The Orioles pitching staff will face a bit of turnover in 2023. Baltimore’s ace John Means is set to rejoin the rotation, and Grayson Rodriguez looks destined to take the ball every fifth day next season.
Still, the Orioles staff could remain more intact that anyone originally imagined. Dean Kremer has exceeded any and all expectations this season, and Baltimore will certainly see how Austin Voth performs after a full spring working as a starter.
Jordan Lyles has pitched admirably for a majority of the season, and the Orioles will certainly have the money to bring back the innings eater if they choose.
Back in April, the notion that the pitching staff would outperform the offense in September—without Means or Rodriguez—could have been considered more improbable than the Orioles still contending for a playoff spot. Now, after a difficult start to the final month, Baltimore must determine how many members of their offense can hack it for a playoff team.
Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson are here to stay. Cedric Mullins has a home in center field, and Anthony Santander will likely outlast the annual trade rumors once again. The Orioles will not give up on Ryan Mountcastle despite a disappointing on-base percentage, but what about everyone else?
Austin Hays has slashed .197/.253/.317 in 40 games since the All-Star break, and a playoff team needs better production out of left field. Hays slashed .263/.336/.417 in the first half, but continued struggles could reduce him to a fourth-outfielder role on a winning club. Ryan McKenna took a step forward this season, and Kyle Stowers will need the at bats in his first full season. Is there room for everyone if the Orioles bring in a bat?
Jesús Aguilar has yet to provide a spark, and Tyler Nevin did not maximize his opportunity when backing up the corners. The Orioles will likely move on from Robinson Chirinos as the backup catcher, and Rougned Odor will have served his purpose by the end of the season. Odor’s struggles have been well documented, and it’s unlikely that even his biggest supporters could justify a spot on next year’s squad.
Jorge Mateo has dazzled all season with his speed, defense and a hot stretch at the dish. Mateo has held onto the starting job at shortstop all season, but can he maintain control through next year? His impressive turnaround at the plate helps his cause, but it likely depends where Baltimore hopes to play Henderson on a routine basis. Mateo might be an everyday shortstop, but could he really channel his inner JJ Hardy to shift a superstar away from his natural position?
If Mateo stays at short, Henderson would move to third. Does that shift Ramón Urías to second with Odor out of the way? Don’t ask Jordan Westburg. The Orioles’ fifth best prospect may have been surpassed by Henderson, but the 23-year-old must have aspirations to break camp with the team. Terrin Vavra could enter the chat as well if he manages to improve his defense moving forward.
Mike Elias caught everyone’s attention when he said the Orioles planned to “significantly escalate the payroll” after this season. The Birds could break the bank on pitching, but there are other holes to plug on the diamond. There’s money to be spent, even after raises in arbitration.
The last few Septembers have been dominated by questions asking which players belong on the next good Orioles team. Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells are no longer considered options. Few are holding out hope for Richie Martin or DJ Stewart. Yusniel Diaz becomes more of an afterthought with each day.
Competitions do not disappear when a club stops rebuilding. In reality, they become much more important. Mateo and Urías are indirectly competing right now for a starting spot next season. Austin Hays still has something to prove with Colton Cowser set to join a crowded group next season.
It’s easy to pick on the offense when the team is struggling, but the Birds have floundered at the plate for a majority of the season. Baltimore ranks in the lower third of the league in batting average (21st), on-base percentage (25th), and runs (21st).
The Orioles will continue to promote from within while supplementing with free agency. Where they will spend this offseason remains a mystery, but Hays, Mateo and Urías have an opportunity to tip the scales with a strong close to the season.