The Baltimore Orioles were one of the game’s biggest success stories last season. The organization built an incredible farm system, promoting numerous top prospects throughout the year, and turned in a season of 101 wins – more than enough to win one of baseball’s toughest divisions.
Despite a 29th-ranked payroll of just over $71 million last season, the Orioles finished the year atop the AL East and got their first taste of postseason baseball since 2016.
Plenty of players had their moment to shine, most prominently infielder Gunnar Henderson, who took home the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Henderson is far from the only player to keep an eye on; catcher Adley Rutschman has emerged as one of the top backstops in the league in short order. All-Star center fielder Cedric Mullins turned in another strong season in his age-28 campaign. Kyle Bradish earned Cy Young votes in his first qualified season.
The rest of the roster is filled with even more young talent in the form of Jordan Westburg, Kyle Stowers, Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, and Grayson Rodriguez. That’s not even including Jackson Holliday, the consensus top prospect in all of baseball, who could be knocking on the big league door later this year.
Even so, if the Orioles are looking to contend again in one of baseball’s toughest divisions, a few pieces are missing from the big league squad, namely in the rotation. While Baltimore added some firepower to the bullpen via Craig Kimbrel, the club is still missing an impact arm or two for the starting five.
Last season, Orioles’ starters ranked in the middle of the pack across numerous categories, including WHIP (1.23 – 9th), ERA (4.14 – 11th), and opponents’ batting average (.246 – 12th).
They also posted a 4.25 FIP (13th) while using nine different starters; only three members of the rotation made 30 or more starts on the year.
As things currently stand, the Orioles’ 2024 rotation would feature Bradish, Rodriguez, John Means, Dean Kramer, and Cole Irvin, with the likes of Tyler Wells, Chayce McDermott, and Cade Povich fighting for a rotation spot as well. Kyle Gibson and Jack Flaherty are no longer on the team, after inking new deals elsewhere this offseason.
Free Agent Rotation Options
The Orioles have not been big spenders on the free agent market in the past, so it is unlikely the club will be in the market for a marquee arm such as Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, or even Marcus Stroman. Deals for top-end free agent starters are pushing $20 million (or more) per year, and the Orioles have been hesitant to spend that much on a single pitcher.
Baltimore has one of the lowest payrolls in the sport right now, but their expenses will rise as stars like Rutschman, Henderson, and Rodriguez reach their arbitration years or sign extensions. In fact, ownership has already stated it will be tough to keep all their young stars for the long term. That could be a factor that prevents them from spending significantly in free agency this winter.
Nevertheless, there are some depth options still available that the club could pursue. This includes Lucas Giolito, James Paxton, Michael Lorenzen, and Hyun Jin Ryu. Each player comes with either a checkered injury history and/or other pros and cons, but none will command a huge contract.
Other names the Orioles could consider are Frankie Montas, Zack Greinke, and Alex Wood, but it is debatable whether any of them move the needle for an Orioles squad looking to capitalize on a talented young core.
The Orioles Are in a Good Position To Make a Trade
With such a strong farm system, it seems more likely the Orioles will trade for a starter, especially since there are some impact rotation arms on the trading block; the club could dip into their depth to get a deal done.
Players like Corbin Burnes and Shane Bieber are entering their third year of arbitration and are both potential trade pieces if their respective teams don’t believe a long-term deal is in the cards, especially since Milwaukee and Cleveland could both look to shed some payroll and add some high-end prospect talent.
Baltimore wouldn’t be locked into a long-term commitment on either Burnes or Bieber, and both pitchers would help them capitalize on their current postseason window, albeit at the risk of trading away some prospective stars.
Should the Orioles prefer to add a pitcher with some additional contract control, a call to the Chicago White Sox about right-hander Dylan Cease could be in order.
Cease is under contract for another two years; meanwhile, the likes of Rodriguez, Westburg, and Henderson will still be in pre-arbitration and won’t be eligible for a major salary increase until Cease is off the books. The timing could be perfect for Baltimore.
Oakland A’s right-hander Paul Blackburn also fits within this category with two years of contract control remaining, but he is more of a back-end option than a top-of-the-rotation arm.
Looking Out West
If the Orioles want to shake up the Major Leagues, they could also make a call out to Seattle and inquire about one of their top young starters: Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, or Emerson Hancock.
The Mariners need some offensive production, and the Orioles certainly boast a few players that fit the mold Seattle is looking for. Still, depending on the pitcher they target, the Orioles would need to part with several pieces to get a deal done. This trade scenario would likely require more player capital than a Bieber, Burnes, or Cease deal simply because of the contract control remaining for the Mariners’ arms.
Logan Gilbert could also be of interest, but he is already in arbitration, so the payroll commitment would be higher than that of the other three. Furthermore, and one could argue he and George Kirby are not going anywhere barring a crazy return going back to the Mariners.
Ultimately, this entire possibility all relies on whether Seattle is even willing to trade one of their starters this winter. The club doesn’t have to force a move but would benefit after losing several key pieces from the 2023 lineup.
The MLB offseason has been moving rather slowly these first couple of months, but with Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto taking their talents to Los Angeles, the free agent market should start to pick up as the calendar turns over into 2024.
The Orioles need some help in the rotation, whether that comes via free agency or trade, but they will have to navigate financial constraints from ownership to put together a competitive roster. The options are there, and it is just a matter of time until fans find out which direction the club will go this winter as they try to repeat as AL East champions.