The Orioles’ offseason is here, giving them the chance to improve a roster that won the American League East but was swept out of the playoffs by the eventual World Series champion Texas Rangers.
Despite their regular-season successes, the Orioles have areas they can improve. Baltimore also has five players who are now free agents — Kyle Gibson, Adam Frazier, Aaron Hicks, Jack Flaherty and Shintaro Fujinami — and about three times as many who are eligible for arbitration, leaving holes and decisions.
As the Orioles’ offseason gets underway, Baltimore Sun beat reporters Nathan Ruiz and Jacob Calvin Meyer and editor Tim Schwartz give their thoughts on what this winter should look like for Baltimore.
What is the Orioles’ top offseason priority?
Ruiz: Don’t let the words and exclamation points on the Camden Yards video board fool you: The Orioles remain without a long-term lease binding them to the ballpark and Baltimore. The 30-year “deal” announced the night the Orioles clinched the AL East was, it turned out, a nonbonding memorandum of understanding, meaning the lease still expires Dec. 31. On the field, the Orioles have needs, notably at the front of their rotation and the back of their bullpen, but the top priority this offseason needs to be actually committing to the city. Forget “second Baltimore renaissance” and “live, work, play.” The most important three-word combo is “sign the lease.”
Meyer: What is? Who knows. What should be? Taking meaningful steps toward a long-term extension with at least one of their young stars. Signing the Adley Rutschmans and Gunnar Hendersons of the world is no easy task, yet several other MLB franchises — such as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves — have found a way. The Orioles could use a topline starting pitcher, bullpen depth and maybe an outfielder, but none of those needs would assuage the fear that the players Baltimore fans love most will not be here long term.
Schwartz: A top-tier starting pitcher. You would expect the Orioles’ young hitters to continue to grow and get better — Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson are headed toward superstar status with their trajectory — so the need will be a dominant arm. Look only to their postseason series to see why. They will be limited by what they might be able to offer a free agent such as Blake Snell, but they also lack a sure-thing pitching prospect. So dipping into the pool of prospects if they decide to make a trade for a big arm would be a smart decision. Nathan Eovaldi didn’t break the Rangers’ bank and he carried them to their first World Series title, so there should be options to pursue beyond the top tier.
Who is their ideal trade or free-agent target?
Ruiz: Operating under the assumption the Orioles won’t make the financial commitment required to add a top starter via free agency, a trade seems to be their best bet. Among the expected options, Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease would seemingly make the most sense. Other top trade candidates such as Corbin Burnes, Shane Bieber and Tyler Glasnow are free agents after 2024, while Cease has two years of control remaining, which would make it more palatable to part with the prospects needed. Cease regressed significantly after being the AL Cy Young Award runner-up in 2022, but Kyle Bradish was the Orioles’ only starter worth more wins above replacement. Baltimore has also shown a capability of improving pitchers’ strike-throwing and use of their repertoires, which could help Cease return to his ace-level form.
Meyer: In his first five offseasons as Orioles general manager, Mike Elias didn’t hand out a multiyear contract to a free agent. That strategy, up to this point, has worked, but that streak should not extend to six. About 10 starting pitchers on the market would provide the upgrade Baltimore’s starting rotation needs. Some, such as Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Snell, the National League Cy Young front-runner, will likely receive contracts the Orioles aren’t willing to pay. But others, such as Eduardo Rodriguez, Lucas Giolito and Marcus Stroman, should be options Baltimore at least takes a look at.
Schwartz: Ideal? Snell. But as mentioned above, he’s likely going to be priced out of Baltimore. Realistically? Stroman makes a lot of sense, as does Rodriguez. Burnes is a player I mentioned before the season as a good fit with the Orioles. Any of those guys would be an upgrade to what they have currently. A pitcher with postseason experience would be icing on the cake, and of the players mentioned, Burnes fits that profile.
Which arbitration-eligible player offers the most interesting decision?
Ruiz: Anthony Santander. The Orioles will almost certainly tender him a contract, but the intriguing part is in whether they hold onto him afterward. MLB Trade Rumors projects Santander to make $12.7 million in his final year of arbitration before free agency, a salary that — as of now — would comfortably be the largest Baltimore would pay in 2024. With Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad both getting a taste of the majors this season, the Orioles could instead rely on them in the outfield and move Santander, one of baseball’s best switch-hitters, to improve another part of the roster.
Meyer: Despite ending the regular season with the AL’s best record, the Orioles ranked in the bottom half of the league in home runs and 10th in slugging percentage. No matter what he’ll be owed in arbitration and his contract status past 2024, a lineup without Santander, who led the team in home runs and ranked second in slugging percentage, isn’t one capable of repeating what the team did in 2023. Ramón Urías should pose the Orioles’ most interesting decision. Urías is a league-average hitter with a solid glove and experience at all four infield positions. With infield prospects Jackson Holliday, Coby Mayo, Connor Norby and Joey Ortiz all in Triple-A, could Baltimore not bring back Urías and rely on the youngsters to fill out its infield?
Schwartz: I have a hard time seeing the Orioles moving on from Santander, despite their prospects being blocked. He’s been their most consistent hitter the past two seasons. I agree with Jacob — it’s Urías. He’s a great defender and could be a useful piece on the infield, but his salary likely exceeds what they would want to pay for a player in that role. He’s a fine plug-and-play option at second and third base, so it’s not as if he holds no value.
Do the Orioles make a trade involving one of their top 10 prospects?
Ruiz: No. The Orioles also needed a top-of-the-rotation starter last winter and at the trade deadline, then managed to win 101 games despite never adding one. It hurt them in the postseason, but I doubt those three ALDS games completely change the front office’s operating procedure when they have 162 showing its effectiveness. The Orioles could certainly pull from their farm system in some fashion this winter to improve the major league roster, but I’m past expecting this team to make a splash.
Meyer: No, and maybe they shouldn’t. Most of the Orioles’ top 10 prospects don’t make much sense to trade away at this stage. Holliday, the sport’s top prospect, isn’t being traded. Cowser and Mayo, Nos. 2 and 3 on Baltimore’s prospect list, according to Baseball America, have high ceilings and paths to everyday roles in Baltimore. Kjerstad (No. 5) could easily carve himself a role in Baltimore as a left-handed-hitting designated hitter, and Ortiz (No. 6) the same as a utility infielder. DL Hall (No. 7) has already done that as a high-leverage reliever. Enrique Bradfield Jr. (No. 8) was just drafted in the first round four months ago, and Cade Povich (No. 10) is perhaps the best starting pitching prospect in a farm system low on pitching relative to its position player strength.
Schwartz: Yes. They have to at some point, right? It’s time they make a move and improve the current roster — ideally by bolstering the rotation or adding a top-tier reliever they could have close games while Félix Bautista is out following Tommy John elbow reconstruction. You can’t win 101 games and have the AL’s best record and not make a move to improve after their disappointing playoff exit. They aren’t going to pay someone top dollar, so their best currency is their top-rated farm system. It’s time they use some of their savings to make sure they remain atop the AL East.