If the rain holds off, the Baltimore Orioles will officially begin their 2024 season tomorrow.
The first of 162 games, that every O’s fan hopes will end with the Birds again playing games that matter in October.
Here we provide some quick hits on a number of topics before the Orioles run down the orange carpet.

Quick Hits: 

1) Tomorrow will be 170 days since the Orioles 2023 season ended October 10th; when the Birds were swept out of the ALDS in 3 games by the Texas Rangers. It will be another 185 days until the ’24 regular season ends September 29th. There are no short-cuts. The O’s don’t just get to advance back to the playoffs, and avenge the disappointment of how last season ended.  The short-samples of the post-season can ultimately be a large roll of the dice. What’s available to the Orioles in this ’24 regular season is the opportunity to earn another post-season chance.

2) I didn’t know Peter Angelos the person. I had no connection there. I admired what he had achieved in life; and I particularly respected his philanthropic endeavors that he often did silently. I had no personal animosity with the man, and I offer my condolences to his family for his loss.

That said, I did dislike Peter Angelos’ ownership of the Orioles. Some described him as meddling. My knowledge is that he was often an absentee owner, that rarely set-foot in his office in the Warehouse. That often left his employees (not Baseball Operations) in a lurch, when they had things which required sign-off from Ownership. On the Baseball Ops side, where he could become meddling is that he would get involved with the largest decisions, often slowing down, or impeding the process.  The organization had too many employees who were hired / retained due to nepotism, and weren’t motivated to speak truth to power.

John Angelos didn’t win many fans locally with some of his public comments and actions the last few years; but I’ll always at-least give him credit for the hiring of Mike Elias.
I don’t think that hire would have ever happened under his father.
Some have argued cynically that the Elias hire was solely about selling rebuilding to the fanbase, while tearing down the financial obligations.
While there could be some truth there; Elias’ hire brought internal Baseball Operations (Scouting, Analytics, Development) investment. Along with there finally being an organizational commitment to doing something Internationally.

As I’ve said previously, Elias isn’t a magician. There’s nothing that he’s done that is particularly mind-blowing. He just systematically operated a coherent plan. Brought in intelligent, skilled people, and allowed them to work. Reduced obligations, and built a core that’s under long-term team control.
So, yeah – in my book John gets credit for the Elias hire, and I thank him for that.
And again, I wish John and the rest of the Angelos family the best as they deal with the loss of their patriarch.

3) David Rubenstein was formally approved by MLB as the O’s new Owner today, and it’s hard to imagine a better gift for O’s fans.  I have no idea how Rubenstein and the rest of the new Ownership will grade out as owners long-term. What I do know is that it is mentally refreshing to have this change. The O’s had a very good run over the 2012-16 seasons, but even then it was difficult to completely buy in for many O’s fans.  There were always limitations organizationally, and that started from the top.  Rubenstein taking over represents a new day for the Birds, and many fans will find it easier to be a fan. New Owners typically like spending on their new toy; we will see if that happens here.

4) The golden era for the franchise was 1966 through 1983.  6 trips to the World Series, with 3 World Championships.  The ’69 and ’70 Orioles consistently ranked amongst the best ever. We might have already entered the next era of Orioles greatness. In March 2024, maybe that sounds fanciful. Maybe in March 2030, it will look obvious. Ultimately that will be determined by how many Championships are obtained.  But the other part of that equation is year-to-year consistency. Being in the hunt annually. It’s been really fun this Spring feeling the expectations that exist for this roster.

5) The Orioles won 101 games last year.  They could be really good again this year – maybe even a better team on the field – and not win that many games again here in ’24. While the divisional games were reduced before last year, the O’s still reside in the AL East where 4 teams have real post-season aspirations, and the projected last place team (Boston) would likely contend for a division title in either the AL or NL Central.  I talked above about how the O’s don’t get to skip to October. That they have to earn their way back.  Despite saying that, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t picturing a Fall Classic at OPACY for the first time. But I’m going to try and put that thought out of my head for now. If you get back to October, you roll the dice and see what happens. You take your chances.  But to get there, you have to control what you can control.  Start by repeating last year’s AL East title. Clamp down against your divisional foes, and let them know the East again goes through Baltimore.

6) Before the O’s obtained Corbin Burnes, my general take was that I thought the Orioles were a contender, but closer to 90 wins vs. last year’s 101. If you have Burnes, but no Bradish; that is largely a wash to me. Where I’d still have the O’s as a contender, but not the prohibitive favorite. If Bradish and Means can get back on a ML mound (and consistently take the ball); I’ll love the O’s chances at being the best team in the American League. If those two don’t combine for 50 starts and 300 innings; that’s when there could be a sliding scale of results. Meaning if those guys are regularly taking the ball, I think the Orioles are going to be excellent. If you were to craft a scenario where the O’s drastically underachieve this year, it would start with these two ending up not being able to contribute much at all.  Dean Kremer is a very good 4th or 5th starter. Compare him to other 4th and 5th starters, and appreciate him for that. Ask him to be more than that, and you might end up being disappointed.  Tyler Wells has hit a wall starting the last two years, but he’s also been very solid before hitting that wall. Ideally he would be beginning the year in the ‘pen, but I’m completely good with handing him the ball to start right now. He will be fine.  Cole Irvin? I’m a bit more skeptical. Over ’21 and ’22, he made 62 combined starts with Oakland, and was solid enough over 360 innings. He just needs to keep the O’s afloat in his starts, and give the O’s a chance. That shouldn’t be unreasonable.

7) If the O’s do have to obtain a starter, they certainly have the system depth to do so.  I wound-up liking the deal Jordan Montgomery got with Arizona (1 year, $25M). That seems like it would have been ideal for the O’s. No long-term obligation, and just added salary to a team that isn’t spending that much. Hopefully with Rubenstein, such a move will be possible going forward.

8) 2024 Craig Kimbrel is not going to be 2023 Felix Bautista, and that should be understood by everyone.  It should also be understood that ’24 Kimbrel is not going to be ’17 Kimbrel either.  And that’s fine. He can, and will still help.  By all accounts, he’s going to be a tough watch at times. Someone that seemingly has to get into trouble, to get out of trouble. You can expect that he’s going to fail sometimes. But he does bring the experience of 417 career saves, and that should be appreciated.  What I’ll appreciate is that his presence allows Yennier Cano to be utilized in high leverage spots.  Overall, I think I’m higher on the bullpen than most. I generally like the arms that have come North. Ultimately I think their collective performance will largely be determined by the starters in-front of them.  Yes, I do wish Wells was beginning the year in the pen and helping there vs. being needed to start; but if the starters do their jobs – I think the ‘pen will be productive.  Now again, if Bradish and Means wind-up being largely unavailable, that would certainly change my outlook on the ‘pen.

9) Colton Cowser is starting the year in the Majors.  I don’t love that because I question how many games / ab’s he gets per week. I think to justify the decision, he needs to be playing 3-4 times a week. I guess if he starts once a week at LF, CF, RF, DH; it can work. We will see. I remain surprised that Austin Hays was not traded this off-season. I expected that to happen, and for Cowser to be slotted in to start in LF. Maybe it still happens at some point.

10) Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn go into the year as the 1st and DH duo.  Do they last the year?  Is one or both moved at some point?  Do we see Mayo, and Kjerstad up at some point as replacements?

11) I’ve always been a Hays fan, I love Mountcastle’s exit velocities and barrel percentages, and O’Hearn was very important for the O’s last year.  I’m not pushing these guys out the door. They can each continue to be contributors to this ’24 team, and a reason why the O’s could be very good. But the O’s have options and talent coming up behind them. They need to perform out the gate, or run the risk of losing their spots.

12) Cedric Mullins has had a .721 OPS each of the last two years.  Will that improve? His defensive range remains excellent.  Anthony Santander doesn’t quite get the love he probably deserves. Like Mountcastle, you aren’t ever going to love his on-base %.  But he’s got 61 homers, and 65 doubles the last two years. He provides power from both sides of the plate. At some point he might get supplanted, but he’s a valuable piece right now.

13) Adley Rutschman was in 154 games last year. 108 at catcher, and 46 at DH.  Is he going to get that many games at DH again?  He’s got a great eye, he’s a fantastic leader by all accounts, and his pitchers love pitching to him. He’s excellent.  ESPN had him 11th overall on their listing of the Top 100 players in baseball.  That felt a little high to me, unless his offensive production jumps a bit; and that probably doesn’t happen unless he’s able to get less games behind the plate. Which is difficult to do, because that’s where he’s most valuable.

14) Bradish was awesome last year, but I’m really excited about seeing Burnes.  He doesn’t turn 30 until October. He’s already won a Cy Young. He’s the O’s best starter (in-terms of accomplishment, and proximity to his prime) since Mussina.  Grayson Rodriguez turned it on down the stretch last year. He could easily fully emerge this year, and finish Top 10 in the AL Cy Young voting.

15) I’ve been a Jordan Westburg fan throughout his progression in the O’s organization. I think he will be very solid at 3rd, and I expect more consistent offensive production in ’24 than we saw from him in his 67 game run last year. Still, just like the aforementioned vets (Hays, Mountcastle, O’Hearn) there is some pressure for him to perform right away. If he doesn’t, he could also be in danger of losing time to Mayo.

16) I’m fine with Jackson Holliday starting at AAA to begin the year.  I’m fine with it because it’s not some travesty if he spends two weeks at AAA, and the O’s get the additional year of team control (2030). That’s probably the prudent thing to do. On the other-hand, I don’t think O’s fans have to have the mentality that because Scott Boras is his Agent, that it definitively won’t be possible to find an extension into his Free Agent years. With the Ownership change, the best thing Rubenstein & Co could do immediately is be pushing hard for extensions with Holliday and Gunnar Henderson. I wasn’t real excited about pursuing a Rutschman extension if John Angelos had remained owner. Mainly because if overall team spending was going to remain below average, I’m not sure I would have wanted to allocate a large percentage of the available spending pie to a Catcher in his 30s (as Rutschman would be with an extension). I still have questions, but if the new Owners are going to spend more, I’m more open to a deal there if possible.  That said, Holliday and Henderson would be my priorities. I think Hollidays’ stay at Norfolk will be temporary, and he will get an extensive amount of time in an O’s uniform this year. He should be in the running for AL ROY.

17) In that ESPN ranking of the Top 100 players linked above, they had Henderson 37th overall.  Being named the 37th best player in the world isn’t exactly a slap in the face, but I do think it’s low. I think last year’s AL ROY is Top 7 or so in this year’s AL MVP race. I personally prefer him at 3rd, but he’s still very good at SS. And if he’s going to mostly play SS as O’s Manager Brandon Hyde says, there’s a chance he looks even better there with the regular work and repetition. Did agree with the ESPN write-up that he has to improve vs. lefties if he’s going to make that run to the inner circle of the game’s elite players.

Summary?

There’s an awful lot to like in Birdland as this ’24 season begins.

It’s a fanbase (myself included) that’s used to having plenty to complain about.

I’m looking at the potential of this roster, and any complaints I have feel like nitpicking at best.

For many of us, this is about as good as it as ever been.

A homegrown, extremely talented team, that feels hungry.

Starting tomorrow they get their chance to show just how good they are.

Chris Stoner
Chris Stoner

Owner

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.

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