Orioles Still Exploring Rotation Additions

Though the free-agent market has been largely picked over and the trade market is similarly thin on starting pitchers, Orioles general manager Mike Elias said in a weekend appearance on 105.7 FM The Fan that he still hopes to add another starter to his team (link via Nathan Ruiz of the Baltimore Sun). While Elias voiced confidence in his collection of young arms and the “upside and good variability” the group can bring to the table, there’s little getting around the issue that the Orioles’ projected rotation is light on MLB experience, to say the least.

Baltimore effectively swapped out 2022 innings leader Jordan Lyles for an older Kyle Gibson, declining a net $10MM decision on the former (buying out an $11MM option for $1MM) and then signing Gibson at that same $10MM price point. The widespread expectation at the time was that Gibson would be just one of multiple additions to the starting staff; Elias had spoken about a looming payroll increase and the O’s were (and still are) lacking in experienced complements.

That hasn’t played out, however. The Orioles have been tied to several starters over the course of the offseason, most notably including Jameson Taillon, but the team’s free-agent pursuits thus far have come up empty. Elias suggested that the O’s have “had some very close opportunities” with regard to the free-agent market but that those targets “just went in a different direction.” One rumored Orioles target, Michael Wacha, remains unsigned — though it’s not clear whether there have been recent, substantive talks. Given that he’s coming off a 3.32 ERA in 127 2/3 innings last year, Wacha seems likely to be hoping for a multi-year pact, which is something the Orioles haven’t given out to any free agent since Elias took over as general manager.

Behind Gibson, the Orioles’ only starters with even a year of MLB service time are lefties John Means and Bruce Zimmermann, plus righties Austin Voth, Tyler Wells, Dean Kremer and Spenser Watkins. Means won’t be back from Tommy John surgery until summer at the earliest, and Zimmermann carries a 5.65 ERA in 145 MLB frames. Wells and Kremer both posted low strikeout rates and strong walk rates in 20-plus starts for Baltimore in 2022, likely making them favorites for starting work in 2023. Voth was quietly very good after being picked up from the Nationals, pitching to a 2.94 ERA in 79 2/3 frames with Baltimore. Watkins had solid results for much of the season despite his own lack of missed bats, but he faded quite a bit down the stretch last year.

The O’s have several top-end prospects looming, with Grayson Rodriguez chief among them. The right-hander is considered one of the sport’s premier minor league arms, but he also missed much of the 2022 season with a lat strain. Rodriguez threw just 75 2/3 innings last year and has never reached 110 innings in a pro season. Southpaw DL Hall was used as a reliever in his big league debut and has had some prominent command struggles in the minors despite also missing bats at a prodigious rate. Elsewhere on the 40-man roster, righties Kyle Bradish and Mike Baumann and lefty Drew Rom represent additional candidates. Both Bradish and Baumann have already pitched in the Majors.

Generally speaking, it’s a thin group in terms of proven innings and workload. Adding another arm is sensible, though Elias alluded to the fact that the thin market for starters has created a growing focus on the trade market throughout the league. The Marlins no longer look all that likely to deal from the rotation after trading Pablo Lopez to the Twins — GM Kim Ng said it’d be difficult for Miami to move another starter now — and the market isn’t teeming with other options. The Mariners have a pair of possibilities in Chris Flexen and Marco Gonzales, and speculatively speaking, Elias was with the Astros front office while they were developing Adrian Houser, who looks like he’s been pushed out of a rotation job in Milwaukee. The Mets have reportedly been open to offers on Carlos Carrasco at times this winter, too, and there are surely other veteran arms quietly drawing various degrees of interest around the sport.

On the whole, it’s been a very quiet offseason for the Orioles, who’ve added a quartet of veterans on short-term. Gibson (one year, $10MM), Adam Frazier (one year, $8MM) and Mychal Givens (one year, $5MM) all signed as free agents, while the O’s acquired James McCann to back up Adley Rutschman behind the plate (taking on two years and $5MM of McCann’s remaining contract in the process). That gives the Orioles a projected $63MM payroll, per Roster Resource, which falls right in line with their end-of-season total in 2022.

That payroll projection runs counter to Elias’ August comments, wherein he indicated that the team’s plan was to “significantly escalate the payroll.” Elias said this past Friday that it’s been a “competitive winter” in terms of player acquisition, suggesting the O’s have had more irons in the fire but not yet pulled through additional signings/trades of note. He added that he and his staff remain focused on improving the roster between now and the start of spring training, though obviously the clock is ticking on that goal and many avenues to accomplish it have already been closed.

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