How much are O’s willing to spend?

October 28th, 2022

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There’s understandable excitement surrounding the Orioles from fans and the team alike after a successful 2022 season. The rebuilding phase appears to be over, and Baltimore hopes it can contend in ‘23.

“I don’t think anybody was really expecting us to play this well, and we did,” first baseman said. “Now, the expectations are a little higher and playoff hopes are a little more in reach.”

Here are five questions facing the Orioles as they enter what could be an active offseason.

1. How much will the O’s be willing to spend?
Like last offseason, the Orioles will have financial flexibility, with only one player (starter ) having a guaranteed contract for 2023. This year, though, the team could spend for higher-profile free agents.

“I do continue to view this as an offseason where we are going to have the flexibility to invest in the Major League payroll in a different way than I have done since I’ve been here,” general manager Mike Elias said at his end-of-season press conference. “We feel like the time is right from a strategic standpoint.”

2. Will the O’s dip into the farm system for trades?
It’s also possible Baltimore looks to upgrade its roster via trades. If there are desirable star players on the market, the Orioles could choose to dip into their deep farm system -- ranked as baseball’s best in MLB Pipeline’s most recent update -- and part with a top prospect or two to complete a deal.

“Our Top 10 Prospects list is as deep as I’ve been around in my career,” Elias said.

As the O’s enter their expected window of contention, how willing should they be to move potential future stars for players who will help them win now? That’s an important decision the front office will need to weigh.

3. Who will be at the top of the starting rotation?
The Orioles’ rotation improved in 2022, with several young arms performing much better, especially late in the season. However, Baltimore starters still ranked 21st in the Majors with a 4.35 ERA.

One of the O’s biggest needs is a top-of-the-rotation starter.  (who has an $11 million club option for ‘23) may or may not return, while Means is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and likely won’t be back until at least a month or more into the season.

Even if Lyles is brought back and Means returns on schedule, Baltimore would still greatly benefit from acquiring an ace-level starter.

4. Can breakout relievers have repeat success?
There were quite a few breakout performers out of the O’s bullpen this year. (2.19 ERA and 15 saves), (1.40 ERA), (3.05 ERA) and  (3.49 ERA) all emerged as reliable high-leverage relief options.

Entering 2022, that quartet had pitched a combined 157 big league innings (105 1/3 of which came from Tate), so there is not exactly a long track record. Perhaps Baltimore will look to add a veteran presence to its ‘pen to make the unit even deeper (or to have insurance in case any reliever can’t replicate his success).

5. Should  get a long-term contract now?
It’s been a recent trend for teams to ink budding superstars to massive long-term deals early in their careers, ensuring they won’t hit free agency for quite some time. The Mariners gave outfielder Julio Rodríguez a megadeal that could max out at $470 million during his rookie season. The Braves have already signed quite a few of their young stars to big extensions.

The Orioles should consider doing the same with Rutschman, as that would likely be one of the best uses of their expected future payroll increase. The 24-year-old catcher is already a franchise cornerstone following his impressive rookie season and could be a leader for years to come.