After successful 2022, Orioles look to continue momentum in offseason

At this point, there isn’t much reason to plunge into the depths that was the MLB record of the Baltimore Orioles from 2018-21. We all know it, their fans are well aware of it and it’s now in the past. What we can do is heap the superlatives on the efforts of the 2022 group and highlight what a wildly successful season this was for the organization. 

And then it’s time to look to the future. This time, though, it’s the very-near future. The Orioles will look to capitalize on this wave of momentum with a big offseason in hopes of thrusting themselves up to the top-tier of the American League as a perennial playoff contender. 

We’ll get there in a second, but it’s going to involve money. 

What went right

It’s such a long list that we won’t bother hitting everything. At the top, though, would be the record. The gambling totals (over/unders) heading into the season had the Orioles with the lowest number in all of baseball. That is to say, a general reflection of the public perception of the team was that it would be the worst in baseball, or at least in the conversation. Instead, they’ve actually spent the whole second half in the conversation of the playoff picture. They’ll end with their first winning record since 2016, in all likelihood, as they sit 80-76 right now. 

Moving the left field wall back, rather drastically, seems to be a success. They are 44-34 and have a 3.71 ERA at home (the league average home ERA is 3.87). Last season, they were 27-54 with a 6.00 ERA in Camden. Their defensive efficiency has improved by roughly 10 percent. They rank eighth in defensive runs saved after ranking 24th last season. 

Sure, there was improvement across the board, including with personnel, but their run prevention infrastructure really showed itself as an excellent system in 2022. One season is a small sample, but it certainly seems like the move was at least a minor part of that success. 

Of course, the players stepped up as well. The organization has brought out the best in relievers Cionel Pérez, Félix Bautista, Dillon Tate and Bryan Baker. Dean Kremer looks like a keeper in the rotation and they seem to have made 30-year-old Austin Voth into a quality starter. These are only a few of the successes and while you obviously have to give the players credit, it seems like the front office has shown a knack for grabbing pitchers and making them the best versions of themselves. If that sounds familiar, remember that general manager Mike Elias came from the Astros. Expect this to be a strength moving forward, too. 

Individually on the position-player side, we can start with Adley Rutschman. He started slow and he’ll certainly improve — notably in the batting average and home run departments — but he already looks the part of a superstar centerpiece. He’s everything he was hyped to be. 

Sticking in the prospect arena, how about Gunnar Henderson? He’s only 21 and has already done a bit of everything in his first month. He’s another cornerstone. 

The farm system remains stout. Even after graduating Rutschman (but not Henderson), and Fangraphs both have them as the top system in all of baseball. The wave has already started to hit the majors, but it won’t be stopping any time soon, with outfielder Colton Cowser, second baseman Connor Norby and infielder Jordan Westburg all in Triple-A. 

What went wrong

Not much, but this wasn’t a perfect year. The 14-24 start was terrible, but it wasn’t too far off of what was expected, so we can give a pass there. 

The worst news of the year happened early, as ace John Means underwent Tommy John surgery May 11, meaning he won’t be around for most of 2023 either. It sure would’ve been nice in planning for another step forward next season to have an All-Star lefty toward the front of the rotation. 

Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez is their top pitching prospect and was a consensus top-10 prospect heading into the year. He probably would have debuted in the bigs this year, but a serious lat injury kept him out from June 1 until Sept. 1. This was only a minor thing that went “wrong” in the grand scheme of things, though, as he’s now back and has a 2.20 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings with Triple-A Norfolk this season. 

On a lesser scale, Cedric Mullins took a step back this season. He’s still been a productive player, but he looked like a star in 2021 when finishing ninth in MVP voting. At age 27 and with his two full seasons being great and pretty good, it’s fair to wonder if 2021 was the outlier moving forward. 

Overall, though, this seems like the entire section was nitpicky. A slow start, two pitcher injuries and a player had a bit of a down year while still being productive. Not too bad at all. 

Looking ahead to the offseason

Now, there’s surely an acknowledgement in the front office that an awful lot of things went the Orioles’ way this season and they can’t count on those necessarily repeating. I noted above that Elias came from the Astros and while there are a reasonable number of differences, remember that the 2015 Astros won 86 games and the wild card game before nearly eliminating the eventual champion Royals in the ALDS. They then missed the playoffs in an 84-win season in 2016. Then the onslaught on the rest of the league happened. 

More specifically: The Orioles can continue moving in the right direction as a franchise even if they take a step back in wins in 2023. However, Elias surely would like to strike while the proverbial iron is hot here and they have the financial position to capitalize on the momentum. 

The Orioles hardly have any committed salary moving forward at all. Means is owed $2.98 million next year. Fellow starter Jordan Lyles has an $11 million club option. That’s really about it. Even if they pick up Lyles’ option, estimates adding in all arbitration and pre-arbitration salaries still leaves them shy of $50 million. 

They could spend exponentially more than that, annually, on payroll and we’ve seen that happen in the not-so-distant past. Elias said “it’s liftoff from here” earlier this year, teasing that they could be big-time players moving forward. 

We’ll start with the free agent shortstop market, which will likely include Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson. Yes, the Orioles can be involved in the bidding with any of these guys. The best part about their top prospect infielders is they have been moving around (Henderson has already played third, short and second at the big-league level while Westburg has done the same in Triple-A). 

The rotation is probably a more pressing need. They could shop in the top tier with Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodón et al, more in the middle tier or both. Given Elias’ seeming ability to squeeze all he can out of big-league caliber arms, perhaps they spend big on the position-player side and grab a few cheaper arms to fill out the rotation. 

They could also explore the trade market for pitching and I’d have all the faith in the world they’d target the correct arms. They have the prospects to make run at players like Corbin Burnes, Sandy Alcantara or Shane Bieber, should they be available. 

Regardless of the specific players the Orioles will zero in on and ultimately land, they are no longer in the whole punting-and-stockpiling phase. They are ready to turn the corner. The job for Elias is far from complete, but 2022 should be only a glimpse of the beginning. 

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