Simmering for years, the question of how the Orioles are going to manage their overwhelming levels of talent both at and approaching the majors comes closer and closer to a boil.

What are they going to do with all of these guys?

I’d argue we know the answer. Youth will win out. The question is how quickly.

Remember, before the Orioles won 101 games and the American League East in 2023, they had a pretty static operating model when it came to roster construction. When a player became expensive, he became expendable.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

It started with Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy after the 2019 season. High-paid veterans Alex Cobb and Jose Iglesias were moved the following offseason, one in which the team also opted against arbitration raises for Hanser Alberto and Renato Núñez. In 2022, even Trey Mancini wasn’t immune as he was dealt ahead of free agency for players the Orioles deemed more valuable to their future. All-Star closer Jorge López was dealt that year as well.

There were no such subtractions from the 2023 Orioles. But there was also no apparent change to the team’s overarching approach. Those who endured and followed the rebuilding years closely will remember how much expectation setting executive vice president Mike Elias did. He went right back into that mode after trading for Corbin Burnes when asked whether it represented a change in philosophy for the organization.

“It front-loads a lot of stuff into the present, but we’re still going to keep an eye on the future. We’ve got to keep the organization healthy,” Elias said. “You know, the Brewers have a good team, too, and they decided that this was a trade that they wanted to do because it made sense for them and it’s going to help their team in a different way to get the players [DL Hall and Joey Ortiz]. It is case-by-case to some degree, but we’re trying to make good, quality moves that give us good chances to do what we want to do.”

Applying that framework — and the context around the various decisions that Elias and his staff may face in the coming weeks and months — to the current situations on the Orioles roster doesn’t leave a wide array of outcomes that feel likely.

In the outfield, Anthony Santander is making $11.7 million this year and is set to be a free agent after this season. He has proven immune to the Orioles’ desire to keep costs down over the years, as he’s been paid $12.25 million over his prior three arbitration-eligible seasons. That represents a tremendous value to a club for a switch-hitting, middle-of-the-order thumper.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays are set to make $6.325 million and $6.3 million, respectively, in their second year of salary arbitration. They were both good value for their 2023 salaries — $4.1 million for Mullins and $3.2 million for Hays — and will be good value for their 2024 numbers as well. Each plays standout defense for their position and is good for at least a half-season of All-Star level offensive performance and modestly above-average production overall.

Collectively, they survived the rebuild and fashioned themselves into good, winning professional baseball players. The Orioles are soon going to have to choose whether the spoils of said rebuild —Colton Cowser, Kyle Stowers, and Heston Kjerstad —have the potential to be better than that, both in the near- and long-term.

In the case of those prospects, the Orioles can theoretically keep them all in the minors or on the bench until they become convinced in their answer to that question. Or they could trade them. But as much value as these young players may have in deals that make the Orioles better in other areas, having inexpensive, pre-peak homegrown players is also incredibly valuable to the Orioles. They all were drafted by the Orioles for a reason, and have been developed in a system that accentuates the skills and traits the Orioles most believe in.

Given the choice, the Orioles would probably opt to keep the homegrown talent.

It’s less fraught on the infield, though there’s no shortage of holdovers on the dirt, either. Jorge Mateo is owed $2.7 million this year, and Ramon Urias $2.1 million. In a world where Jackson Holliday has a spot on the opening day roster — and at this point, why wouldn’t he? — neither would be a regular starter. Even if they wanted to ease Holliday in against lefties, that’s the small side of a platoon for one of those two, with Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg in there every day. That feels expensive for a backup depth option, let alone two.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The Orioles are a vote or two away from being owned by David Rubenstein’s partnership group, one we assume — based on his passion for the team, significant wealth, and history of business success — will put the Orioles’ financial capabilities far above where they have been.

I’m just not sure that’s going to matter in decisions like these. I don’t believe they were unable to afford the established and well-liked players they moved on from before, so I don’t envision the sale changing whether they choose to afford these players now.

It has and always will be a value proposition. This front office makes decisions based on the value a player can deliver and at what cost. Performance is a significant part of that, and it’s worth noting that they’ve spent the last five years drafting and developing players who excel at the skills they value most. Cost is a part of that equation, and so is the player’s value to other clubs. All you need is one to give the Orioles the deal they want, for prospects or seasoned professionals alike.

Elias rightfully noted how the Burnes trade front-loaded its value into this 2024 season, one in which one of the most talented young teams in baseball is returning intact hoping to build on the AL’s best record from a year ago. To make any kind of move subtracting from the 2024 Orioles requires there to be little-to-no drop in production from the replacement. Run back the Mancini-out, Jesus Aguilar-in approach to the 2022 deadline and no amount of future value will feel worth it.

This group of Orioles prospects that are set to force their hand is talented enough to give the front office plenty to think about, though. As they make those considerations, they’ll do so with the understanding that the next wave of prospects — from drafts where they didn’t pick as consistently high or where more developmental needs exist — may not ultimately prove as talented, no matter how good their scouting and development apparatus is.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

There’s no mandate to do anything terribly quickly. Having quality depth is part of what makes this Orioles season so promising. There’s also nothing preventing the team from creating some kind of mix of younger and more established players, moving the excess prospects to help on the pitching side.

However they decide to view it, they’ll do so from as pragmatic a place as possible. It will be about creating the most value for the Orioles. Trading for one year of an ace to support the near-term championship ambitions of this team shouldn’t be seen as any sort of swerve. We have five years of evidence from which to glean what the front office values and what it doesn’t.

The only question now is how quickly we see that play out this time.

More From The Banner