The addition last week of right-hander Craig Kimbrel as Orioles closer certainly could be big for the Birds, who will play the 2024 season without All-Star closer Felix Bautista.
In fact, we could come up with a potential Opening Day O’s eight-man bullpen right now that features four lefties and four right-handers and looks quite strong on paper. And it does not even include Mike Baumann, Jacob Webb or Bryan Baker.
You start with Kimbrel at the back-end, pitching the ninth and looking to add to a resume that includes nine All-Star games and 417 career saves – eighth-most in MLB history.
Some of the criticism of this move is a bit surprising.
For one, he pitched so well last year after early May and yes, we know he had a couple of rough games in the NL Championship Series. But it doesn’t wash away all that happened before that, and he helped get them there.
Then there is his performance versus the AL East. For his career, Kimbrel has a 2.71 ERA with 69 saves in 76 chances within the division for a 90.7 percent AL East save success rate with a 15.3 K rate. These stats are eye-opening for me, and he has allowed just a .134 average with .488 OPS in his career versus the AL East.
From the left side, the O’s could feature a ‘pen with Danny Coulombe, Cionel Pérez, DL Hall and Cole Irvin. From the right, in addition to Kimbrel, it could be Yennier Cano, Dillon Tate and Tyler Wells.
This bullpen makeup assumes none of the above is in the starting rotation – and that assumption could turn out to prove wrong. But if the O’s add a starter, that pitcher could join Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means and Dean Kremer in a five-man allowing this bullpen makeup.
There would be games where, say the starter went five but left with an elevated pitch count and the O’s went with Tate, Coulombe, Cano and Kimbrel an inning each to wrap it up. Or put Wells, Hall and/or Perez in there somewhere.
Under this eight-man makeup the O’s could use Wells and Hall in middle relief, only because they are more suited to pitch more than one inning. And there would be nights they could cover the sixth and seventh and manager Brandon Hyde could really match up for those final six outs or he would have a lot of choices to get those outs. Irvin could be the long man.
Under this makeup as mentioned Baumann, Webb and Baker would not be on the team and neither would lefties Nick Vespi, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann.
So, there is certainly depth and the competition in camp for those eight spots should be fun to watch.
Of the 13 pitchers mentioned so far, the ones without options are Coulombe, Perez, Irvin, Baumann and Webb. Pitchers like Cano, Wells and Hall you would not expect to be optioned, but they could be if you had to for roster flexibility.
If the O's fail to add another starter, they could use the four holdovers with any of Irvin, Wells or Hall as part of that five-man rotation. There are a lot of ways they can go here.
But we can say today that the Baltimore bullpen looks to be deeper and better than it was before the Winter Meetings started.