The Orioles are running out of free agent targets that would represent an upgrade to their current rotation. Baltimore was never expected to flirt with Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom, but dreams of Carlos Rodón and Chris Bassitt have come and gone. The O’s allegedly extended multi-year offers to certain players, but only inked starter Kyle Gibson to a one-year deal.
Gibson did not represent the ideal acquisition for fans, but he appears to have a spot in the rotation locked up next year. The 35-year-old will replace Jordan Lyles as a veteran arm in a young rotation. A reunion with Lyles is off the table after he signed a two year, $17 million deal with the Royals.
Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Wacha remain available as of this writing, but the Orioles could easily stand pat. Baltimore appears capable of making a trade for a top arm, but it’s difficult to assume the Birds will find a match.
The Orioles hope to improve their rotation without a trade or another free agent signing. Grayson Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, should break camp with the team, and staff ace John Means is poised to return at some point during the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last April.
Rodriguez and Means possess the most talent among anyone in the rotation, but neither represents a sure thing in 2023. Every rookie faces adversity at some point, and Baltimore does not know for certain when Means will be ready to pitch in the majors. Both Rodriguez and Means could face work limits that prevent them from working deep into games or taking the ball every fifth day.
Other playoff contenders would shell out the cash for a sure thing, but the Orioles are taking a risk here. Mike Elias clearly has confidence in Rodriguez and Means, but he also has a decent amount of pitching depth.
Dean Kremer, Austin Voth, Kyle Bradish, Tyler Wells and Spenser Watkins all spent time in Baltimore’s rotation last season. Kremer posted a 3.23 ERA in 21 starts, Bradish dominated the World Series champs multiple times down the stretch, and Wells emerged as the club’s best pitcher in the first half of the season. Voth held a 3.04 ERA in 83 innings for the Birds, and Watkins pitched at a replacement level.
DL Hall, Mike Baumann and Keegan Akin all spent time in the bullpen last season but could return to a starting role. The trio, along with Bruce Zimmermann, Chris Vallimont and Drew Rom, all hold spots on the current 40-man roster.
Some of these pitchers will regress next season, but the Orioles hope they can find at least three consistent arms to stick with Rodriguez and Gibson early in the year. A strong spring from several starters could potentially push back Rodriguez’s debut, but the top prospect has nothing left to prove in the minors.
Baltimore jumped ahead of schedule in their rebuild last season. Next season originally projected as another year of evaluating talent, and the O’s still intend to see what their internal candidates can do. Hall deserves another crack at the rotation, and the Orioles gave Baumann four starts at the end of last season.
It should go without saying that injuries and regression take place every year. Some of these guys might get hurt, and several could end up disappointing. Still, there appears to be enough depth to avoid signing a 43-year-old Rich Hill.
Several starters will have an opportunity to distinguish themselves before Means returns in June or July. Brandon Hyde and Elias should have a tight leash with the Orioles trying to win games, but the first few months of this season could represent the final talent evaluation period of this multi-year rebuild.
The Orioles expect to have Rodriguez and Means ready to lead the group down the stretch. Rodriguez could struggle, Means could face a setback, or both could come out of the gates pitching like the Orioles know they are capable of doing. No matter what happens, Baltimore is banking on internal candidates to take this team to the playoffs.