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What’s left to sort out for the Orioles?

Everyone is waiting to find out how the Orioles follow up from stepping into the spotlight last season

Division Series - Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Orioles, with a freshly secured ace and a new ownership group, are the talk of the baseball world. Yankee fans are jealous, managers are nervous, and even the aliens may be taking notice.

Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga went on Tony Kornheiser’s podcast this week and said, “If you were dropped from outer space, and plopped down in the United States, and told you should pick one of 30 Major League Baseball teams to be a fan of in 2024, I might pick the Baltimore Orioles.”

That’s an absolute ridiculous sentence. Not because it involves extraterrestrial beings visiting earth, and not because the aliens are being forced to choose a favorite team—It’s ridiculous because Svrluga only went as far to say he might choose the Orioles. Come on, man! Make it official.

The addition of Corbin Burnes to the roster and (officially soon) David Rubenstein to the ownership group have ignited a fan base already jazzed from last season. Now, with an improved rotation, the Orioles have their sights set on bringing a World Series title back to Baltimore.

Unfortunately, as other AL East teams have previously discovered, winning the offseason does not always lead to accolades. The Orioles still face a motivated division and some of the best teams money can buy. Baltimore could always make another move before April, but the roster appears to be mostly set. If that’s the case, what are the biggest questions still remaining in Birdland?

The Bullpen

There’s no question that DL Hall will be missed. The Orioles never officially threw in the towel on Hall as a starter, but the lefty appeared destined for the bullpen once again in 2024. Hall possesses the type of knockout stuff that can flourish in the back end of a bullpen. Now the Orioles must make do without him.

Craig Kimbrel appears set to anchor a unit that still features All Star Yennier Cano and Cionel Pérez. Dillon Tate represents the biggest wild card of the bunch after missing all of last season, but Tyler Wells will have an opportunity to stabilize the group.

Wells could begin the season in the rotation if Dean Kremer stumbles or another starter suffers an injury. He shined last April with a 2.79 ERA and 0.724 WHIP over four starts and one game of extended relief.

Wells truly feels like the biggest wild card on the roster. He could join the rotation, serve as a swingman, or close out games and nobody would be bat an eye. Working out of the bullpen could prevent additional arm fatigue, but Wells figures to contribute wherever Brandon Hyde tells him to go. He has the talent and the attitude to handle any role with poise this season.

The Infield

While Hall figured to play a significant role for the Orioles this season, the same cannot be said for Ortiz. The Orioles optioned Ortiz for the final time last season on June 26. Ortiz would have battled Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías for a utility spot, but he appeared set for a return to Norfolk with two options remaining.

Gunnar Henderson, Ryan Mountcastle, and Ryan O’Hearn all feel like true locks in 2024. Jordan Westburg should begin the season as the starting second baseman unless Jackson Holliday steals the show. Mateo and Urías likely survive without the presence of Holliday, but the top prospect could push any of those three out of the picture. Westburg holds the highest ceiling but the former first-rounder can still be optioned.

It remains to be seen whether the prospect promotion incentive will play a factor with Holliday. The phenom has only 18 games at Triple-A under his belt, but the Orioles have an opportunity to earn draft pick compensation if they promote the favorite for Rookie of the Year from the jump.

Outfield prospects

Holliday isn’t the only prospect capable of challenging for rookie of the year. Both Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser will enter 2024 with their rookie status still intact. Whether both begin the season on the major league roster has yet to be determined. The big three of Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander all return, but both rookies have the talent to make an impact this season.

It would likely take an injury for either guy to play everyday in April, but both blue-chippers could force their way onto the field if Hays or Mullins begins to struggle. Cowser failed to make the most of his first opportunity last summer, while Kjerstad rode a late wave onto the ALDS roster.

Ryan O’Hearn’s ability to man the corners could allow Mike Elias to roll the dice with only four true outfielders, but Kjerstad and Cowser bring two completely different skill sets to the table. Of course, Elias could take one last look at Ryan McKenna while either of the two wait their turn at Norfolk.