Last season was supposed to be another rebuilding year for the Baltimore Orioles, but as the season progressed, it turned into more than that. By the start of September, the O’s were in the mix to secure a postseason berth via a wild card spot. Even though the team ended up missing the playoffs, the leap made in 2022 was gigantic. Excluding 2020, the club was coming off three straight 100-loss campaigns and finished the season above .500.
As the Orioles get ready to start spring training in Sarasota, Florida, the upcoming season looks to be a promising one.
Below is a recap of 2022, a look at how the offseason unfolded, a brief examination of the farm system, a preview of 2023, and a guess at what the roster could be to start the year.
Baltimore finished the season with a record of 83-79－3.0 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the final wild-card spot in the American League. Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, and Adley Rutschman were key contributors on offense. While Jordan Lyles, Dean Kremer, Cionel Pérez, and Félix Bautista were important on the mound.
Let’s take a look at how Baltimore’s offense and pitching staff performed, along with their defense and base running.
The Orioles’ offense fell right around league average. Their best offensive player was Adley Rutschman who slashed .254/.362/.445 with 13 home runs, 35 doubles, and a 128 OPS+.
As a pitching staff, Baltimore gave up 688 total runs and posted a 3.97 ERA. Here is a deeper breakdown of their pitching, while separating their starting rotation and bullpen.
The O’s most effective pitcher was Félix Bautista. Out of the bullpen, Bautista threw 65.2 innings, with a 2.19 ERA, 12.06 K/9, and 3.15 BB/9.
Defense and Base Running:
Baltimore was one of the better fielding and base running teams in the majors. Defensively they were tied for 8th in DRS (36) and tied for 13th in OAA (2). On the base paths, they were 5th in BsR (12).
Jorge Mateo was the Orioles’ best defender (14 DRS, 11 OAA) and base runner (5.8 BsR).
Heading into the offseason, it wasn’t a question about whether or not the organization would spend money on free agents to improve the club. Instead, the real question was just how much money would the front office be willing to hand out.
Quotes from the club’s Executive Vice President and General Manager Mike Elias hinted at adding a starting pitcher for the top of the rotation, bringing in a position player, or two, to improve the offense, and overall, spending more money than they have in previous winters.
That blueprint seemed like a great idea. The club was coming off a season in which they finished a few games shy of a playoff spot, but they did have some obvious holes on their 26-man roster throughout 2022. Adding one or more accomplished big leaguers to the roster would have been a great way to jump-start what looks to be a bright future in Baltimore as they have one of baseball’s best farm systems.
All that being said, the O’s didn’t appear to be interested in any of the superstar players available this winter. Players like Carlos Rodón, Trea Turner, and Xander Bogaerts never seemed to be on Baltimore’s radar.
Although there was little to no interest in bringing in a top-tier free agent, Baltimore could have been shopping for players right below that tier. If they were interested in that market, it is fair to assume some of those players became too pricey compared to what the front office was willing to spend. Jameson Taillon and Taijuan Walker, who would have been good top-of-the-rotation arms for the Orioles, signed deals worth $17 million and $18 million per year. Josh Bell would have been a solid upgrade to the lineup, but he signed a deal with the Guardians with an annual average value of $16.5 million. Taillon, Walker, and Bell would have been solid additions to Baltimore’s roster, but given the salaries they received, which some consider to be steep, it makes sense the Orioles held onto their money to spend at a later date.
While the Orioles didn’t bring in any notable upgrades this offseason, they did make some moves to ever so slightly enhance the roster. Below are some of their key additions, followed by players they did not retain.
- RHP Kyle Gibson, signed to a 1-year, $10 million contract
- RHP Mychal Givens, signed to a 1-year, $3 million contract
- 2B Adam Frazier, signed to a 1-year, $8 million contract
- LHP Cole Irvin, acquired from the Oakland Athletics
- C James McCann, acquired from the New York Mets
- RHP Jordan Lyles, signed a 2-year, $17 million contract with the Kansas City Royals
- 1B/DH Jesús Aguilar, signed a 1-year, $3 million contract with the Oakland Athletics
- C Robinson Chirinos, currently a free agent
- 2B Rougned Odor, currently a free agent
Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin wouldn’t be top of the rotation arms for most teams, but they will be in Baltimore to start 2023 and they should help stabilize the rotation. Both profile as contact pitchers and have made 30-plus starts each of the last two seasons.
Mychal Givens is a solid addition to the bullpen, which was Baltimore’s strength a year ago. Last year with the Cubs and Mets, Givens pitched 61.1 innings, with a 3.38 ERA and 71 strikeouts.
James McCann will be the backup catcher in Baltimore. While he did not live up to the expectations of his 4-year, $40.6 million contract he signed with the Mets prior to 2021, he has plenty of big-league experience and will serve as a good backup to one of the game’s budding stars in Adley Rutschman.
Adam Frazier hasn’t enjoyed much success over the last season and a half. After being traded from the Pirates to the Padres in 2021, Frazier’s performance declined, and while with the Mariners last year, he only hit .238/.301/.311 with an 80 OPS+. He did however post solid offensive numbers at the start of his career in Pittsburgh, so he could be somewhat of an offensive bounce-back candidate this season. At the very least, he can provide good defense at second base, as his 6 OAA at second were 8th best at the position in the majors last year.
John Means should also be noted as a key addition for the upcoming season. After only throwing 8.0 innings last year, he ended up missing the rest of the season due to Tommy John Surgery. The left-handed starter isn’t going to be ready to pitch in the majors to start the year, but he could return to the Orioles by July or August. The soon-to-be 30-year-old has a career 3.81 ERA in 65 starts and 356.2 innings pitched.
Signing players to long-term deals with large financial commitments didn’t seem likely this offseason, but spending more money could have made the club even better than it is heading into spring training. Altogether, the Orioles didn’t have a flashy off-season, but they did bring in good big-league players to help them in 2023.
Not tying themselves to players for an extended period of time this offseason could have to do with Baltimore’s well-constructed farm system. Even though trying to evaluate what a player could become and where they rank among other prospects isn’t an exact science, there should still be some weight those evaluations and rankings carry.
There are multiple outlets that put together prospect rankings. MLB Pipeline’s list isn’t always the most highly regarded, but it is the most accessible.
According to MLB.com’s 2023 top 100 prospect list, the Orioles not only have 8 of the top 100 prospects in baseball, but they also have the top prospect in the game in Gunnar Henderson.
Henderson debuted last September. He is likely going to graduate from prospect status this year as he seems set to make Baltimore’s Opening Day roster and contribute in the majors all season long. The 21-year-old is also a leading candidate to be the A.L.’s Rookie of the Year.
Here are the players in the Orioles’ farm system that made MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list:
Out of those players, two made their big league debuts last season (Henderson and Hall). As noted above, Henderson is likely going to be on the big league roster at the start of the year. Hall, however, may not have a role with O’s, at least to begin the season. While he could make the team as a starter or bullpen option, it is possible he starts the year in Triple-A:
It should also be pointed out that it seems like the organization wants Grayson Rodriguez to be in the big league rotation coming out of spring training:
The O’s aren’t going to simply hand one of their five starting pitching jobs to the 23-year-old right-hander. He will have to earn it, but Rodriguez is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball and should make a strong impression this spring.
Trying to project baseball is very difficult. Some teams seem like they are going to be good heading into a season and flop. Others have little to no expectations of competing for a playoff spot at the start of the year and end up in the postseason. There are teams who start off cold and finish the year hot and vice versa. Many things can happen over the length of the six-month regular season that factor into how a team’s season goes.
With that in mind, the Orioles fall into the category of “could make the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be a surprise, or failure of a season, if they don’t”. Mike Elias thinks the team is ready to win now. In recent comments, he stated the Orioles’ rebuild is behind them, and that he hopes the team makes the playoffs as that is their goal.
Yes, they were only 3 games short of making the postseason last year, but playing in the A.L. East isn’t going to be easy as the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Rays are likely going to be in the postseason mix all year long.
The improvements made to the roster by the front office this winter don’t make Baltimore that much better, either. The starting rotation could be better than it was last year. If the bullpen continues to pitch well, it should continue to be the O’s strength. As for the offense, signing Adam Frazier doesn’t add much to the mix, but it might make the offense a little better. Plenty is still up in the air when it comes to how the Orioles’ upcoming campaign will go.
Adley Rutschman is likely going to be their best player once again. After debuting in late May last season, his 5.3 fWAR was the highest on the team. Cedric Mullins was second (3.4 fWAR).
If the Orioles seriously want to compete this year, the bullpen will have to continue to limit runs, the rotation will have to be better, and the offense is going to need to score more.
In order for all of that to happen, Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez, Dillon Tate, Keegan Akin, offseason acquisition Mychal Givens, and other relievers are going to have to pitch as well as they did in 2022. Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin will need to lead the rotation, at least at the start of the season. For the offense to improve, Adley Rutschman is going to need to lead the way once again. Cedric Mullins will have to be more like the player he was in 2021. Adam Frazier will need to get back to who he was as a young player. Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle have to provide pop in the middle of the batting order. Gunnar Henderson, DL Hall, and Grayson Rodriguez are also going to have to step up in 2023, which is always hard to ask of young players at the big-league level.
The Orioles should be fun to watch. They have a decent core of big leaguers that will be complemented by young players. Winning anywhere from 82 to 87 games wouldn’t be a crazy prediction, and if they end up with a win total in that range, the O’s will be in the playoff picture at the very least.
Opening Day Roster
Here is a look at what could be the Opening Day roster for Baltimore as they open the year in Boston against the Red Sox:
- Kyle Gibson
- Cole Irvin
- Grayson Rodriguez
- Dean Kremer
- Tyler Wells
- Adley Rutschman
- James McCann
Other players who could make the roster out of spring training, depending on how things shake out during camp, include LHP Darwinzon Hernandez, RHP Andrew Politi (selected in the Rule 5 Draft), 1B Franchy Cordero, 1B Ryan O’Hearn, OF Kyle Stowers, and OF Nomar Mazara.
The Orioles haven’t made the postseason since 2016 and an 83-win season a year ago has increased expectations heading into 2023.
As 25-year-old Adley Rutschman is ready to lead Baltimore this season, there are a number of questions that surround the team heading into the year.
Could Gunnar Henderson follow in Rutschman’s footsteps and go from top prospect to key contributor? Will the starting rotation be better with Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin? Could Grayson Rodriguez shine if given the opportunity to be in the starting rotation? Is Cedric Mullins going to be the player he was two years ago? The O’s seem poised to be one of baseball’s most exciting teams in 2023, but will they fulfill that expectation?
Those questions and more will soon be answered as Opening Day is set for March 30th.
Featured Photo: Twitter / @Orioles