The first major offseason domino fell Tuesday for the Orioles when right-hander Kyle Gibson agreed to a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, ending Gibson’s impactful stay in Baltimore after one season.
Gibson joined the Orioles last December to replace another veteran in Jordan Lyles, whose option for a second year wasn’t exercised despite his strong clubhouse presence. Gibson brought a similar aura to the ballclub, becoming a character the young pitchers in the rotation and bullpen gravitated toward. But once again general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias opted to let a veteran pitcher walk.
The landing spot in St. Louis, which a source confirmed to The Baltimore Banner after USA Today’s initial report, is ideal for Gibson. He lives near the city and attended the University of Missouri. He’ll also figure to have another year to supply a heavy innings load, just as he did for the Orioles. The 36-year-old threw 192 innings with a 4.73 ERA. His highs included an 11-strikeout game against his former team, the Minnesota Twins, in July, as well as a two-hit, seven-inning shutout against the New York Yankees in May. He also started opening day.
Gibson’s $10 million contact for 2023 was the largest contract Elias delivered. According to ESPN, the deal in St. Louis is worth at least $12 million and carries an option for 2025.
Gibson’s effectiveness waned as the season progressed. He completed at least seven innings three times in his final 10 regular season starts, and he didn’t receive the chance to start one of the three games Baltimore played in an American League Division Series sweep to the eventual World Series-winning Texas Rangers.
There was speculation Gibson would not return. Baltimore boasts a stable of young arms who appear poised to continue their development in the rotation, including Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells. There’s also room for a considerable free agent addition or two, and Elias said at the General Manager Meetings in early November that pitching was the primary focus for the club this offseason.
“The main nucleus of the team is in place. ... We’re mainly looking for pitching upgrades. Hopefully, one in the rotation and one in the back end of the bullpen,” Elias told MLB.com. “I think our team could just benefit from an upgrade to our rotation, and somebody that projects for the front half of the rotation would be wonderful.”
Bradish appeared as a potential ace in 2023, receiving Cy Young votes while pitching to a 2.83 ERA. Rodriguez returned from the minors and excelled in the second half of his rookie year, holding a 2.58 ERA in the second half of the season. Wells hit a snag midway through the year, went to the minors, then returned as a reliever. But he could also be in the starting mix. Kremer’s 4.12 ERA was serviceable, and he also improved down the stretch. In Kremer’s final 15 starts, he boasted a 3.09 ERA.
Left-hander John Means made a brief reappearance after he recovered from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. Plus, left-hander DL Hall, left-hander Cole Irvin and right-hander Seth Johnson could all be in the mix for starts.
Even with all those candidates, there’s still room for an impact pitcher. When the Orioles signed Gibson last offseason, he figured to be a back-end arm. But without another major addition, Gibson’s role elevated to the opening day spot. He served Baltimore well — his innings and performances were one thing, but his clubhouse persona was another entirely. The latter will be more difficult to replace.
But with this domino, the Orioles’ rotational thinking is coming into closer view.