While it came to a disappointing end, the 2023 season was a massive success for the Baltimore Orioles. This team won 101 games after being picked by many to miss the playoffs. However, if the Orioles wish to improve upon their first-round exit next season, they need to start working immediately as free agency gets underway.
Despite being a 101-win team, the Orioles have some housekeeping to attend to this offseason. The two most glaring issues that need to be addressed are the depleted starting rotation and the incoming logjam of position players.
The starting pitching let the Orioles down in the postseason after overperforming in the regular season. If the Orioles intend to compete in October next year, they need to address this weakness.
Moreover, in 2023, the Orioles already began to experience the effects of a logjam of position players. It is only going to get worse in 2024. You can only put eight position players on the field at a time. Depth is a great thing to have, but Baltimore has it in excess and needs to decide who to build around.
This is going to be a pivotal offseason for the Orioles. It could very well define the team for the next five years, if not longer.
|Projected 2024 Rotation||2024 Depth|
|1. Kyle Bradish – RHP||1. Tyler Wells – RHP|
|2. Grayson Rodriguez – RHP||2. DL Hall – LHP|
|3. John Means – LHP||3. Tucker Davidson – LHP|
|4. Dean Kremer – RHP||Minors|
|5. Cole Irvin – LHP||1. Cade Povich – LHP|
|2. Chayce McDermot – RHP|
Need: A top-flight starter
The Orioles have a new ace in Kyle Bradish. His breakout season saw him take over the rotation in Baltimore. The righty finished 2023 as one of the best pitchers in the American League. Pairing Bradish with rookie phenom Grayson Rodriguez gives the Orioles a solid one-two punch at the top.
The questions come further down in the rotation. John Means didn’t pitch much in 2023 after coming off of Tommy John surgery. It is hard to know what to expect from him in 2024.
Dean Kremer had a decent season, finishing with a 4.12 ERA. However, the advanced stats suggest some luck was on his side. It is hard to feel comfortable with Kremer in big games.
Cole Irvin had a really rough start to the year but pulled it together late. He pitched to a 3.00 ERA after July 1, but most of that work was out of the bullpen. Once again, he is a pitcher for whom it is hard to know what to expect.
The Orioles should be one of the most aggressive teams this offseason when it comes to pursuing top-flight starting pitching. This should include both free agent options as well as trade candidates. If you keep reading, I will dive a bit more into the trade side of things later in this article.
Free agents such as Marcus Stroman, Jordan Montgomery, and Eduardo Rodriguez should all be on the Orioles’ radar. Signing a pitcher of that quality would solidify the top of the rotation, creating a strong top three with Bradish and Rodriguez.
If the Orioles end up missing on the big-name free agent pitchers, they can still pursue starting pitching via trade. There are whispers of players being traded every offseason for a plethora of reasons. The big name last season was Corbin Burnes, who ended up not being moved.
Burnes is likely to draw some interest once again, with the Orioles being a potential landing spot. Time will tell what the offseason trade market looks like. With that said, the Orioles have the farm system to make big moves and should not hesitate if the opportunity presents itself.
|Projected 2024 Bullpen||2024 Depth|
|1. Yennier Cano – RHP||1. Cole Irvin – LHP|
|2. Danny Coulombe – LHP||2. Dillon Tate – RHP|
|3. Tyler Wells – RHP||3. Keegan Akin – LHP|
|4. DL Hall – LHP||4. Bryan Baker – RHP|
|5. Jacob Webb – RHP||5. Nick Vespi – LHP|
|6. Cionel Pérez – LHP||6. Joey Krehbiel – RHP|
|7. Mike Baumann – RHP|
|8. Tucker Davidson – LHP|
Need: Replace Félix Bautista
The Orioles had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball in 2023. As a unit, the Orioles bullpen finished fifth in ERA, first in FIP, and second in WAR. That was thanks in large part to Félix Bautista, who is undergoing Tommy John surgery this offseason.
There’s no one quite like Bautista, but there are a multitude of ways that the Orioles can try and replace his production. There is no right answer, but the team needs to have a plan for how to approach the situation.
One option would be to replace Bautista with in-house arms. The fall-off from Bautista to Yennier Cano is not that steep, especially with Danny Coulombe, Tyler Wells, and DL Hall as options to be the eighth-, seventh-, and sixth-inning guys, respectively.
If that is indeed how the Orioles handle it, the bullpen probably doesn’t fall off a tremendous amount. It would likely go from a top-five unit to a fringe top-ten unit.
Another option would be to try and replace Bautista via free agency. The name at the top of everyone’s list is Josh Hader. Hader would obviously be the best option, and signing the All-Star southpaw would result in the smallest drop-off in talent. On the flip side, Hader is going to be expensive. It is hard to see the Orioles paying up for a player like him.
I think it is much more likely that Baltimore chases a cheaper reliever on a one-year deal. Two names that come to mind are Reynaldo López and Aroldis Chapman. If this is the route the Orioles go, neither has to be the closer/ninth-inning guy. The club can leave that role to Cano, but either López or Chapman would be elite in a set-up role.
Replacing all of Bautista’s value is an impossible task. No matter what the Orioles do, it is unlikely the bullpen will perform at the same level without him. However, the front office needs to decide what they are going to do to minimize the blow of losing the best closer in baseball.
|Projected 2024 Infield||2024 Depth|
|C – Adley Rutschman (SHB)||1B/DH – Ryan O’Hearn (LHB)|
|1B – Ryan Mountcastle (RHB)||C – James McCann (RHB)|
|2B – Jordan Westburg (RHB)||SS – Jorge Mateo (RHB)|
|SS – Jackson Holliday (LHB)||INF – Ramon Urias (RHB)|
|3B – Gunnar Henderson (LHB)||Minors|
|2B – Connor Norby (RHB)|
|3B/1B – Coby Mayo (RHB)|
|SS – Joey Ortiz (RHB)|
|UTL – Terrin Vavra (LHB)|
Need: Clear the logjam
The Orioles are about to run into a problem. In this case, it is a good problem, but a problem nonetheless. They have a massive logjam in the infield: too many players and not enough spots.
If you look on the depth side of the chart above, every single one of those players has received MLB playing time outside of Connor Norby and Coby Mayo. Norby has now played over 140 games in Triple-A, where he has played well. Mayo, on the other hand, had a monster year across Double and Triple-A, looking like one of the best hitters in minor league baseball.
Then you have Jackson Holliday, who was the best player in the minors last season. He climbed from Low-A all the way to Triple-A in a single season and has made an excellent case for himself to start in the infield in 2024.
The worst example of just how crowded this infield is is the case of Joey Ortiz. Ortiz should be a major league shortstop by now. He has crushed Triple-A pitching and is one of the best defensive infield prospects in the sport. However, the big league team has been unable to find room for him in the lineup.
This offseason, the Orioles need to do what they have refused to do for the last two seasons. They need to finally move on from some of these prospects. The pitching staff needs help, and they can acquire elite arms if they finally decide to part with some of these young hitters.
The last step in figuring out the logjam is deciding what the everyday infield is going to look like. Catcher is locked up, but is Gunnar going to play shortstop or third base? Who is going to take over second base? Is Holliday going to be on the Opening Day roster, and if so, where will he play?
The front office and coaching staff are facing a lot of questions that need answering. Some of those questions will be answered in the offseason, while others will likely have to wait until spring training.
|Projected 2024 Outfield||Depth|
|RF – Anthony Santander (SHB)||RF/LF – Heston Kjerstad (LHB)|
|CF – Cedric Mullins (LHB)||Minors|
|LF – Austin Hays (RHB)||CF – Colton Cowser (LHB)|
|OF – Ryan McKenna (RHB)|
|OF – Hudson Haskin (RHB)|
|OF – Kyle Stowers (LHB)|
Need: Clear the logjam
The outfield is in a very similar situation to the infield: There are too many players without enough spots to play them in. Many of those who spent most (or all) of the 2023 season in the minors are MLB-caliber players.
Clearing up the outfield this offseason should be easier than clearing up the infield. There are just a few steps that the Orioles need to take, starting with Heston Kjerstad.
Kjerstad needs to get at-bats. He has the potential to be one of the best power bats in the game. Wether those at-bats come in the DH spot, playing in a corner, or splitting time at first base, he needs to get reps at the plate.
The second step the Orioles need to take with regards to the outfield is deciding the fates of Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and Anthony Santander.
Baltimore needs to decide if they wish to stick with a veteran outfield, let the youngsters take over, or some combination. Hays and Santander both had breakout seasons in 2023. While Hays did slow down after the All-Star break, he finished with the best offensive numbers of his career.
While Santander didn’t have quite the breakout that Hays did, he put together an excellent season. He built off of his excellent 2022 and solidified himself as a perennial threat for 30 home runs and a fringe All-Star candidate.
Mullins had a down year but was bit by the injury bug. He has established himself as a leader on this team and a cornerstone of the franchise. It is very unlikely he will be traded, but a move to a corner outfield spot is not out of the question.
These three veterans are currently blocking a number of prospects who continue to perform in the minors. Colton Cowser hit .300 with a 136 wRC+ in Triple-A last year and should be a starting outfielder this coming year.
Hudson Haskin and Kyle Stowers have also played well in Triple-A but probably not well enough to take a spot from Santander or Hays.
With that said, how do the Orioles make room for Colton Cowser? Despite playing poorly in 26 MLB games last season, Cowser has shown in Triple-A that he is ready for the big leagues. The Orioles need to consider moving off of Hays or Santander to make room for the star prospect.
As a team with such a crowded lineup and minor league system, the Orioles need to consider moving off some of their surplus. While these are not all trades that need to take place, I think that even one of them happening would improve the Orioles while also making the team’s life a little easier.
Add Pitching Depth
I talked about this trade in the Minnesota Twins Offseason Outlook, but the Orioles should call the Twins and offer Ryan Mountcastle in return for some pitching depth. The Orioles could use some help in the back end of the rotation.
A trade for Louie Varland or Bailey Ober plus an additional prospect or two would help both teams. This would allow the Orioles to get Kjerstad or Mayo (if they decide to call him up) regular at-bats while playing first base. They could even convert Kjerstad to the full-time first baseman, which would also help clear up the outfield a bit.
On the Twins side, they can shoulder the loss of Varland or Ober and have decent mid-level prospects that would help keep the Orioles system strong. Mountcastle also fits perfectly into a Minnesota lineup that lacks a permanent first baseman. The Twins also could use a right-handed bat to help balance out the lineup a bit.
This trade would be a win-win for both sides.
Clear Up the Infield
This wouldn’t happen in a single trade necessarily, but I think the Orioles could move some infield pieces to either add pitching depth or prospect capital.
Players like Jorge Mateo, Ramón Urías, and Ryan O’Hearn have value and would certainly make other teams better.
Mateo, for instance, could help a team like the Tigers. Mateo is not going to hit worse than Javier Báez, and at least he presents some value on the base paths. He is also a defensive upgrade over Báez, who isn’t the defender he used to be. I know the Tigers have a lot of money invested in Báez, but this is just an example of the type of team Mateo could help.
Urías is incredibly versatile and can play all over the infield. He plays a high level of defense and is a slightly above-league-average hitter. A team like the Marlins would benefit a lot from a player like Urías, who could help them fill holes in their infield.
O’Hearn is thirty years old and coming off the best season of his career, posting career highs in numerous categories. He is a nonfactor against left-handed pitching, but a team looking to add a lefty bat to help platoon first base could reap some benefits.
The Orioles should be shopping and listening to offers on all three of these players.
Make a Big Splash
The last potential deal that I will talk about is one for a big-name starting pitcher. For the sake of brevity, let’s explore just two options.
Corbin Burnes is likely to come up in discussions this offseason when it comes to trades. Burnes had a bad experience last year during arbitration, and that is likely to rear its head once more as the star enters his final year of arbitration eligibility.
The Orioles could send the Brewers a deal that would be very hard to refuse.
With the amount of prospect capital the Orioles have, it shouldn’t be hard for them to get the deal done. A deal that includes Joey Ortiz, Connor Norby, and Jud Fabian is a good place to start. The Brewers struggled to get offense from their infield, a problem Norby and Ortiz would both help with. This could be a deal that works out as a win for both sides.
Logan Gilbert, on the other hand, is someone who might not come up as readily in trade discussions this offseason. However, the Mariners have an abundance of pitching. What’s more, they really struggled offensively last season, and it cost them. The Orioles have prospects that could help with that.
Players like Ortiz and Norby could be moved in this deal. There would also likely be some discussions on potentially moving a player like Jordan Westburg, Coby Mayo, and/or Colton Cowser in exchange for Gilbert. The young starter’s four years of control make him more valuable than Burnes, who only has one year remaining before free agency.
The Mariners could bring in a haul for a player like Gilbert. They would get better on offense immediately, and the Orioles would bring in a great starting pitcher to pair with Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez.
It is unclear whether the Orioles will make any significant trades this offseason, but if there was a time to do it, the time is now.