Little more than 14 months ago, before the final home game of the Orioles’ disastrous 2021 season, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias offered a direct assessment of how the organization would approach the offseason.
“We’re going to be very cognizant of who we are and where we are,” Elias said then, “and I do think that the time for the Orioles of making the largest splash at the winter meetings is not right now.”
Of course, those winter meetings didn’t take place, with the annual gathering of club executives, agents and others around the sport a casualty of Major League Baseball’s lockout of its players. But this week, it will become clearer how much has changed about how the Orioles operate after a surprisingly successful 2022.
At 83-79, Baltimore was the best team in the American League that didn’t make the postseason field. The organization’s contingent arrived in San Diego with the payroll flexibility and prospect depth to be among the league’s most significant movers and shakers throughout the week, as a relatively quiet offseason across the sport is expected to heat up.
Just four months ago, in the wake of a trade deadline that saw the Orioles deduct from their major league product, Elias declared it would be “liftoff from here” for the organization. This week represents a significant chance to show just how high the Orioles will fly.
Here are five ways Baltimore’s outlook for the 2023 season can change at this week’s winter meetings.
1. A significant signing
During Elias’ four-year tenure, the Orioles have yet to sign a free agent to a guaranteed multi-year deal, with that remaining the case after the club reportedly agreed to terms with veteran right-hander Kyle Gibson over the weekend. For Baltimore to land the type of player it should be seeking this offseason, a shift in that undoubtedly will be required.
For the second straight year, there are several big-name shortstops on the market, but it’s unclear whether the Orioles will be serious bidders for a group that includes stars Trea Turner and Carlos Correa. There’s also a deep collection of starting pitchers, and although Baltimore might be outbid for the remaining top available starters in Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodón, the Orioles could still do well in striking at the next tier of arms, led by Chris Bassitt and Kodai Senga. Baltimore has also reportedly met with former flamethrower Noah Syndergaard, according to the New York Post.
2. A big trade
The impact on the Orioles’ 2023 plans would be two-fold here. They would add a player from another organization, presumably at the cost of at least one of their own who otherwise might have had a role to play for them next season.
If the front office isn’t interested in investing heavily in a free-agent starter, the club could enjoy some cost savings while still adding a premier rotation piece with multiple years of control remaining. Such an effort would likely require Elias to forfeit some of the young talent he’s stockpiled in recent years. Of the Orioles’ top 10 prospects according to Baseball America, four are right-handed-hitting infielders who have reached the upper minors but not the majors. Using one as the centerpiece of a package seems like a logical starting point, but Baltimore has built enough depth to try other approaches.
3. Division rivals’ moves
This is an area the Orioles’ playoff hopes could improve — or drop — without them making a move. Two of their American League East foes, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, are at risk of losing significant pieces in free agency.
While setting an AL record for home runs, outfielder Aaron Judge carried the Yankees to the postseason, earning league Most Valuable Player honors en route to becoming the sport’s most sought-after free agent. Xander Bogaerts fits alongside Turner and Correa in an impressive shortstop class and would leave the Red Sox with a hole should he sign elsewhere. Both organizations also could lose starting pitchers in Jameson Taillon and Nathan Eovaldi, either of whom would also be a logical Orioles target.
Of course, the winter meetings could also see those teams, as well as the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, make a big move or two, while the Orioles could lose a player they’re targeting to another club, so their own activity will be just as vital to their potential success.
4. A Rule 5 draft selection
Excluding a waiver claim, making a pick in Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft could be perhaps the least exciting way the Orioles could make an addition to their 40-man roster this week, but doing so would certainly have ramifications throughout the winter and possibly into the season.
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Any Rule 5 selection would have to remain on Baltimore’s 40-man roster for the whole offseason and its major league roster throughout the regular season or be offered back to his original organization. That stipulation would limit the Orioles’ roster flexibility, both as they look to make other moves into spring and shuffle their bullpen and bench during the season.
Of course, there’s no requirement they actually retain the player; of the Orioles’ six Rule 5 selections made under Elias, only one remains with Baltimore. But as long as the Orioles select and hold onto any Rule 5 draftee, that would be one fewer roster spot for them to operate with.
5. A draft lottery surprise
The Orioles have had one of the MLB draft’s first five picks for four straight years. Despite their winning season, they’ll head to San Diego with a small chance to extend that streak.
As a byproduct of the sport’s new collective bargaining agreement, the teams making the first six picks in next summer’s MLB draft will be determined by a draft lottery Tuesday. All 18 teams that did not qualify for the playoffs are eligible, and among them, only the Milwaukee Brewers finished with a better record than Baltimore.
That leaves the Orioles with the second-lowest odds of receiving the first overall pick and a top-six pick. Baltimore has a 0.4% chance of making its second straight No. 1 overall pick and third in five years, being selected for one of the first six picks in about 3.3% of scenarios. Otherwise, the Orioles will likely pick 17th overall, with the Brewers having 2.1% odds of being chosen in the lottery and bumping Baltimore to 18th.
Although where the Orioles pick in the draft figures to have a heavier influence on seasons beyond 2023, landing in the lottery could hypothetically alter the front office’s approach to the offseason. Having one of the first six picks could make Elias and his staff more comfortable trading away prospects already in the system, given that they will be replaced by another top talent.
The Orioles’ draft bonus pool would also increase, which could make it easier to swallow the loss of their third pick in the 2023 draft should they sign a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer, a group including many of the best talents available. In 2022, the No. 6 pick had a slot value more than $2 million higher than the 17th pick, about double the value of the Competitive Balance Round B pick the Orioles would lose with a signing of that level.