Because You Asked - Welcome to the Jungle

The Orioles’ 2022 schedule is much lighter with only 14 games remaining. My mailbag, however, is gaining weight.

Can’t keep blaming the pandemic. Mix in a salad.

I could set up a buffet with all the questions sent to me. Maybe I should rename it “Around the Horn & Horn”.

I’ll table that idea for now.

Here’s the latest sequel to the original mailbag that launched during the Eisenhower administration. Or in 2008 after I joined MASN. The years run together.

You ask, I answer, you ask, I answer. I make an effort to not just mail it in.

The editing here is minimal and not worth explaining. Like, do any of you really care if a question is trimmed? If a word is changed, as long as the meaning is not? If I showered first?

Also, and this is important: My mailbag won’t let your mailbag merge in traffic after it waits too long to get over.

In your estimation, what will this offseason look like?
It runs from the end of the World Series to, I say, the beginning of spring training. But this is open to debate. Is spring training still the offseason? If a team acquires a player in March, is it done during the offseason? Great, now I’ll lose more sleep over it. Anyway, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias pretty much promised a busy winter of activity. A lot more than just waiting for a couple of January and February minor league contracts and spring training invites. Pitching will be a priority, as usual, but apparently with some digging done beyond the bargain bins. The Orioles will be “in on” some of the bigger names since Elias indicated that the payroll is going to increase. Nothing like we’ve seen since the new front office was constructed. Enjoy all the rumors, most of which will prove to be false.  

Is Brandon Hyde back next season? And please elaborate.

Please elaborate more.
The club picked up his option, but beyond that, of course he’s coming back. He’s got a shot at being chosen American League Manager of the Year, with the debate raging among us whether a sub-.500 record at the end could push him to second or third. But he's on the ballot. No team in history has won this many games after losing at least 100 in the last three full seasons. Expectations for the 2022 Orioles were lower than underground cables. No one had them above .500, let alone contending in the third week of September.

When does John Means project to pitch again?
Means and the club don’t have a timeline. His surgery was April 27, and he won’t return in less than a year. Heck, it can take 18 months. It varies. Much depends on how long it takes to build him back up, and how his arm feels, of course. I think everyone would be thrilled with May, but I don’t know whether it’s a realistic goal.

You can only sign one big-time free agent next year. What position do you target?
Backup catcher.

No. A starting pitcher, because you can’t get enough of them and Means’ surgery leaves a big hole in the opening day rotation. And how much responsibility do the Orioles want to pile on Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall? They need a veteran starter, and ideally, more than just a guy who consumes innings and “keeps you in the game on most nights.” That’s fine. But I’d like to see them aim higher, and I believe they will.

Any scuttlebutt about possible free agent targets in the offseason?
Not a word. Too soon for those names to become attached to the team. And speaking of words, nice use of “scuttlebutt." But if you have it, please make an appointment with a proctologist.

Jordan Lyles has been a surprise this season, but his salary increases to $11 million. Do you think the Orioles take the option or release him and try to re-sign at a lower rate?
Absolutely one of the more fascinating decisions that’s pending for the Orioles. I wonder about it and don’t have a true feel. It would be easy to dismiss the chances of the Orioles carrying that salary. In the past I’d have guaranteed that they’d move on from him, but with Means out and the team valuing his innings and leadership – not to mention his 12 quality starts – it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that they pick up the option. Starting pitching ain’t cheap, and they seem willing to invest more in it. Let Lyles walk and you spend part of the offseason trying to find that same guy. But again, I really don’t know how this one is going to play out.

Why is Rougned Odor still here? I might as well ask, since it comes up nightly.
The season is down to a few weeks. I don’t think he’s blocking anyone at this point. Grayson Rodriguez appears to be the only prospect with a shot at a late promotion, unless there’s been a shift in thinking. Hyde said yesterday that Terrin Vavra will play more down the stretch, costing Odor at-bats. Odor hasn’t been in the lineup for the last four games. He won’t be the second baseman on opening day, but he had some big hits for them this season. And his leadership also was important in the clubhouse.

Is acquiring starting pitching going to be achieved by free agent signings or trading from the plethora of infield/outfield players at the MLB and MiLB pool of players?
Both avenues are in play here. Money can be spent via free agency and/or taking on a sizeable contract. I’m not talking Max Scherzer money, of course. The depth that’s been created works on multiple levels. Talent for the team, talent that can be packaged in exchange for pitching. Or a backup catcher.

That again?
I’ll never get used to a conversational mailbag.  

Are we going to see Grayson Rodriguez get the call in the last few weeks of the season?
Could be the last week. We’re running short on time. He started last night for Triple-A Norfolk and was charged with three runs and six hits with three walks and seven strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. He was stretched out to 83 pitches, which is significant. He won’t start again until Monday at the earliest. Norfolk’s season ends on Wednesday. The Orioles play through Oct. 5. They haven’t nixed the idea of promoting him, if that helps.

Who is likely to be the backup first baseman next year?
Oh sure, ridicule my obsession with the backup catcher, but ask about the backup first baseman. He may not be in the organization. I don’t expect Jesús Aguilar to return in 2023, but that’s just an opinion. No one has confirmed it. Vavra could be a super-utility guy, with the infield prospects making it harder for him to land a starting job at one position. And he’s taken ground balls at first. Tyler Nevin could come to camp and try to win a job, but we haven’t seen him in the lineup since Aug. 20 and he appeared in only six games that month before the Orioles optioned him.

What is the real reason you ship Melewski up to Toronto?
Because he doesn’t fight me on St. Pete. Honestly, Steve loves the Toronto trips. He’s a big fan of the city and he’s much more patient with the lines at customs. I don’t get Southwest points on that trip, I’m extremely impatient with those lines – and pretty much everything else in life – and I’d happily avoid a return unless it’s the postseason. The arrangement works out perfectly for us.

What are the chances that the Nats install a helipad on top of the broadcasters booths and luxury suites to make your life easier?
They charge $44 for parking. Can you imagine the cost of a helipad?

Could the Orioles sign Adley Rutschman to a long-term deal?
Other teams do it with their young stars. The Orioles would be trying something new, but maybe that’s one way they chose to spend. At least down the road. Maybe not this soon. I’d also toss Gunnar Henderson into that conversation.  

Any concerns about Heston Kjerstad’s struggles at Aberdeen?
Zero. The Orioles were thrilled with his 22 games at low Single-A Delmarva. They understood the challenges of making the jump to the next level after being diagnosed with myocarditis in 2020, missing the 2021 season and starting late this year due to a hamstring injury. He seemed to be heating up late and was a big contributor in the playoffs. Here’s the best part: He made it through the year without any setbacks. He’s healthy. Little else matters.

Is the mailbag a Gucci knock-off or a plastic grocery bag?
It’s a knock-off of a plastic grocery bag.

Is DL Hall still seen as a rotation piece? Or is he Tanner Scott 2.0?
Hall is a starter. Don’t let what he’s doing now fool you. This is temporary. He comes to camp next spring competing as a starter.

Has Austin Hays' regression been due to injury, coaching or league adjustments?
Hays has been hot for stretches and struggling for others. He’s played through hand, wrist and oblique soreness, which certainly has been a hindrance. He’s fallen into some bad habits along the way, as he’ll tell you – if you had media access to him or maybe lived next door. The hand was spiked. The wrist was sprained after he made that sensational diving catch along the right field line at Guaranteed Rate Field. I had a great view of it, since the press box was moved from behind home plate. Happened right in front of me. The league is always making adjustments. It’s a big win that he avoided the injured list. Now he has to work on consistency through an entire summer. He’s got all the tools.  

Where do you stand on making daylight-saving time permanent and eliminating the annual time change?
Let’s be Arizona and stick with one. I hate darkness at 5 p.m. Changing the clocks is such an outdated ritual. Not as annoying as people saying, “could care less,” but it’s close. Yes, give me more daylight.

Does the major league team or Mike Elias follow along or have any comments on the IronBirds being in the championship?
The South Atlantic League championship game against Bowling Green, to be exact. Yes, they follow along. I asked Hyde yesterday while recording his show for the Orioles Radio Network, and he replied: “I think minor league playoff baseball is great and I think that does help development. It changes a little bit. When you’re in the minor leagues, it's so much about development and so much about trying to get better every day. It’s a little bit more individual than team-based. And in my experience, when the playoffs come around, it becomes very team-based and guys really pulling for each other and trying to accomplish a goal. Great that these guys are experiencing that.”

Protein shakes or skinless chicken breast?
The shakes are easier to drink through a straw.

What do you see as the future plans for Jorge Mateo? Staying in Baltimore or potential trade bait this winter for pitching as space is made for new call-ups?
Again, could be either one. He’s always been attractive to teams based on his speed, arm, sneaky power and the top 100 prospect status he held in multiple organizations. And he’s had a career year with the Orioles, which perhaps would have happened elsewhere with the same opportunity. Mateo’s bat has cooled this month, but his defense alone makes him an attractive shortstop option next spring. Keep batting him at the bottom of the order. Henderson could play third base, with maybe an eventual move to short. But there’s quite an infield logjam developing with Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz and Connor Norby in Triple-A. And the Orioles need to figure out what they’re doing with Vavra.

Who were the O's Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Month for August?
Cade Povich and Connor Norby.

If you had to speculate at this point, who do you think will be in the rotation at the start of 2023?
Man, that’s tough, because I’d be trying to guess at least one outsider. And whether Lyles has his option picked up. If you fill two spots with TBA and Lyles, there’s still Rodriguez, Hall, Tyler Wells, Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer. Bruce Zimmermann could compete for a spot. Maybe they go with an eight-man rotation.

What do you see as the more likely avenue for acquiring pitching this offseason: trade or free agent?
Can be both. In the past I would have said free agency without hesitation. Couple minor league deals, maybe one modest major league contract. But especially those minor league deals with the invites. It’s a new ballgame now in the land of pleasant living. The Orioles have a higher stack of trade chips.

Do you think we're allowed to smoke in heaven?
You’ll definitely smoke if you wind up in the other place. I also lose sleep over this.

What are the odds Ryan Mountcastle is the starting first baseman next year?
I don’t see a scenario where he isn’t unless he’s hurt. He’s coming back. He isn’t changing positions. He’s the guy.

Now that you’re married, does Salma Hayek ever come up in conversation?
Only if I want to sleep in the guest bedroom.

Who do you think plays shortstop in 2023? Roll with Mateo? Promote Ortiz? Put Gunnar there? Outside acquisition?
Carlos Correa. OK seriously, an outside acquisition would surprise me based on the in-house candidates, but I fully expect to hear a bunch of Correa rumors. “According to an industry source with direct knowledge …” Mateo and Henderson would seem to be the primary choices rather than bringing in a Freddy Galvis or José Iglesias type. But don’t throw this back in my face if I’m wrong.

What are the boxes Elias requires position players to “check” prior to promotion?
The organization wants to be comfortable with walk/strikeout rates, whether from a position player or pitcher. Splits can be a factor. Sometimes you need to dig a little deeper than a slash line.

Why do the Orioles leave the upper left field bleachers intentionally empty?
Oh trust me, they’ll open up again when there’s an overflow elsewhere. Don’t need as much ballpark staff this way. But I think we all look forward to packed houses again.

Are the Orioles going to sign Jacob deGrom, yes or yes?
That would be deGreat, but don’t get your hopes up.

Expectations are high for 2023, but are the O's still in a rebuild or not? I figured at the beginning of the season that it would be at least one more year after '22.
Elias said after the trade deadline that it was “liftoff from here for this team.” Doesn’t sound like rebuild talk. The plan still includes pumping talent into the system to keep it flowing through the pipeline, but the Orioles certainly think they can contend in 2023. They did it in 2022. Now, it’s about finding the right pieces to make a stronger push. To supplement the young talent that burst onto the scene, with more on the way.

Any word on fall instructional league participants and dates?
The Orioles don’t have the traditional fall instructional setup anymore. They arrange a series of hitting and pitching camps. One was already held for some short-season players. More will follow, with the club sharing that information later. I’ll pass it along.

Gunnar Henderson, man or myth?
I’ve seen him in person. He’s real. And he’s gonna be spectacular.

What player do you see being the clubhouse leader next year? (Noting that current voices Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos are unlikely to be back)
A great question. Lyles, for sure, if he returns. He’s already doing it. Anthony Santander is one of the more popular guys in the clubhouse. If he isn’t traded, he’s a logical choice based on his tenure in the organization and how much the guys love him. Cedric Mullins also deserves mention.

Do other teams’ GMs and assistant GMs regularly sit in the stands during games the way Elias & Sig do?
I think Tom Jones said it best when he sang, “It’s not unusual.”

Why does Winnie the Pooh wear a shirt but no pants?
This is probably a good place to stop.

And why do Donald Duck and Squidward do the same? Is there a secret society that those three and Delmon Young belong to?
Definitely a good place to stop. And I hate that I laughed at this.

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