Save for the Orioles’ signing of shortstop José Iglesias, which filled their one true everyday need, their offseason has been conducted with an eye toward rectifying a pitching problem that was crippling at times last year.
When things went badly, they didn’t really have any alternatives.
The roster construction problems, born of a lack of depth that was apparent for years and really came to the surface in 2019, meant that the Orioles were in a bind. They usually addressed the problem by running out the same pitchers in the same situations and hoping for different results.
In the rotation, it was a half-season of struggles from the likes of Dan Straily and David Hess that only were rectified when the Orioles started acquiring alternatives at midseason like Tom Eshelman, Aaron Brooks and Asher Wojciechowski.
In the bullpen, it was a constant string of familiar faces put in familiar roles and not delivering much consistency to manager Brandon Hyde and his staff.
All that means the additions of the past two months, from the Rule 5 draft selections of Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, to the major league free-agent deal for former top pick Kohl Stewart and recent minor league deal for veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc, are ways for the Orioles to give themselves alternatives through spring training and beyond.
The presently constructed rotation of John Means, Wojciechowski and Alex Cobb leaves two spots up for grabs. Hess could get another crack at the rotation, along with all those new additions.
There’s also familiarity with many of the nonroster invitees, all of whom represent the kind of depth that wasn’t around from the start in 2019 — even if it’s not the highest quality.
Chandler Shepherd, Ty Blach and Eshelman will be in camp after being outrighted last year, but come with the benefit of familiarity for Hyde and pitching coach Doug Brocail as the staff considers their candidacy before and after spring training.
Similarly, minor league free agents Rob Zastryzny and Brady Rodgers have plenty of background with the Orioles’ coaches and front office staffs. Zastryzny spent parts of three seasons with the Chicago Cubs while Hyde was on that staff, and Rodgers was drafted and developed by the Houston Astros under executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and director of pitching Chris Holt.
Trust was quickly earned when it came to Orioles’ pitchers last year. Matt Wotherspoon was added to the roster a week into the season to fill a pitching need based simply off the fact that Hyde saw him throwing strikes when he was an extra pitcher brought over from spring training.
Wojciechowski became a rotation staple in the blink of an eye. Everyone who showed even a modicum of promise got another shot.
There will be those newcomers again this year, but the Orioles will know what they’re capable of. That’s at least an improvement for the club’s mindset, if not the actual results on the field.