The Orioles’ rebuild continues to slouch forward. But with their best prospects on the cusp of breaking the majors, perhaps they’re about to turn a corner.
Major League Signings
- Jordan Lyles, SP: one-year, $7MM plus club option for 2023
- Robinson Chirinos, C, one-year, $900K plus incentives
- Rougned Odor, 2B: one-year, $700K (Rangers paying the remainder of the $12.3MM remaining on his contract)
- Total spend: $8.6MM
Trades and Claims
Notable Minor League Signings
- Rico Garcia, Spenser Watkins, Marcos Diplan, Jacob Nottingham, Anthony Bemboom, Shed Long, Andres Angulo, Wes Robertson, Buddy Baumann, Conner Greene, Chris Owings, Chris Ellis, Beau Taylor, Matt Harvey
- Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser, Pedro Severino, Fernando Abad, Maikel Franco, Pat Valaika, Austin Wynns, Thomas Eshelman, Eric Hanhold, Hunter Harvey, Nick Ciuffo, Brooks Kriske
The biggest headlines surrounding the Orioles this season involved things that didn’t end up happening. John Means had his name come up in trade talks, though a deal never materialized. Cedric Mullins was a popular target for teams around the league, though he is also still in Baltimore. Ditto for Austin Hays and Trey Mancini. As the offseason wore on and Carlos Correa lingered on the open market, it was suggested by some that the Orioles could be dark horse candidate to sign him, due both to their lack of spending commitments and the connection with GM Mike Elias. While with Houston, Elias was reportedly the one who convinced the rest of the Astros’ front office that they should take Correa with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. As fun as that would have been, that also didn’t happen.
In the early portion of the offseason, the club made a handful of waiver claims and minor league deals. Just on the verge of the lockout, in late November, they signed Rougned Odor to a major league deal. With Odor still being paid by the Rangers as part of the extension he signed in 2017, the Orioles were able to bring him aboard at the league minimum rate. He hasn’t posted a wRC+ above 100 since 2016, but there’s virtually no risk for the O’s to give him a shot and see if he can turn himself into a valuable trade chip for them.
On December 1st, with just a few hours to go until the lockout was set to begin, it was announced that Baltimore had agreed to sign Jordan Lyles to a one-year, $7MM guarantee. (It wouldn’t be made official until after the lockout.) This would go on to be the biggest move of their offseason. In fact, this is the largest contract handed out by Elias since he was hired as the GM in 2018. It seems the M.O. is to focus on the youth pipeline until it’s fully connected to the majors, with little concern given to the short-term competitiveness or watchability of the big league team. Spend as little as possible and wait for the kids to arrive.
In other offseason news, it was announced in January that the dimensions of Oriole Park at Camden Yards would be changing, with the left field fences being both pushed back and elevated. This is an attempt to curtail the extreme homer-friendly nature of the park, which has allowed the most dingers in the league since it opened in 1992. Elias later admitted that the club also hopes this will help them lure free agent pitchers to Baltimore in future seasons.
After the lockout, the Lyles deal was made official and the O’s also signed Robinson Chirinos. At the time, the 37-year-old was the only catcher on the 40-man roster but was still expected to be the backup to top prospect Adley Rutschman. But Chirinos will become the starting catcher for now, as Rutschman was later shut down with a triceps strain that’s expected to keep him out of action until mid-April. Anthony Bemboom was upgraded from depth option to big league backup.
As the calendar flipped to April, Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser were sent to Miami. In exchange, Baltimore received a couple of prospects, a player to be named later and the Marlins’ pick in Competitive Balance Round B in the upcoming draft, yet another move dedicated towards building the team of the future. After that, Chris Owings had his contract selected. He had a .326/.420/.628 line with the Rockies last year before a broken thumb curtailed the remainder of his season. He can act as a veteran utility man and perhaps turn into a trade chip if he can hit at anywhere near last year’s pace.
That’s surely what Orioles fans will be focused on, the future, for the present and the recent past provide little to feel good about. Baltimore has finished last in the AL East in four out of the last five seasons, with the only exception being the shortened 2020 campaign when the Red Sox burrowed beneath them. Five years of almost constant basement dwelling seem almost certainly to carry forward into a sixth, as Baltimore’s four division mates are all projected to be quite strong yet again, on the heels of each winning at least 91 games last year.
When it comes to the future, though, there’s plenty to be excited about. Baseball America’s most recent Organization Talent Rankings placed the Orioles system fourth on the list, with many of the club’s top prospects nearing their MLB debuts. Rutschman, considered by many to be the best prospect in the game right now, seemed like he had a chance to crack the Opening Day roster before the unfortunate injury news. That will push his debut down the road but hopefully not for too long. Grayson Rodriguez will start this year in Triple-A, meaning he could push for a roster spot soon. D.L. Hall and Gunnar Henderson will be just behind in Double-A.
The path out of the bottom of the AL East will be steep, but with an impressive collection of prospects about to join the squad, it’s possible that this is the year where it actually feels like the Orioles are climbing. Though they haven’t spent any money in recent years, that also means they have a wide open future payroll. Just about everything comes off the books this year, including the ill-fated Chris Davis contract. Though 2022 is likely to be another dreadful year, it should only get better from here.