With an organization built around its top-ranked farm system, the Orioles had few spots to supplement through free agency at the major league level. That will continue to be the case heading into 2024, with more prospects primed to make the leap to Baltimore.
But there is room for additions, just as there was in 2023. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias didn’t hand out anything longer than a one-year deal, but a few players signed over the winter played key roles during Baltimore’s push toward its first American League East championship since 2014.
How’d those signings do?
Just as we did with the Orioles’ trade acquisitions, the Banner’s Orioles staff has graded Baltimore’s major league free agent additions, with the benefit of hindsight on our side.
Signed May 30: Outfielder Aaron Hicks (One-year, $720,000 contract)
Andy Kostka: Originally signed as cover for injured center fielder Cedric Mullins, Hicks turned around his early season struggles with the Yankees to become a veteran producer for the Orioles. His production tapered off as the season went on, but he did a short-term job when the Orioles needed it. Grade: C
Danielle Allentuck: Hicks was exactly what the Orioles needed at the time. For the price tag, the Orioles got a .275 hitter and, with Mullins struggling with injuries, a fine fill-in in center field. Grade: B
Paul Mancano: After hitting .188 with the Yankees to start the year, Hicks’ tank appeared empty when the Orioles scooped him up. Far from it. The 11-year veteran was the perfect stopgap as Kyle Stowers dealt with an injury and Colton Cowser continued his development in Triple-A. Hicks’ success was a win for Baltimore’s scouting department and coaching staff. Grade: B-minus
Jon Meoli: I thought this was a waste at the time, but it proved not to be. A 1.5-win player for the prorated league minimum is a good deal. And it hit the sweet spot of cost and production the Orioles will need going forward as they look to further embed their young talent onto the major league roster but also protect themselves against growing pains. Hicks served his purpose well. Grade: B-plus
Signed Dec. 21: Right-hander Mychal Givens (One-year, $5 million contract)
Kostka: Givens returned for a second stint in Baltimore this offseason, but he barely featured for the Orioles this time around. A knee injury slowed his spring training. And when he did arrive, he pitched all of four innings before right shoulder inflammation sent him back to the injured list. By August, he was designated for assignment, ending a lackluster return. Grade: F
Allentuck: Givens pitched four major league innings this year, meaning the Orioles paid him $1.25 million per inning. That’s not an ideal return. Grade: F
Mancano: Givens could’ve provided valuable innings for a bullpen that was without Dillon Tate for the entire season. Instead, his absence forced the Orioles to cycle through relievers such as Logan Gillaspie, Reed Garrett, Eduard Bazardo and Chris Vallimont. The acquisition of Jorge López in September showed just how desperate the O’s were for a steady righty reliever like Givens. Grade: D-minus
Meoli: This one just didn’t work out. What else is there to say about it? The healthy version of Givens would have probably helped the Orioles a lot, and he wasn’t able to get healthy all year. Unfortunate for all involved. You can’t predict injuries, but you can probably predict the Orioles will be reticent to hand out similar deals to veteran relievers in the future. Grade: D
Signed Dec. 15, 2022: Infielder Adam Frazier (One-year, $8 million contract)
Kostka: In 2022, it was Rougned Odor. This year, Baltimore added Frazier to be its veteran second baseman. The Orioles banked on Frazier bouncing back from a career-worst season with the Seattle Mariners, and he did, for a time. Frazier clubbed a career-high 13 homers. But his .240 average was just two points higher than 2022, even if he did come through in certain big moments. By the end, Jordan Westburg looked to be the more favorable option at the position. Grade: C
Allentuck: Entering the season, the Orioles needed a second baseman who could hit the ground running to fill the time until their prospects were ready. Frazier did that and found an unexpected pop in his bat, hitting a career-high 13 home runs. Grade: B-minus
Mancano: Going into last offseason, the Orioles were flush with promising infield prospects, but still needed a veteran to anchor the right side. While Terrin Vavra struggled with injuries and Westburg marinated in Norfolk, Frazier provided a steadying presence. His poor defensive metrics were puzzling to those who watched the 31-year-old play a fine second base and corner outfield. Baltimore will have no need for his services in 2024, but I doubt Elias regrets this addition. Grade: B
Meoli: Frazier had some good moments at the plate early in the season but felt redundant late, which I suppose was the entire point of bringing him in. By then, Westburg was on the major league roster and there wasn’t really a spot for him. His massive hit in the Orioles’ playoff-clinching win against the Rays serves as extra credit here. Grade: B-minus
Signed Dec. 5, 2022: Right-hander Kyle Gibson (One-year, $10 million contact)
Kostka: Baltimore opted not to bring back right-hander Jordan Lyles on his mutual option and turned instead to Gibson, another veteran innings eater. Lyles went on to struggle for the Kansas City Royals (in an unenviable situation with a lack of run support) while Gibson provided the sort of lengthy starts that made him attractive over the winter. Gibson also offered much more off the field, serving as a key clubhouse figure. Grade: B
Allentuck: Gibson served a purpose, eating up innings and proving to be a valuable veteran presence for the rotation with John Means out. But for $10 million, the Orioles should have gotten more than a 4.73 ERA out of him. He was the only starter with playoff experience, but only pitched out of the bullpen in the postseason. Grade: C-minus
Mancano: When he announced this signing at the start of last year’s winter meetings, Elias said he expected the Orioles’ pitching department to help Gibson “tap into a new gear” in 2023. I’m still waiting to see that gear. After an ugly 2022 campaign with the Phillies, Gibson’s improvement was minimal, going from a 5.05 ERA to a 4.73. In an offseason when the O’s could’ve significantly upgraded their rotation, they chose to act frugally instead. Grade: C-minus
Meoli: As far as $10 million starting pitchers go, Gibson gave the Orioles about what was expected. Perhaps not coincidentally, they also went as far as a team whose big splash is a $10 million starting pitcher can reasonably expect to go in the playoffs. I don’t believe the plan was for him to be the only starter they added in free agency last winter, and find it hard to grade him as such. But he was, and the league-average version of himself was valuable to the Orioles. Grade: C