The offseason to-do list for the Orioles already has several items crossed off. They’ve added an experienced starting pitcher and a backup catcher. A new infielder has joined, and with right-hander Mychal Givens Baltimore found additional back-end bullpen help.
But there are still moves to be made once the calendar flips from 2022 to 2023.
The signing of 35-year-old right-hander Kyle Gibson may have secured executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias a veteran fifth starter, but the rotation still lacks a clear ace. That could be an area for Baltimore to explore in the new year, particularly on the trade market. And with Adam Frazier joining the mix, the Orioles infield has become a crowded puzzle for everyday playing time — hinting that a subsequent move could be possible.
With that, here are the unanswered questions heading into 2023.
Will the Orioles make a splash on the trade market?
At the winter meetings, Elias kept the door open for the Orioles to add another starting pitcher — particularly one to slot somewhere into the top of the rotation. As the free agent market slims, the likelihood that Baltimore looks to fill that spot through a trade only increases.
It’s an approach the Orioles are built for, with the top-ranked farm system in baseball and a surplus of prospects in the infield. That gives them plenty of capital to swing a deal for a high-end starter.
The decision for Elias will weigh on whether the long-term outlook for whichever starter would return to Baltimore is strong enough to warrant parting ways with highly coveted prospects. It also might take an established major leaguer to sway an organization to trade away a starting pitcher.
The Athletic reported that shortstop Jorge Mateo is drawing interest from other teams, and while his defensive ability, speed and power potential all make Mateo an intriguing player to hold on to, Baltimore might need to include a player of his caliber in a deal.
It makes any trade acquisition pricey. But the Orioles, sensing a window opening, might be comfortable making a leap in the trade market.
Looking for a backup first baseman?
For a second there, the Orioles might’ve had their backup first baseman. But as has happened three times this offseason, Lewin Díaz found himself on the move.
Díaz was first claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates after he was designated by the Atlanta Braves. Then the Orioles claimed Díaz from the Pirates, and when room was needed on the 40-man roster for Givens, Díaz was the odd-man out. And for a moment he was on the Braves, traded to Atlanta for cash after Baltimore designated him for assignment, only to be designated once more this week.
The roundabout path leaves the Orioles without a natural left-handed-hitting first baseman to back up Ryan Mountcastle on the 40-man roster. There are other options out there, either on the free agent market or internally.
Brandon Belt, a two-time World Series champion, is still available if the Orioles want to look externally.
Otherwise, corner outfielder and first baseman Franchy Cordero signed a minor league deal with the Orioles that includes a split rate should he make the major league squad. Josh Lester, another minor league infield signing, can play third or first base.
There’s also the potential that catcher Adley Rutschman could fit in at first base should he not be behind the plate, finding another way to get his bat into the lineup nearly every day. Elias said the maximum number of games he’d envision Rutschman catching is 130, leaving opportunities open at designated hitter. But Rutschman also played 30 games at first in the minors. He’s no stranger to the position.
“I think whether or not he plays any first base will depend on what we do the rest of our offseason with other position-player acquisitions,” Elias said at the winter meetings. “I definitely think he’ll be playing some DH.”
The trade for catcher James McCann from the New York Mets could give Baltimore another alternative at first if the need arises (the Mets used him there in nine games over the past two years), and outfielder Anthony Santander trained at first base throughout last season to expand his positional repertoire.
There are options. And with Mountcastle the clear first choice, Elias can feel comfortable sticking with lower-cost options to back him up.
What’s DL Hall’s role?
It depends on who you ask.
At the end of last season, left-hander DL Hall said he’d approach this offseason as a starting pitcher. He made his debut against the Tampa Bay Rays in August, completed 3 2/3 innings and then was sent back down to Triple-A Norfolk to develop as a reliever.
He excelled out of the bullpen, allowing four runs in 10 innings while striking out 13 batters and walking just three. That’s always been the hitch with Hall — avoiding free passes — and for the most part, he did that as a reliever.
But Hall envisions himself as a starting pitcher, as he has been throughout his career, and the 24-year-old is spending the offseason building up his arm to last deep into outings.
The outlook from Baltimore’s brass is less clear. Manager Brandon Hyde said at the winter meetings that “probably right now if we go into spring, we’d build him up to be at least a multiple-inning guy. Then we’ll see what the rotation looks like, what the bullpen looks like there.”
That leaves the door open for Hall to pitch his way into the Orioles’ starting rotation. But it’s far from a sure thing.
How does the infield shake out?
In different senses, Frazier’s addition both complicates and simplifies what Hyde will try to do each day with his lineup construction. He can play second base and either corner outfield, and on a one-year deal worth $8 million, he’ll likely be in the lineup in various roles just about every outing.
That’s partly helpful: Hyde can mix and match his infield and outfield, using the designated hitter role to keep certain bats in the lineup while ensuring players aren’t overworked.
But at the same time, an infield that proved so solid in 2022 now has another piece involved, as well as the glut of prospects on its way, including Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz.
Take the most common alignment from 2022: Ramón Urías at third, where he won a Gold Glove, Mateo at short, Rougned Odor at second and Mountcastle at first. Odor left in free agency, and Gunnar Henderson broke through at third base in August and projects to be the starter at that position going forward.
So, does Urías mainly move to second? That’s likely, with the left-handed hitting Frazier there to split time with him. Or should Baltimore use Mateo in a trade, Urías can stay at third, Henderson can move to short and Frazier holds down second.
Who takes the ball on opening day?
Spring training will go a long way in deciding which starting options land in the rotation, but there isn’t a clear favorite to take the mound on opening day. Last year, it was left-hander John Means. But he is recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and won’t return until midway through the season.
The honor of starting on opening day largely comes out in the wash of a 162-game season, with injuries and rainouts rendering the top rotation spot a formality. Still, even deciding who might make the five- or six-man rotation is a tough task.
Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the top-ranked pitching prospect in baseball, has a chance to break spring training on the major league roster. Hall could prove capable as a starter. Gibson was signed to be part of the rotation.
Elsewhere, right-hander Dean Kremer took a major stride forward in 2022, finishing with a 3.23 ERA and allowing three runs or fewer in each of his last 10 appearances. Tyler Wells, meanwhile, transitioned from the bullpen to the rotation and navigated an innings limit to throw 103 2/3 frames. And right-hander Kyle Bradish rebounded from a difficult first half of his rookie season to produce a 3.28 ERA in 13 starts from July onward.
Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann and right-hander Spenser Watkins also showed flashes and even right-hander Austin Voth — a midseason waiver claim — did enough to warrant a contract for next season in arbitration.
It’s too crowded of a group for all of them to be starting options, leaving much to learn in spring training.