The Orioles have not ruled out signing a veteran free agent for the rotation, but their choices are dwindling by the day. Baltimore could acquire a top arm via trade, but it’s hardly a guarantee. Fans cannot fix up the O’s and Marlins on a blind date regardless of how strong a match they appear to be.
It’s perfectly plausible that Mike Elias and the Orioles are willing to dance with their current group of starting pitchers. Baltimore has a higher number of credible candidates than previous years, and the Birds intend to see which internal options can string together a full season of above average baseball.
The notion would be good news for pitchers already listed on the 40-man roster, but certain players will still face an uphill battle. Spots in the starting rotation are not created equal.
The Orioles shelled out $10 million to add Kyle Gibson this offseason. The veteran could represent an upgrade over Jordan Lyles, but he will take his place in the rotation. Gibson holds the strongest track record of the healthy starters and can fill the leadership role for a young group.
The Orioles swiped Tyler Wells in the second round of the 2020 Rule 5 draft. Wells blossomed into the best reliever on the team before the O’s stretched him out last season. Wells exceeded expectations as a starter before two trips to the IL in the second half. The Rule Fiver appears to be a Santander-level steal for the Orioles.
Wells has exceeded in both roles, but Baltimore should not yo-yo him back to the bullpen. The 28-year-old has earned a consistent role, and forcing Wells to stretch out in the middle of the season could risk another injury.
Wells and Austin Voth both have experience as a reliever, but Voth is currently out of options. Voth may have represented the greatest surprise for the O’s after the Birds claimed him last June. He posted a 3.04 ERA and 1.229 WHIP over 22 games (17 starts) for the Orioles.
Voth’s lack of options all but guarantee a spot on the roster, but he could be relegated to a swingman role. Voth never exceeded six innings after beginning last season as a reliever for Washington, but his 3.80 FIP with Baltimore indicates he could take the ball every fifth day.
Speaking of starters with bullpen experience, DL Hall recorded his first MLB save last season against the Yankees. The hard throwing lefty fits the mold of a backend reliever, but would the Orioles really throw in the towel on Hall as a starter already? Hall likely faces an uphill battle this spring, but whether he lands in the bullpen or Norfolk’s rotation will indicate Baltimore’s long term goals for the blue chip prospect.
Grayson Rodriguez has yet to throw a pitch for Baltimore but has nothing left to prove in the minors. Rodriguez should only need to finish camp healthy to make the team, but is it really that simple? The Orioles will certainly look for ways to limit his workload during the course of the season. Would they dare delay his debut while giving a dark horse candidate a few starts?
Keegan Akin, Mike Baumann, Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer were all Top-10 prospects for the Orioles at one point or another, but they hardly stand on equal ground now. Kremer and Bradish hold an inside track, while it’s difficult to picture Akin or Baumann contending even with an impressive spring.
Kremer wowed with an 8-7 record and 3.23 ERA in 125.3 innings last season. His 1.253 WHIP and 3.80 FIP indicate some regression, but not enough to call last year a fluke. Kremer looked the part of a big league pitcher with an obtainable ceiling as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. The Orioles want to see if he can do it again.
Bradish performed like a rookie last season. The 26-year-old walked three or more batters seven times and allowed a home run in 13 of his first 16 starts. He also dominated the World Champs twice down the stretch and struck out 11 Cardinals in his third start of the season. Bradish took his lumps while demonstrating plenty of potential. He’s earned his spot.
Akin shined as a multi-inning reliever during the first half of last season but the wheels fell off down the stretch. His experience, paired with the fact that he throws the ball with his left hand, could increase his odds of locking down a place in the ‘pen, but a spot in the rotation appears out of the question.
Baumann made four starts for the Orioles in September but failed to truly seize the opportunity. Elias did not draft Baumann, so there’s little risk of an emotional decision here.
Spenser Watkins will go to camp with something to say, and so will Bruce Zimmermann. Could a Jake-Fox-like performance catapult either into the rotation?
Gibson, Kremer, Bradish, Wells and Rodriguez appear to have the advantage if the season started today. The first three appear to be locks at this point, and John Means will take a spot when healthy,
The Orioles would have made room for Chris Bassitt or Nathan Eovaldi, but it’s easy to see why they resisted whatever little temptation to sign Rich Hill. Baltimore has plenty of candidates to take the ball every fifth day, and a few appear to have spots locked up already.