At this point, the national media disrespecting the Orioles ahead of the upcoming season is a time-honored tradition. Last offseason there was a near-unanimous viewpoint on the Orioles that echoed across the media landscape. No matter where you turned, there was a writer or MLB insider calling for the 83-win O’s of 2022 to take a step back in 2023. Predictions of Baltimore finishing fourth or fifth in the AL East were plentiful. All the Orioles did as a response was to put up their first 100-win season since 1980 and capture their first AL East title since 2014.
This year, the offseason disrespect has been more nuanced. The yearly disrespect tour started with FanGraphs releasing its offseason rotation ranking for the 2024 season. Last season, the Orioles starters combined for a 4.14 ERA. That performance helped contribute to a team ERA (3.90) that was the seventh best in MLB.
With that solid foundation to build on, you’d figure the projections would at least have the O’s rotation in the top half of the league. After all, Baltimore is set to bring back bonafide ace Kyle Bradish and get full seasons from Grayson Rodriguez and John Means. Sure, the prospect of Dean Kremer and Tyler Wells being the No. 4 and No. 5 starters isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. However, they still represent a better back end of the rotation than most clubs possess. Altogether it’s a quintet deserving of a top 15 ranking—and yet Fangraphs sees them as only the 25th best rotation in the sport. Disrespect noted.
The disrespect tour continued with another ranking that was none-too-kind to the Orioles. This past Friday, Bleacher Report published a top 10 of the “Least Improved MLB Teams” this offseason. Unsurprisingly, the L.A. Angels top the list. Having just lost the best player in baseball and yet to make a meaningful signing, the Angels are the clear losers of the offseason so far. The Padres coming in at No. 2 on the list is another non-surprise. Payroll concerns already forced the Friars to ship off three-time All-Star Juan Soto to the Yankees. Barring an unforeseen turn of events, San Diego also stands to lose reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell.
The next three teams on the list—the Twins, Rays and Rangers—also already suffered significant losses or stand to lose key contributors in free agency. The departures of Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle from Minnesota rob the Twins of the starting pitching depth that was such a big key in propelling the Twinkies to an AL Central title in 2023.
In typical Rays fashion, Tampa mortgaged the present for the sake of the future in trading away Tyler Glasnow, Manuel Margot, Luke Raley and Andrew Kittredge. While it wouldn’t be surprising to see some of the players the Rays got in return turn into stars down the road, the 2024 Rays certainly look worse on paper than the 2023 team that nearly won 100 games.
Meanwhile, the defending World Series champions face a starting pitcher crisis of their own. Former Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom (as well as new acquisition Mahle) are out until at least the All-Star break. Postseason ace Jordan Montgomery is also currently a free agent with no signs that a reunion is in the works. Backup catcher/DH/Orioles nemesis Mitch Garver is also gone to the Mariners. While the defending champs have taken some minor steps to fill in those gaps, their place on the list is understandable and in some ways deserved.
The Orioles’ place on the list (at #7) is hardly deserved. Yes, gone are Kyle Gibson, Adam Frazier and Aaron Hicks as well as failed trade acquisitions Jack Flaherty and Shintaro Fujinami. The long list of departures is only balanced out by the addition of Craig Kimbrel, who will attempt to fill in for the injured Félix Bautista. The Bautista to Kimbrel move is certainly a downgrade, but the other subtractions should not be viewed as losses.
Instead they are opportunities for young players—players with undoubtedly bigger upsides—to take on those roles. The possibility of swapping out Adam Frazier for Jackson Holliday represents a potential upgrade that is almost immeasurable. While Hicks certainly had his hot streaks with the Orioles, replacing him with the combination of Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser also represents a change with a near limitless upside. Gibson isn’t being replaced by a prospect; swapping him for a full season of Means is also a clear upgrade. Even if Mike Elias & Co. haven’t made a flurry of veteran additions, to say they failed to improve the roster in a similar manner to other teams on the list is a gross overgeneralization. Another disrespect noted.
Finally, the tour of disrespect continues onto the betting lines. DraftKings currently lists the Orioles wins total at over/under 87.5 wins—a marked improvement over the 2023 preseason projections that had the O’s in the high 70s. In fact there are only six teams with higher projected win totals than Baltimore. The O’s number, in and of itself, is not where the disrespect comes in. It’s one of the teams with a higher projected total that makes Vegas another stop on this disrespect tour.
The Yankees, after the key additions of Soto, outfielder Alex Verdugo and starter Marcus Stroman, currently sit a projected win total of 93.5 wins. This is the same Yankees team that finished 19 games back of the O’s and was exceedingly closer to last place rather than first place. The same Yankees team whose entire offensive strategy seemed to be “let’s hope Aaron Judge bails us out again today.” It was that offensive strategy that saw the Yankees finish with the same OPS+ as the 100+ loss Royals and A’s.
Now of course the addition of the perpetually on-base Soto gives the Bronx Seldom-Bombers another All-Star caliber bat in their lineup. Verdugo should also offer them improvement and give New York its first truly major league caliber outfield since Aaron Boone’s first year as manager. That still doesn’t make up for the fact that the Yanks’ lineup is set to rely on the declining bats of Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton, as well as the offensively uninspiring stylings of Anthony Volpe.
To think that this “new look” Yankees offense (that is largely the same), as well as Gerrit Cole and his injury-prone understudies, could push for a playoff spot is one thing. To pretend that their moves not only bridge the cavernous gap between them and the O’s, but vaults them ahead of Baltimore, echoes the same mindset we saw from the media last season. While no one is coming out and saying it, these projected win totals reek of the assumption that Orioles can’t possibly hang with the Evil Empire from the Bronx over the long haul. Yet another disrespect noted.
Normally, seeing your favorite team disrespected and disregarded in the national media is a bad thing—especially when they’re coming off a 100-win season. However, this seems like the kind of slight that could galvanize and propel this developing Orioles squad. If the sting of postseason disaster wasn’t enough to motivate this team going into the 2024 season, these slights could be the extra fuel they need.
The talent of this Orioles roster is undeniable, but much of it is still raw. After experiencing success ahead of schedule, it’d be easy for this young core to let complacency sneak in—and complacency is the biggest deterrent to young, burgeoning talent. However, coming into the season as reigning division champs and still being seen as underdogs could be exactly what this team needs.