2019, when executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias completed his first full season in charge of the Orioles. In this edition, Baltimore hardly made a ripple on the hot stove, as the rebuilding was still in its early stages. These next winter meetings could, however, have another hue.

After a trade deadline sale of closer Jorge López and first baseman Trey Mancini, Elias said the Orioles would suffer a “lift-off from here.” It remains to be seen how steep the take-off is – although this week could be eye-opening. Ahead of winter meetings, the Baltimore Sun’s Orioles reporters Nathan Ruiz and Andy Kostka offer their expert advice on how next week and the team’s offseason might progress.

1. What is the priority of the Orioles’ winter meetings?

Kostka: At the end of the season, Elias gave some generalities about where the Orioles will be looking to improve their roster this offseason. At the General Manager Meetings in Las Vegas last month, he was more specific: Elias would like to add a starting pitcher and an offensive assist.

Of the two, the top priority should be adding an impact offensive piece to a roster that hit .236 last year – and whose .243 average with runners in scoring position ranks 23rd in MLB. . The starting rotation, meanwhile, posted a 4.35 ERA compared to a 5.99 ERA in 2021. With right-handed prospect Grayson Rodriguez set to fight for a rotation spot, Baltimore is set to get another shot in the arm. inch in this area, even with the loss of right-handedness. Jordan Lyles.

Ruiz: While the Orioles’ lineup could use upgrades, some of those could reasonably come from a full year of Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson. This team, however, needs an Opening Day starter, the type of pitcher manager Brandon Hyde would no doubt field in Game 1 of a playoff series. While John Means could be called the latter once he returns from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, there is, for now, a gaping hole at the top of Baltimore’s rotation.

There’s certainly hope that Rodriguez can one day become the type of pitcher worthy of filling it, along with DL Hall, Kyle Bradish and others who have already debuted and yet to reach their potential. But this young mix needs someone to lead it, and whether it’s a signing, a trade, or laying the groundwork for one or the other, that should be the priority. Elias absolute next week.

2. Could the Orioles be involved in business discussions as buyers?

Kostka: With a surplus of prospects on the field, Baltimore could seek a veteran starting pitcher still under control via a trade. The Orioles have been a selling club throughout Elias’ tenure, even amid a surprise playoff push last year.

But the Orioles are now in position for that to move toward adding major league talent rather than bolstering a farm system that ranks No. 1 in baseball. Henderson has already established himself in the majors, but Joey Ortiz, Connor Norby and Jordan Westburg could attract trade candidates for a team looking to sell a front starter.

Ruiz: They should be, and it might actually be more convenient than being major players in free agency. Justin Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, is expected to receive a two-year contract with an average annual value of at least $35 million. Meanwhile, Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes, the 2021 National League recipient, likely won’t need that many totals in his final two years on the umpire before becoming a free agent.

Acquiring Burnes or any other arbitration-eligible trade candidate would of course cost the Orioles prospects in addition to that player’s salary, but they’ve built a deep farm system that can sustain losses. As Elias said at the end of the regular season, “there will be times when our player wealth is what we have to rely on to win here.”

3. Can the Orioles regain value in the Rule 5 draft?

Kostka: Last year, the Rule 5 draft was canceled as part of MLB’s lockdown. But every year since 2006, when there’s a Rule 5 draft, the Orioles have selected at least one player. They haven’t all been hit, but the additions include outfielder Anthony Santander and right-hander Tyler Wells.

There’s not as much need to fill the roster space with inexpensive talent as in previous years, but Baltimore can still add to its bullpen with an overabundance of hard throwing options that haven’t yet showed the ability to throw strikes at a fairly consistent pace. rate to break into the major leagues.

Minnesota Twins right-hander Steven Cruz fits that mold, with a fastball that can hit triple digits. In Double-A, the 23-year-old struck out 72 batters in 56 innings, but had a WHIP of 1.589. Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Andrew Schultz is another interesting possibility out of the bullpen, given his solid blend of slider and fastball.

Ruiz: Sure. Andy offers some intriguing options, and Baseball America has a larger roster of fascinating players than other organizations have left available (none of them are Orioles prospects). Due to the frequency of Rule 5 drafts, Baltimore has a decent record, but if the winter meetings end and we’re talking about a player who isn’t even guaranteed to be in the organization, opening day will be the Orioles’ most significant addition. of the week, it will be disappointing for good reason.

4. Is the lid finally lifting on Baltimore’s spending pot?

Kostka: Not entirely. The Orioles are making progress, but they could still be a year away from shelling out for one of the best free agents around. Instead, much of the spending could come in the form of tying down multiple referee-eligible players while adding mid-level veterans to an otherwise young squad.

Ruiz: No one outside the organization knows exactly how many coins there are in that pot, but it wouldn’t take much for Baltimore to increase its payroll. Including projected salaries for all of their retained players, the Orioles rank 29th out of 30 major teams with a projected payroll of $44.3 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Doubling that puts them in 22nd place, less than $2 million before the Washington Nationals rebuild.

The Cleveland Guardians and Tampa Bay Rays — the type of “transactional” franchises Elias often points to as role models for what he wants to build in Baltimore — are expected to be 26th and 27th, respectively, with a payroll of between $62 million and $69 million. dollars, although both playoff teams finished last year with higher numbers. Given what Baltimore did last year with a meager payroll, an increase in even that range might prove enough to get the Orioles to the playoffs, but that also doesn’t mean the organization shouldn’t. not aim higher.

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