Currently it’s unclear when the Major League Baseball Owners and the Player Association will come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. At some point a deal will be made, and the season will commence. Let’s hope it’s in the near-term, and that pitchers and catchers can start arriving in Arizona and Florida in the next few weeks.
Whenever the Billionaires and Millionaires reach their next deal, we as fans can fully turn our attention to the play between the lines.
Coming off a season where the Orioles lost 110 games, and with the O’s playing in a Division where the other four teams have legitimate expectations of pushing towards 90 or more wins; it’s certainly understandable that the Orioles are an afterthought to the larger baseball world. Even locally we know that there are high levels of apathy among the fanbase. That happens when you’ve lost at-least 108 games in each of the last three full Major League seasons.
Still my dear fellow Oriole fans, there is plenty to watch this coming year. And if you’ve hung around these last few seasons, while the Orioles have been structurally rebuilding their house; this is the year where we start to see some payoff. This is the year we start to see the larger plan take hold, and the core of a team that can and should factor in the ’23 and ’24 seasons emerge.
I should be clear that I’m not in complete lock-step with the Orioles organization.
I don’t need to get into it at a larger level, but I’ll share that for years I’ve felt the O’s haven’t exactly been welcoming to Baltimore Sports and Life (BSL). I’ll also share that I feel punting on larger external moves for ’22 is just flat out wrong. The Mike Elias regime has had enough time to evaluate what exists internally. They have (correctly) cleared the decks of future payroll obligations. Even if they were not interested in larger extended deals with anyone, there were bargains to be had in the first part of Free Agency this Winter (prior to the lockout) that the O’s decided internally they wouldn’t even look at. Again, my frustration isn’t about not throwing $300M at Carlos Correa, it’s about having zero apparent interest in guys like Eduardo Rodriguez and Alex Wood. My opinion is unchanged. If you used the existing payroll flexibility, and added external pieces prior to ’22, and then again prior to ’23 – and you coupled that with what you have going internally – then you should be able to legitimately compete in ’23. The O’s decision making this Winter, tells me their internal timeline is the ’24 season for contention. So yeah, I’m ticked there doesn’t seem to be greater impetus internally to speed this process.
I share those negative vibes, so that hopefully what I say next carries more weight.
I’ve never been more excited about the future of the Baltimore Orioles organization than I am right now.
It’s my belief that the Elias hire, is the best thing which has happened to the Orioles organization in decades. I’m a fan because of how he has systematically operated in building the house from the ground up. I think he has sound judgement, and I think what he has done will be more widely appreciated in time.
1) Wins and losses over ’19-’21 effectively meant nothing, but beginning with this ’22 season, I think every win and loss does matter and the Elias regime should be held accountable. It’s time to improve.
2) If wins and losses matter this year, and it’s time to improve; what’s a reasonable goal win total wise? I don’t think the existing roster is good enough to get to 70 wins, but I think that should be the goal. That’s an 18 game jump from ’21, and won’t be easy in the AL East – but asking for the O’s to play .432 ball in Year 4 of a rebuild, shouldn’t be a crazy ask.
3) If the currently existing roster isn’t good enough to get to 70 wins, what do you think they are right now? If I was setting a current over / under, I’d say they are a 62 win team.
4) What’s available to help take the O’s from +/- 62 wins to +/- 70 wins? Our colleague Dr. Stephen Loftus identified some short-term options here. My current preferences would be 1 year deals with:
Michael Pineda – The big right-hander is 33. ’21 was his 3rd year with the Twins, and he had 109 innings over 21 starts. His xFIP of 4.28 is less attractive than the ERA (3.68), and his average FB velocity has dropped to 90.7 (93.2 for his career). He made $10M in ’21.
Zach Davies – The former Oriole prospect has made 155 career ML starts. His first year with the Cubs was rough, as he posted a 5.78 ERA (5.02 xFIP) over 32 starts. K% down. BB% up. Turns 29 in February. In those 155 career starts, he’s got a career ERA of 4.14. He made $8.63M in ’21.
Jose Iglesias – He made $2.1M in ’21.
Josh Harrison – He made $1M in ’21.
Do I think those signings are worth 8 wins? No, but I think they would improve the overall depth, and give you a better chance of playing ‘up.’
Jordan Lyles is not good. Pineda is not good. Davies is not good. But they don’t have to be good, to be an improvement over the pitching machines the O’s used on the mound in ’21. If you have Means, 3 versions of Lyles, and Grayson Rodriguez in the rotation by mid-May; you probably still have a below average rotation, but that’s the point. Below average – but not abysmal – would be a stark improvement.
5) Does the new CBA eliminate the service time games teams have to play? Let me be clear. If there aren’t changes in the CBA, the Orioles should absoultely let Adley Rutschman and Rodriguez hang out at AAA until (mid-May) the O’s get the additional year of team control. You don’t give up that year of control in their primes (when you hope you are a contender) to have them up immediately in ’22, when you know you can’t contend. But if service time is addressed in the CBA, then I’m all for Rutschman starting the year in Baltimore. He’s 24 Feb. 6th. He had the college experience. He had 80 games at Bowie. He’s not going to be a finished product, but I’d be 100% fine with giving him the opportunity to develop further in the Majors. Whenever he ascends, he’s going to through an adjustment anyway. And we shouldn’t pretend that him going to AAA Norfolk for 6 weeks is going to have any real significance on his development either way.
Rodriguez, I largely feel the same way. That said, he’ll play all of the ’22 season at 22 years of age, not turning 23 until November. He only has 80 innings of experience at Bowie. He was a HS pick, that didn’t have college.
But, like Rutschman, he’s one of the premier prospects in the game, and has had AA success. If the CBA addresses service time, and you want him to compete to be one of the five starters to break camp; there is nothing wrong with that. If the CBA doesn’t address service time, then he’ll start at Norfolk, and quickly be up to Baltimore once the Orioles have gained the additional year of control.
6) What could you reasonably expect production wise from Rutschman and Rodriguez in ’22? I’m not sure. I think the floor is a league average Catcher, and a league average 5th starter. Both have the upside to be significantly more than that in Year 1. Tampa Bay held back Wander Franco until late June last year, and he still finished the year as as 2.5 fWAR player.
7) I’m all about the changes to the outfield dimensions at Oriole Park. It will make for a more entertaining watch, especially if you dislike the 3 true outcome era. More balls in play. More room for the OFs to run. More relays. More doubles and triples. And I think trying to get the park to a neutral environment is a good goal.
8) If the Orioles don’t sign two other versions of Lyles (and frankly even if you do); we can fully expect Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Mike Baumann, Zac Lowther, Bruce Zimmermann, Alex Wells, Kyle Bradish, Kevin Smith, Bryan Baker to get ML starts this year. Maybe you aren’t excited about that, but I am. I like a lot of these guys. All of them have had real success through at-least the AA level. I’m most confident in Baumann and Bradish potentially sticking as ML starters; but I think pretty much all of them have the chance to help a ML roster in some fashion. The 2020 COVID season impacted the development of these guys. Limited their growth, and their innings. Yes, some of them were at the Bowie site, but that’s not the same as facing external opposition. Last year was brutal for most of them when they saw Major League time. Kremer in-particular was a disaster in the Majors, and lost for months back at AAA. But there is ability there. I think the off-season to clear their minds, to reflect on their individual experiences will help. I think the larger OF at OPACY will help.
I’d personally like to see Lyles 2.0 and Lyles 3.0 added to ML rotation when Free Agency resumes. I’d like to see Baumann, Baker, and Wells in the ML bullpen to start the year, with Zimmermann beginning the season as the O’s 5th starter, and with Rodriguez, Bradish, Akin, Kremer, and Lowther starting the year in the AAA rotation. From there, it’s about who takes advantage of the opportunities they get, and who earns additional looks.
In-general, I think this group takes a step forward and adds something positive to the ML roster during the ’22 season.
9) This time last year I expected Cedric Mullins to end the ’21 season as a 4th OF. I didn’t even think that was a knock on him, I was excited that he could be positioned to help the roster in that capacity going forward. Instead he put up a sensational year, and was easily the Most Valuable Oriole. What does he have in-store for an encore? Even if he regresses all the way to a .750 OPS, he would still be a multi-win player with his all-around game. His development last year was huge for what the O’s are trying to accomplish. Very excited to see if he can come anywhere close to replicating his ’21 production. One question I have with the reconfigured OF dimensions, is will Mullins’ limited arm strength be significantly exposed? On the flip-side, I anticipate with the additional space to run his outstanding range will be further appreciated.
10) Drew Rom put up a really strong ’21 season splitting time at Aberdeen and Bowie. He’ll be ’22 all of ’22, and has a chance to end the year in the Orioles ’23 plans.
11) Austin Hays remains my favorite current Oriole. If Hays is to make the leap to being a 4 win (by fWAR) player in ’22 – he has to stay on the field, hit RHP better, and his obp (which is baa driven) has to tick up. If he’s either stagnant or regresses at all, he’ll be in danger of losing playing time to someone like Kyle Stowers. Or at the minimum, you won’t be looking at him as a piece going forward. Is he a late bloomer like Brady Anderson, or he is a guy with all the tools, that can’t stay healthy and put it together like Nolan Reimold? ’22 is going to largely tell the story here.
12) What happens with DL Hall this year? He remains one of baseball’s best prospects. In his 31.2 innings at Bowie in ’21, he had 56 k’s, and allowed just 16 hits. That speaks for itself in terms of his stuff. But the number you really fixate on there is that he was limited to those 31.2 innings. That’s after the COVID 2020, and a ’19 season of 80.2 innings. He’s on the O’s 40 Man. After the elbow concerns, he has resumed throwing. If he stays healthy, what’s the best utilization of him in ’22? I’m thinking the O’s try and limit him to +/- 90 innings overall. Maybe 45 at Bowie, and 45 at Norfolk? Getting through the year healthy, and being on the verge of ascending to the O’s rotation in early ’23 feels like reasonable goals.
13) Anthony Santander is 27 years old, and has had just over 1,000 ML ab’s. He has light-tower power, is adequate in the OF, and struggles to get on-base. After a very promising ’20 in that short-sample of a season, ’21 was a step backwards. Of course, he was hampered with a left ankle sprain last April, and was never physically right all year. If you are placing bets, the odds will say he’s probably unlikely to end the year as the Oriole RF. But he does get first crack. And first crack is probably playing everyday through May, and a couple hundred ab’s. Does he take advantage of that time, or not?
14) I feel like Jordan Westburg doesn’t get enough love locally or with the National prospect writers. Westburg (turning 23 next Month) was the 30th overall selection in the 2020 Draft. In his first professional season, he got time at Low A, High A, and AA Bowie. He’s able to effectively play SS and 3rd, with most of this AA innings coming at Short. Across the board, he had 47 XBH’s, and 61 bb’s. I’d give him maybe another 300 ab’s across AA and AAA to begin ’22, and then I’d be looking to bring him up to the Majors in early July.
15) I mentioned above I’d be looking to sign Jose Iglesias for SS, and Josh Harrison for 3rd. If you don’t sign either or similar; it will be interesting to see how the O’s handle 2nd, SS, and 3rd to begin the year. I feel like Rougned Odor has name recognition, but shouldn’t be anointed as the de facto starter at 2nd – with Ramon Urias, Jorge Mateo, and Jahmai Jones being other options. I guess right now, you’d pencil in Odor at 2nd, Urias at SS, and maybe Kelvin Guttierez at 3rd? Urias was relatively productive last year (actually had a higher fWAR than Mountcastle). If you signed Iglesias, and Harrison; I’d be penciling in Urias at 2nd. Guttierez has a big arm, but Harrison would be a cheap upgrade there. Mateo has a skill set based on speed that has some appeal, but I’d rather have someone like Iglesias who would dependably make the routine plays at SS.
16) Above I also mentioned that I’d like to see Baumann, Baker, and Wells in the ML bullpen to begin ’22. I’d have them joining Tate, Sulser, Lopez, Scott, and T. Wells. Sulser had a fine ’21 season. Lopez had a couple of moments in ’21 where you could see why he was once a highly regarded prospect. I think the pen is where he belongs. Maybe he puts it together out there. Probably not. Scott frustrates fans with his lack of control, but nobody can deny the arm talent. Tate needs to be better this year. Fry was awesome to begin ’21, and fell apart when the umps started checking for foreign substances. I guess he’s also in the mix. We will see. If the rotation in-front of them was below-average and not cataclysmically poor; this group could be surprisingly useful.
17) Kyle Stowers got time at A+, AA, and AAA last year and produced. The 71st overall pick in the ’19 Draft isn’t far from the Majors. He’ll start in AAA, and if he’s banging down the door and either Hays or Santander aren’t producing (or available); he’s going to get a look in the Majors sooner than later. Should also mention Ryan McKenna here. The soon to be 25 year old McKenna was on the AAA / ML shuttle last year, playing in 90 games with the Birds. In his time back at AAA, McKenna had an 1.106 OPS in the short-sample size of 101 ab’s. Maybe he’s a AAAA player. Maybe he’s a quality reserve OF. And maybe, just maybe there is more there than we’ve yet seen at the ML level.
18) I fully expected the O’s to reach an extension with Trey Mancini this Winter. Maybe it would have happened without the lockout. Maybe it still will after. If the O’s don’t want an extension, then I remain puzzled as to why he wasn’t traded last July. It’s not like he’ll have more value this July, with Free Agency available to him a few months away vs. a team trading for him last year and getting the additional year of control. That said, I don’t think he was going to bring back all that much in a trade. He just seems like a logical extension type. You can have him as a productive DH / 1st, and you can likely find a deal that works for both sides. He’s a good-not-great player that shouldn’t break the bank. What’s he going to look like in his second year after cancer? Can he get back closer to his ’19 numbers?
19) The counter-part to Mancini at 1st / DH is Ryan Mountcastle, who will be entering his second full season in the Majors. Mountcastle struggled badly last April, was mediocre in July, and slumped in September. In June and August he was a force, with huge production in those months. Overall, he put up 33 bombs, and posted a .796 OPS in a very solid initial campaign. He costs little, and there is more there. The O’s should be extremely happy with what they have here. Let’s see if the average goes up in Year 2.
20) The Orioles were 20-56 against the American League East in 2021. The O’s are staring at another 76 games against the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, and Jays in ’22. Those four teams know they have to do damage against the O’s. If you are going to be more competitive as a franchise in ’22, you have to close the gap against your immediate foes.
21) Maybe one of the reasons Westburg seemingly gets overlooked, is that Gunnar Henderson rightfully steals some spotlight. Henderson’s talent jumps out at you, and he won’t be 21 until June. Like Westburg, he saw time at Low A, High A, and AA in ’21. He murdered Low A, more than held his own at High A, and played in just 5 games with Bowie. In ’22, we can expect Henderson to start at AA. Half-a-season at AA, and half-a-season at AAA would be a good goal. Obviously it depends on his production. If he’s productive, and gets 400-500 combined AA and AAA ab’s this year, than he’s on the precipice of joining the ’23 Orioles.
The National media has picked up on Henderson. They’ve yet to really pick up on Coby Mayo. The O’s 4th round pick in the ’20 Draft looks like a monster. In 106 ab’s to end the year at Low A Delmarva, Mayo had 14 xbh’s. I’m hoping we see Mayo start the ’22 season at High A, and split his ’22 season between High A, and AA Bowie.
By the middle of the ’23 season, might we be looking at Mayo at 3rd, Henderson at SS, and Westburg at 2nd for the Orioles?
22) There are another 10+/- prospects (Terrin Vavra, Hudson Haskin, Maikol Hernandez, Joey Ortiz, Anthony Servideo, Jean Pinto, John Rhodes, Garrett Stallings, Carter Baumler, Robert Neustrom, Reed Trimble, Braylin Tavera, Cesar Prieto) that I’m particularly interested in. Our On The Verge colleagues legitimately have some interest in 20 more. The bottom-line there is that the depth of the system continues to develop, especially now that the O’s are not operating with one-hand tied and are doing something at the International level. However, the two other names I’ll be focused on in ’22 are Heston Kjerstad, and Colton Cowser. Kjerstad of course was the 2nd overall selection of the ’20 draft, and has had his professional career delayed by myocarditis. But he’s participated in a Fall camp, and he’s been with the most recent minicamp. Most importantly you are just glad the young man is healthy. Beyond that, he’s going to have to shake off some rust. Had he been healthy from go, you would hope the advanced college bat would move quickly. If he’s ready to go to begin ’22, I’d think they’d have him start at Low A, and just see where he is. If he stays on the field, ending ’22 with a 1/3 to 1/2 a season at AA Bowie would be great. Cowser was the O’s 1st round selection in ’21, and all he did after signing was hit right away. With a .347 baa in 98 ab’s at Low A, you’d figure he would start ’22 at High A. Half a season at High A, half a season at AA? Can he get all the way to AAA? Either way, if Kjerstad and Cowser end ’22 healthy and producing at AA Bowie, they’ll be well positioned to join the Orioles at some point in ’23.
The 2022 Orioles aren’t going to contend.
Winning 70 games isn’t an accomplishment, and that might not be possible even if additional help is added.
That said, the O’s are an improving organization, and the ML product will show that in ’22. There will be gains that O’s fans can directly see. Most importantly, what happens this year will have real significance with the destinations the O’s will be attempting to reach in ’23 and ’24.
Chris Stoner founded Baltimore Sports and Life in 2009. He has appeared as a radio guest with 1090 WBAL, 105.7 The Fan, CBS 1300, Q1370, WOYK 1350, WKAV 1400, and WNST 1570. He has also been interviewed by The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Business Journal, and PressBox (TV). As Owner, his responsibilities include serving as the Managing Editor, Publicist, & Sales Director.