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Full MLB season heightens O’s need for pitching depth

With MLB set to proceed with a full season, the Orioles must add pitching depth from outside of the organization. Can Baltimore use the current state of free agency to its advantage?

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Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

With the word out that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has instructed teams to prepare for a full season, major league teams now have more context when it comes to preparing for 2021. The Orioles, like every other team in the league, should now anticipate the start of spring training in the middle of February and a full slate of games to follow.

Along with just about everything else in the world right now, this could be subject to change. However, if a league sets its sights on a full season, it’s likely up for the challenge. One look at the NBA’s new regulations for players represents how far owners and players are willing to go to make games happen.

MLB’s ambition to complete a full season should only heighten Baltimore’s willingness to participate in free agency. A full 162-game season is always a grind, but sprinkle in a global pandemic and things get a bit more complicated. A greater number of games leads to a higher number of injuries and opportunities for players to regress. Words like “close contact,” “quarantine,” and “taxi squad” should spark a desire for one thing— depth.

Every team should begin the season with more than five capable starting pitchers. The Orioles, as it stands right now, have two experienced arms and two more that can hold their own in a rotation. With youngsters Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer set to join John Means and Alex Cobb, the Birds have at least one space to fill. In reality, they could easily handle three or four more.

Jorge López flashed potential, but did not demonstrate enough consistency to merit starting consideration at this point. Bruce Zimmermann had a cup of coffee, but prospects Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alex Wells have yet to pitch above Double-A Bowie.

The Orioles may be just a year or two away from having pitching depth, but the lack of experience right now requires an addition from outside the organization. Baltimore rolled the dice by signing Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc to minor league deals last offseason, and Milone managed to pay off. However, a full 162-game season requires more than a couple lottery tickets.

MASN’s Roch Kubatko reported earlier in the week that the Orioles have major league contract offers out to multiple starting pitchers. The news, which came as a surprise to Kubatko, does not automatically translate to the O’s signing any of these players. However, the fact that they are extending offers demonstrates a real willingness to pursue legitimate free agents.

An abridged season that lacked fans in 2020 resulted in a financial setback for the league. It’s difficult to truly grasp the ramifications right now, but just about everyone in the industry is projecting a not so hot stove this offseason. The Orioles were never expected to be high rollers and that has not changed, but the already slow developing free agent market could play to the Birds’ advantage.

The year figures to be high on one-year “prove it” deals and other short term contracts. In other words, exactly what the Orioles are looking for right now. With the price dropping, Baltimore no longer needs to wait and browse the clearance rack in early March. The O’s could find a match with players that would rather lock up a deal now and ink a major league starter or two by the end of January. While that may or may not happen, it seems significantly more plausible than it would have a few months ago.

This logic can be applied to more than just pitching. As Tyler Young wrote the other day, the Orioles really should sign a shortstop. A fifth starter will not transform the Orioles into contenders and neither would adding Jonathan Villar or Freddy Galvis at short, but the team needs ball players— not just bodies, but ball players.

A full first half would allow any player on a one-year deal to contribute and audition for the rest of the league. Who knows, they may even fetch a prospect or two at the deadline. More importantly, they would allow the Orioles’ prospects to further develop at Triple-A Norfolk.

Mike Elias has admitted that winning is not “strategically relevant” right now, but adding starting pitching now would check short and long term boxes. If minor league baseball takes place this year, and it appears set to do so, the Orioles would benefit from allowing the youngsters to earn their way to Baltimore. The club should take a long look at López and Rule 5 selections Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells this spring, but the Orioles’ best option for a fifth starter is likely unemployed right now.

ESPN insider Buster Olney tweeted yesterday that a high number of players could agree to “split” contracts in the next 10 days. Will the Orioles take advantage of the flash sale and improve their current roster?

Are there any starting pitchers or position players that you think would fit well with Baltimore, or would you rather see the club go with the young guns right away? Let us know in the comments!