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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles opening day roster projection: Needs apparent coming out of winter meetings

More than 100 days remain until the Orioles begin the 2023 season in Boston. But the aftermath of a week at the winter meetings seems like a logical time to project what Baltimore’s roster might look like come March 30 at Fenway Park.

It’s doubtful the 26 players listed below end up as those standing along the baseline as the national anthem plays, but the exercise makes evident where the Orioles’ roster needs are with about two months until the start of spring training. During his time in San Diego, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias expressed his primary targets for the rest of the offseason as being another starting pitcher, a left-handed hitter who can occupy the corner spots or possibly second base, and a backup catcher. The same needs are clear looking at Baltimore’s potential roster.

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Looming over all this, of course, is Elias’ stated intention at the end of the offseason to “make more significant investments in the major league payroll.” The 26 players listed below are projected to receive $53.5 million in 2023, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. That ranks as the second-lowest opening-day payroll in the majors and is $99.5 million or more behind three of the other teams in the American League East. The New York Mets, who have the majors’ highest payroll and keep adding to it, are projected to pay over $20 million more in overage penalties related to the competitive balance threshold than the Orioles are on their 26-man roster.

Whether that gap narrows and the amount that it does will be dependent on the level to which Elias pursues further upgrades to Baltimore’s roster. He’s acknowledged that he doesn’t want to block the organization’s rising crop of position player prospects and has also expressed concerns about lengthy contracts for pitchers. Still, his stated goal is to build a roster capable of taking the Orioles to the postseason in 2023.

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For now, this is the projected group they’ll try to do that with.

Starting pitchers (5): Kyle Bradish, Kyle Gibson, Dean Kremer, Grayson Rodriguez, Tyler Wells

Other candidates: Mike Baumann, DL Hall, Austin Voth, Spenser Watkins, Bruce Zimmermann

This is where the most uncertainty is when it comes to the Orioles’ roster. Not only will they try to add at least one other starter after signing veteran Kyle Gibson to a one-year deal, but there are also plenty of decisions to sort out with the group they already have in place. Aside from Rodriguez — the top pitching prospect Elias has given “a very high likelihood” of making the season-opening rotation — each of these pitchers made at least one start for Baltimore last season. Bradish and Kremer made the strongest impressions to close 2022; over the season’s last two months, they combined for a 3.01 ERA while allowing fewer than 30% of opposing batters to reach base safely. Having been the Orioles’ most consistent starter until he was hampered by injuries in the second half, Wells gets the nod, with Voth and Hall his likeliest competition if the Orioles don’t add another starter via free agency or a trade.

Orioles pitcher Grayson Rodriguez has “a very high likelihood” of making the season-opening rotation, according to general manager Mike Elias.

Relief pitchers (8): Keegan Akin, Bryan Baker, Félix Bautista, DL Hall, Cionel Pérez, Andrew Politi, Dillon Tate, Austin Voth

Other candidates: Yennier Canó, Logan Gillaspie, Joey Krehbiel, Nick Vespi, Spenser Watkins, Bruce Zimmermann

Bautista, Pérez, Tate and Baker were manager Brandon Hyde’s primary late-inning options at the end of 2022, and they figure to carry those roles into 2023. The other half of Baltimore’s bullpen has some flexibility. Elias said adding relievers wasn’t a priority for now, given the Orioles have a collection of starters who could slide into the bullpen if they don’t make the rotation. Hyde said Hall would be built up for at least a multi-inning role; in his final eight relief appearances for the Orioles, their No. 5 prospect allowed one run over 8 2/3 innings while striking out 11 against two walks while earning a save at Yankee Stadium. Voth and Wells also have relief experience, with Akin seemingly finding a home in long relief in 2022 despite some year-end troubles. The Orioles will hope Politi will follow the same trajectory as Wells as a Rule 5 draft pick tucked in the bullpen.

Catchers (2): Anthony Bemboom, Adley Rutschman

Other candidates: Maverick Handley, Mark Kolozsvary

En route to being the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year, Rutschman caught in 93 of his 122 games on the Orioles’ roster, or a little more than three of every four games; all but nine of those appearances were starts. Elias said he could be on a similar pace in his first full major league season in 2023, describing 120 to 125 games as the “upper bound” of what the Orioles will ask of him. Naturally, that leaves at least a quarter of the games for a backup catcher, with that being an apparent area in need of an upgrade. Rutschman is the only backstop on Baltimore’s 40-man roster, with Elias saying he plans to add another in the form of a major league free-agent signing. But he also noted he’ll likely wait for any trades of starting-level catchers such as Oakland’s Sean Murphy or any of Toronto’s trio to let the market settle.

Jorge Mateo will be the Orioles’ shortstop to open the year coming off a season in which he was the sport’s best defender at that spot, but he'll have to hold off a rising crop of prospects.

Infielders (6): Lewin Díaz, Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, Ryan Mountcastle, Ramón Urías, Terrin Vavra

Other candidates: Josh Lester, Tyler Nevin, Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg

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Hyde described added depth at first base behind Mountcastle as “a possibility” but “not a huge priority.” But Mountcastle won’t play 162 games, and someone needs to man first when he doesn’t. Díaz and Nevin are the only other true first basemen on Baltimore’s 40-man roster, but Díaz offers a left-handed bat. Vavra does as well, and that might be enough to earn him a bench spot or platoon with Urías at second base if the Orioles don’t make a starter-level signing for their infield, which Elias has suggested is possible. Vavra also spent some time practicing first base last year, as did Rutschman and outfielder Anthony Santander, though none of them appeared in a game there; Elias said any possibility of Rutschman playing first, as he did in college and the minors, depends on the rest of the roster. Mateo will be the Orioles’ shortstop to open the year coming off a season in which he was the sport’s best defender at that spot, but a combination of Henderson with Ortiz or Westburg — if neither prospect is traded — should prove tantalizing before long.

Outfielders (5): Austin Hays, Ryan McKenna, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Kyle Stowers

Other candidates: Franchy Cordero, Nomar Mazara

Depending on what other additions are made, the Orioles’ three highest-paid position players figure to all be here together in Santander, Mullins and Hays. Baltimore’s best offensive producer sans Rutschman, Santander led all switch-hitters in home runs. Mullins struggled against lefties, but his season could be viewed as disappointing only because it followed the club’s first 30 home runs-30 steals campaign in 2021. Hays was trending toward a potential All-Star selection himself before his season fell apart soon after he hit for the cycle. Meanwhile, McKenna makes for an ideal outfielder off the bench, capable of playing all three spots well and serving as a strong pinch-running option. Stowers made a strong impression once he actually got playing time late in the year, but he’ll contend with minor league signees Cordero and Mazara for a roster spot designated for an outfielder who hits left-handed, with the possibility others join that competition before the offseason ends.


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