BALTIMORE -- Some MLB franchises have spent October interviewing candidates to fill openings at general manager and/or manager. That wasn’t on the Orioles’ to-do list.
Earlier this month, Baltimore GM Mike Elias confirmed he and skipper Brandon Hyde are under contract for the 2024 season. So, Elias and the rest of the O’s front office have already dove into preparations for the offseason, which will kick into high gear following the end of the World Series in early November.
Here are five questions facing the Orioles as they plan for the upcoming winter:
Who will be the closer in the absence of Félix Bautista?
Baltimore had a big hole at the back of its bullpen for the final 6 1/2 weeks of its 2023 season after Bautista partially tore his right UCL on Aug. 25. The 28-year-old All-Star closer underwent Tommy John surgery on Oct. 9, and he is expected to miss the entire ‘24 campaign.
The Orioles withstood the loss of Bautista by using various relievers in the ninth inning -- mostly All-Star righty Yennier Cano and lefties Danny Coulombe and Cionel Pérez -- while playing the matchups. But the club would likely prefer to have a set closer in 2024.
Perhaps that could be the 29-year-old Cano, who had a 2.11 ERA over a team-high 72 appearances in his breakout rookie season. Righty Tyler Wells and lefty DL Hall could also be candidates, although neither has a defined role at the moment and either could wind up as a starter.
There’s also a chance the O’s could swing a trade or eye the free-agent closing market, which will be headlined by five-time All-Star Josh Hader. But it seems unlikely Baltimore would pay for the type of contract the 29-year-old southpaw is likely to land.
Should another starting pitcher be added to the rotation mix?
Four starters can be penciled into the Orioles’ 2024 rotation: Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, John Means and Grayson Rodriguez. There’s a decent chance the team won’t bring back Kyle Gibson, who will be a free agent after signing a one-year, $10 million deal last offseason.
Among the candidates for the fifth spot will be Wells and Hall, with the former the probable front-runner at this point. Wells was Baltimore’s best starter during the first half of 2023, pitching to a 3.18 ERA through 18 outings before experiencing arm fatigue after the All-Star break.
It’s possible the Orioles could be satisfied with their starting-pitching depth. But they might want to consider adding an ace-caliber arm -- perhaps via a trade -- to better set themselves up for postseason success.
Which top prospects would the O’s be willing to trade?
If Baltimore aims to upgrade its pitching staff in some way, it will likely have to deal from its glut of talented position-player prospects. But it will have to decide whom it’s willing to part with.
The O’s have three more on the Top 100 Prospects list -- infielder Coby Mayo (No. 27), catcher Samuel Basallo (No. 46) and infielder Joey Ortiz (No. 50) -- who could be more realistic trade chips. They also have other talented youngsters in the pipeline, such as infielder Connor Norby and outfielder Dylan Beavers.
Will veteran players again be a priority in free agency?
Two offseasons ago, the Orioles signed right-hander Jordan Lyles, catcher Robinson Chirinos and infielder Rougned Odor to one-year deals. Last offseason, the club took a similar approach by inking Gibson and infielder Adam Frazier to one-year contracts.
Maybe Baltimore will again target free-agent veterans who have reputations of being good clubhouse guys. However, catcher James McCann is set to return in 2024, and other more experienced O’s players -- such as outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander -- are becoming more vocal leaders.
“They’ve gotten older and had more experiences now, and they’re not afraid to speak up,” Hyde said. “They’ve matured extremely well.”
Time for any of the young stars to get long-term extensions?
The Orioles have a strong core featuring a lot of exciting, young players, namely catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson. Eventually, they’re going to get big paydays. And until that happens, it will remain a hot topic of whether they could sign extensions to stay in Baltimore for the long haul.
“We have players here that we love, and you look at it right now and you go, ‘Boy, I wish we had those guys under contract for longer than they currently are,’” Elias said. “A big part of the calculus to keeping this franchise healthy is pursuing or examining opportunities to possibly keep some of these guys longer.
“I’ve said it over and over, we quietly work on this in the background. I don’t want to be the one out talking about it, but obviously, that’s a part of our job as a front office to tackle that subject.”