In conjunction with the Orioles offseason review, we’ll be running an Orioles-focused conversation on March 7th. You can click here to ask a question in advance.
After five straight dismal seasons, the Orioles finally showed signs of life in 2022. Their farm system really began to produce for the big league club and they won 83 games, their best total since 2016. As a result there was hope aggressive winter, with general manager Mike Elias fanning those flames as the offseason progressed. But in the end, the club avoided a big splash and continued with some modest moves. The future is still bright in Baltimore as the organization is loaded with young talent, but a true pedal-to-the-metal transition has yet to materialize.
Major League signings
2022 Expenditure: $23MM
Total spend: $23MM
Trades And Claims
Minor Specific Signatures
- Lyles, Smell Rougned, Cam from Gallagher, Brett Phillips, Jesus Aguilar, Chris Owings, Robinson Chirinos, Jake Reed, Beau Sulser, Louis Head, Chris Ellis, Yusniel Diaz
“Our plan for this season was to raise the payroll significantly,” general manager Mike Elias said in August. “I think a lot of that is going to come through our own guys going through arbitration, but we also plan to explore free agency a lot more aggressively. We’re planning to maybe do some buy trades for some people who are under contract or in line with their arbitration.”
“Success… only cemented those plans. I’m really looking forward to the offseason and the kind of winter meeting environment we’re buying into. I think it’s going to be really fun for our group and the organization.”
Here’s another comment from Elias from August, as reported by The Athletic’s Dan Connolly: “I think it’s taking off for this team.”
Those comments certainly led to a wide range of interpretations and expectations among the club’s fans. Some may have been on the more skeptical side, while others may be dreaming of a big splash like one of the top shortstops or an elite starter. The club obviously sniffed around the “Big Four” shortstops but it didn’t look like they were close to doing anything there. They were also attached to boot as Carlos Rodón and Jameson Taillon and Others. But again, they never seemed close to winning those offers and those players eventually signed elsewhere.
The club made a few moves to their rotation, but nothing near the level of Rodón or Taillon. They declined an $11MM option over a veteran Jordan Lyles, opting for a $1MM buyout instead. A few weeks later, they diverted the $10MM they saved to another old innings eater Kyle Gibson. On the surface, that actually seems like a downgrade, as Lyles posted a 4.42 ERA last year to Gibson’s 5.05. One could dig deeper and find that Gibson had better peripherals and a lower FIP, and this might turn into a savvy trade. But in the grand scheme of things, we are talking about a movement that is essentially net neutral.
The other new addition is the rotation Irvin back, acquired from the A’s with each team getting a new prospect in the market as well. Irvin is a bit like Gibson in that he is expected to be a competent but not an elite member of the rotation. He made 62 starts for the A’s over the last two years with a 4.11 ERA, but will be moving from the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum to the AL East. Oriole Park has been a little kinder to pitchers since they moved the left field fence back last year, but Irvin will still have to take the mound in the less friendly situations around the division while facing some strong lineups. He’s had good success over the last few seasons and is free since he hasn’t reached arbitration yet, but there is some risk here.
A few small things were added to the mix for positional players as well. Adam Frazier he was brought on board with a one-year contract to essentially replace him Smell Rougned as a veteran second baseman. He is coming off a down year at the plate but is generally graded well with the glove. His bat has fluctuated hot and cold over the years, and he will be a nice piece if he can have one of those good seasons. If one of the Orioles’ many infield prospects finally pushes for a larger share of the second base reps, Frazier also has plenty of experience in left field.
The club also bought low by getting James McCann from the Mets, coming off two straight disappointing seasons. He still has two years left on his four-year, $40.6MM deal, but the Mets are paying most of it. The O’s will only be responsible for paying a total of $5MM over those two years. With Adley Rutschman firmly entrenched as a backup for years to come, the O’s just need McCann to be a serviceable backup. If his bat gets back to where it was in 2019 and 2020, that would be a nice bonus, but they’re not counting on it. In particular, McCann has a strong track record against lefties (despite a poor showing in 2022), and the switch-hitting Rutschman was much better as a left-handed hitter than a right-handed hitter during his first season. The O’s aren’t going to immediately relegate Rutschman to platoon status, but McCann still gives them a fair shot as an attractive duo.
And what else? Mychal gives received $5MM to bring an established presence to the bullpen. The depth was bolstered by waiver claims on players such as Ryan O’Hearn and Lewin Diaz, twice in the latter case. Both players were eventually outrighted to serve as non-roster depth alongside minor league signees as Nomar Mazara and Franchy Cordero. That’s about it.
As mentioned earlier, fans probably had mixed opinions about what to expect this winter with those comments from Elias, but it’s hard to really feel that this is what he had in mind. . The club’s current payroll is stagnant compared to the end of last year, with Roster Resource putting a figure of $63MM on both counts. That puts them 29th in the league, behind only the A’s. After saying it would raise payroll “significantly”, it’s hard to characterize that as anything but disappointing. Was it “fun,” as Elias predicted, to trade Lyles for Gibson and then add Irvin, McCann, Frazier and Givens?
The difference between promise and delivery could be chalked up to the changes in the off-season environment. Most free agent riders beat industry projections, often by wide margins. Xander Bogaerts, for example, got about $100MM more than expected. Even mid-rotation starters like Taillon and Taijuan Walker they did much better than their predictions. Perhaps Elias expected more to come from him here and was simply priced. There would be little point in raising hopes if he had no intention of coming through.
Regardless of how or why it happened, the O’s will be entering 2023 with a relatively similar roster to last year, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The club’s farm system really started to pay off at the big league level last year, with prospects like Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers while others are debating and showing strong potential. There is even more coming through the pipeline with Grayson Rodriguezone of the top pitching prospects in the league, could jump into the Opening Day rotation here in 2023.
Those should be games on the big league team this year and for years to come, along with other incumbents such as Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays and Others. The pitching seems less exciting, with Gibson and Irvin along with several other pitchers still trying to establish themselves as viable big leaguers, such as Rodriguez, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Austin Voth and Tyler Wells.
Despite all those prospects jumping up to the big leagues, there’s more to the system. After Rodriguez, the club also has highly regarded prospects Hall DL, Connor Norby, Coby Mayo, Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg, Colton Cowser and Jackson holiday. Apart from Holliday, all of those boys will be in the upper levels of the minors and could join the team this year depending on the progress of the year.
Overall, the club is still in great shape for the future, as they are loaded with controllable young talent. The recent lack of spending means there won’t be much on the books going forward. But many expected that the young core would be supplemented with aggressive moves to add established veterans. Elias confirmed that was the plan and brought in some complementary pieces, but not really at the level he was implying.
Leaving the players aside for a moment, another major story for the Orioles this winter is the apparent turmoil within the Angelos family. Peter Angelos has owned the team for many years but has been in poor health since his collapse in 2017. His wife Georgia and their two sons, John and Louis, appear to be at odds over how to proceed with him the right to vote. It was reported in June of last year that John had been approved by MLB as Baltimore’s “controlling person” but with Louis suing his brother over those and other developments. Georgia then filed a countersuit against Louis, alleging that he had made demands in his own attempt to seize power. Despite that ugly battle, an agreement was reached in February in which all parties agreed to drop their lawsuits.
All of those lawsuits included accusations of a possible sale of the club, and both John and Georgia were accused of trying to explore the possibility at times. In addition, the club rejected a five-year lease extension at Camden Yards in February. That creates uncertainty about the future of the club in Baltimore, but this seems to be only a temporary issue. The club is hoping to secure a new deal lasting 10-15 years so the Maryland Stadium Authority can qualify for a $600MM loan for stadium upgrades. John Angelos is adamant that the club does not want to relocate, and that they are not really pursuing a sale. He has also said that they would like to get into the top half of the league in terms of spending at some point.
That gives hope for the future, but that didn’t materialize this winter. As mentioned, the club’s payroll is higher than last year but still only in 29th place among the 30 clubs in the league. Despite the winter without flashy moves, the product on the field is still in decent shape. They won 83 games last year and there is still plenty of hope on the rise. However, young players don’t always progress in a linear fashion, and this particular group will be looking to compete in the strongest division in the league. There is light over the horizon, but it is not yet clear how close the new dawn really is.
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