SAN DIEGO — Perusing the Orioles’ roster as his one-year deal with the team was finalized, Kyle Gibson faced a startling reality.
He would become its only member born before 1992.
The 35-year-old right-hander officially signed a one-year, $10 million agreement Monday, the first of at least two additions executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias hopes to make to Baltimore’s rotation this offseason. Gibson has made 222 more major league starts than any of the Orioles’ other candidates for rotation spots, and should Austin Voth and Spenser Watkins land in the bullpen, he projects as Baltimore’s only starter older than 27.
Gibson said on a video call Thursday he’s excited to embrace the veteran role that Jordan Lyles, his former teammate with the Texas Rangers, had for Baltimore’s pitching staff a year ago, but there’s plenty else about the Orioles that caught his attention as he fielded offers from other teams this winter.
“Seeing from the outside what Baltimore had last year, just the fun they were having, the second half they had, the direction of the team,” Gibson said, “there was a lot to like.”
Beyond specifics about his repertoire and salary, the sales pitch the Orioles gave to Gibson doesn’t differ all that much from the one they’ve made to other pitchers. They can offer the chance to help pitch a team on the rise into the postseason while working with several Gold Glove-level defenders, including star young catcher Adley Rutschman, and a distant left field wall behind them. A coaching staff that has established itself as capable of improving players and with growing resources to continue doing so is building a reputation around the sport.
Gibson also described Baltimore as underrated among cities he’s visited on road trips during his 10-season career with the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies.
“I have always enjoyed playing in Baltimore,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite road parks. I think it’s a sneaky [good] city to go to. I love restaurants in Little Italy. There’s a lot to love about Baltimore.”
The Orioles hope other free-agent pitchers will feel the same way. Gibson said he spoke with both Lyles and catcher Robinson Chirinos, veterans largely credited with establishing Baltimore’s clubhouse culture in 2022, and each offered a positive referral for the organization. Lyles specifically praised how the team’s pitching department made him better, and Gibson said he enjoyed his early conversations with pitching coaches Chris Holt and Darren Holmes.
“I value his opinion,” Gibson said of Lyles. “I value his friendship, and he only had glowing things to say about Baltimore. And that was one of the reasons why I think I felt so comfortable making the decision.
“Just hearing how he talked about the approach of why he thought he got better, to me, was very interesting.”
The Orioles offered Gibson the salary they did — an amount equivalent to their savings from declining Lyles’ 2023 contract option — because they believe he too can benefit from joining them. Elias said Gibson experienced some “bad luck” in 2022, in which he posted a 5.05 ERA for the Phillies. Philadelphia had the sixth-worst infield defense in the majors by Statcast’s outs above average at minus-11, while the Orioles ranked in the middle of the league with 6. A sinkerballer, Gibson logically would improve by having an infield behind him that, for now, will feature Gold Glove winner Ramón Urías, Fielding Bible Award winner Jorge Mateo, an above-average fielder in top prospect Gunnar Henderson and Ryan Mountcastle’s improved defense at first base.
He’ll also get to work regularly with Rutschman, who ranked second among catchers in defensive runs saved despite not reaching the majors until late May, while Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays will track down fly balls in the outfield.
They’ll have plenty of space to do it, with Gibson noting the effects of Camden Yards’ deeper and taller left field wall were also part of Baltimore’s bid for him. There were 57 balls hit at Oriole Park in 2022 that would have been home runs without the alterations, and of the career-high 24 home runs Gibson surrendered last season, six would have stayed in the field of play at Camden Yards.
“I think when you see how many less home runs you would give up if you pitched all your games in Baltimore,” Gibson said, “that’s a pretty good feeling.”
Gibson also looks forward to building on some late-season changes he felt will improve his game long-term, though his ERA ballooned nearly a full run in September. He followed a growing trend in the sport by tweaking his slider, historically his best pitch, into a sweeper, with more horizontal movement and less drop. The velocity of each of his three fastball types increased by about 1 mph, as well, the result of what he said was a kinetic change in his delivery. After striking out fewer than one of every five batters he faced into mid-August, he struck out nearly a quarter of opposing hitters through the end of the season.
“For me, digging into usage, digging into locations, digging into effectiveness of each pitch is something that I enjoy doing,” Gibson said. “I think it’s something that I need to do personally to be the best version of myself.”
He and the Orioles believe they can help him unlock it. The organization hopes that pitch will work again soon.