A new international signing period arrives for the Orioles

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A new international amateur signing period has arrived in Major League Baseball. Later today the Orioles are expected to announce their latest class of international signees. Their class, per reports, will be headed by Dominican shortstop Luis Ayden Almeyda.

A right-handed hitter, the 16-year-old Almeyda, according to Baseball America, will get a bonus of over $2 million. The Orioles have never had an international amateur sign for $2 million or more, and Almeyda’s bonus would easily beat the previous record, set this time last year.

Here are the seven-figure bonuses from the O’s in the last two classes:

$1.7M – OF Braylin Tavera, from Jan. 15, 2022.

$1.3M – C Samuel Basallo from Jan. 15, 2021.

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Looking further into projection system stats for the Orioles

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In this recent post, Dan Szymborski, senior writer for FanGraphs.com and the developer of the ZiPS projection system discussed how his system saw Adley Rutschman’s 2023 season playing out.

Pretty well is the answer.

ZiPS projects Rutschman to produce an .823 OPS and 126 OPS+ in 2023, which would rank 26 percent above league average. It would be another strong season for Rutschman, and if his ZiPS projection of 4.7 Wins Above Replacement is accurate, per its current player projections, Rutschman’s WAR would rank 11th best in the majors.

But Rutschman is not the only player that ZiPS or another projection system, Steamer, sees as having strong numbers in 2023. In looking at both ZiPS and Steamer, it seems ZiPS expects a bit more offense from other Orioles too.

For instance, ZiPS projections have four Orioles producing an OPS+ of 115 or more next season, with Rutschman at 126, Gunnar Henderson 123, Ryan Mountcastle 119 and Anthony Santander at 115. By comparison, the Yankees have just three players projected to exceed a 115 OPS+, with Aaron Judge at 164, Giancarlo Stanton 119 and Anthony Rizzo at 116.

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More props for the farm and player development and other notes

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During the 2022 season, the Orioles organization got a lot of props for its farm system and player development operation. Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and ESPN now rank its system as No. 1. They all placed Baltimore at the top in midseason rankings, the latest we have from the outlets. They could update those soon.

Now comes an MLB Pipeline poll published recently in which the outlet surveyed major league front office officials. That group also has the Orioles as having the No. 1 farm in baseball.

Half of those asked which team has the best farm in baseball responded Baltimore. The Los Angeles Dodgers came next at 21 percent, and Arizona third at nine percent. Of the 30 clubs, nine got votes for the top farm, but no club got nearly as many votes as the Orioles did.

The article states: "The Orioles have ranked as the top farm system in our last three rankings, and it looks like the industry agrees. Even with Adley Rutschman graduated, the combination of high-end prospects just about ready to impact the big league team and depth in the system has them very well-regarded, with the Dodgers not too far behind."

So we have pretty much reached a consensus here with the top outside outlets selecting the Orioles, and many of those execs inside the game doing so as well.

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Noting projection system stats for 2023 for Adley Rutschman

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If projection systems prove correct, by the end of the 2023 baseball season, Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman will have had another strong season. One strong enough to place him alongside the best players in the game.

Baltimorean Dan Szymborski, Senior writer for FanGraphs.com, contributor to ESPN, a data consultant and Baseball Writers' Association of America member, has run his ZiPS projection system since 2004. The computer projections use multi-year statistics, with more recent seasons weighted more heavily to attempt to tell us what stats the player might produce for the year ahead.

Szymborski’s system projects a final Wins Above Replacement number of 4.7 for Rutschman for the coming year. While that would actually be less than his 5.3 fWAR of 2022, it would place him among the top 10 or 12 players in baseball and Szymborski said he would rank behind Mike Trout and a few others and would be ahead of a talent such as Mookie Betts.

ZiPS sees Rutschman batting .262/.363/.460 this year with an .823 OPS, producing an OPS+ of 126, which is 26 percent above league average. He would hit 39 doubles with one triple, 18 homers and 63 RBIs.

Szymborski said his system projects a one in 10 chance that Rutschman could max out by batting .308/.417/.568, which would produce a .985 OPS for a 166 OPS+. Those numbers, if reached, would lead to 7.4 WAR. There have been just 24 catcher seasons of 7.0 WAR or better – one by former O’s backstop Chris Hoiles. That projection has Rutschman hitting 26 home runs and close to 50 doubles.

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Taking a look at the possible outfield depth chart for this season

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After a look at the current infield depth chart Tuesday, we move on to the Orioles outfield today, where they have five players on their 40-man roster and a few other candidates for opening day roster spots.

The starters as of this writing seem to be the same three that made most of the starts last year. Austin Hays, who made 82 starts in left field, Cedric Mullins back in center after 140 starts there in 2022 and Anthony Santander in right field where he started 79 times. Hays actually made 51 right field starts while Santander made 34 as the DH.

Hays made his third straight opening day roster, hit for the sixth cycle in club history in June and set career highs for games, extra-base hits and at-bats. His 35 doubles tied Adley Rutschman for the team lead. But his falloff at bat in the second half had some fans concerned. His OPS was .843 in April and .798 in May and he led the club in offensive WAR at that point. But his second-half OPS was .626.

Mullins had the difficult chore of trying to follow up his 30-30 season. While his stolen base total increased to 34 (second in the AL to Jorge Mateo), his homer total dropped to 16. His OPS dropped from .878 (OPS+ of 137) to .721 (OPS+ of .104). No doubt the Orioles are hopeful they get more offensive production out of both of these players in 2023.

Santander had a big year and ranked tied for fifth in the AL in homers. He batted .240/.318/.455/.773 with 33 homers and 89 RBIs. He produced career highs in games, at-bats, hits, home runs, extra-base hits, total bases, runs scored, RBIs, walks, hit-by-pitches, and OBP and tied a career high in doubles. He led the club in homers, extra-base hits, total bases, RBI, hit-by-pitches, and slugging. And Santander’s 33 homers as a switch-hitter were the most in MLB last year and the most by an O's switch-hitter since Eddie Murray hit 33 in 1983.

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Checking the current IF depth chart and what may be on the way

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If we were to take a shot at the Orioles depth chart in the infield right now in a look ahead at opening day 2023, the four starters would likely include a newcomer to the team and a rookie with just 18 starts at the position where he may well be on opening day.

It might also include Ramón Urías, the 2022 American League Gold Glove winner at third base, not starting there when a new season begins. During the offseason, Urías became the O’s first Gold Glove winner at any position since Manny Machado in 2015. He joins Brooks Robinson and Machado as one of only three to win a Gold Glove at third for the Orioles.

But and this should not be a real surprise, my starters as of today on the Baltimore infield are Ryan Mountcastle at first base, Adam Frazier at second, Jorge Mateo at short and Gunnar Henderson at third base. It could be that Urías and Frazier platoon at second base or that Urías plays all over the infield. For his O’s career he has made 94 starts at third base, 48 at second and 44 at shortstop.

Frazier I will guess was not signed to sit much, so for now I see him as the second base starter. This despite the fact his 2022 offensive numbers are behind Urías. Frazier produced a .612 OPS last year, which was 20 percent below league average. Urías was three percent above the league at .720. On paper, based on last year, Urías was the better player.

But Frazier was a 2021 All-Star when his OPS was .779 with a .305 batting average between Pittsburgh and San Diego.

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When it comes to expected stats, Ryan Mountcastle had a big 2022 season

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With all the recent talk about backups at first base and a lefty hitter that can play there to complement Ryan Mountcastle in 2023, I went back and took another look at Mountcastle’s 2022 season. We know it was not as productive as his 2021 when he hit an Orioles rookie record 33 homers. That number dropped to 22 last year.

And it cannot all be about wall ball and the moving back of the left-field fence. With mostly shorter dimensions than Camden Yards in left in road games, Mountcastle hit 11 road game homers and 11 at home last season. He hit one homer every 25.2 at-bats at home and one every 25.3 on the road. The dimensions and different ballparks didn’t make much difference here.

But if Mountcastle’s actual stats could have mimicked his expected stats, he might have been one of the better hitters in the league. No exaggeration here.

His final actual slugging percentage for the year was .423, which ranked 38th in the American League among qualified hitters. But his expected slugging percentage of .509 would have tied AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez of Seattle for seventh-best in the actual final AL slugging leaders. That slugging percentage would have moved him ahead of the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Kyle Tucker, Anthony Rizzo, George Springer and Carlos Correa.

MLB.com defines expected slugging as a stat that is formulated using exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, sprint speed. In the same way that each batted ball is assigned an expected batting average, every batted ball is given a single, double, triple and home run probability based on the results of comparable batted balls since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015. For the majority of batted balls, this is achieved using only exit velocity and launch angle.

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More O's questions: The readers' story

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Today I am asking a few more questions of O's fans. But with a different spin on this edition. This one is where the readers can fill us in on their personal stories.

With today's questions, rather than seek your input on the Orioles and their future outlook, I want to know about your past with baseball. I want to ask each reader and commenter about their past with this great sport.

On to today's questions:

1) How did you first get interested in baseball?

2) When did you first become an Orioles fan? Any memories from your early fandom days?

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A look at the many challenges for minor league managers

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When I conducted a two-part interview and series on the Orioles farm system recently with director of player development Matt Blood, I asked a question about the Orioles' minor league managers. I inquired how the minor league skipper’s job differs from that of a big league manager.

And the answer was not unexpected for anyone that has followed the minors for any stretch of time. It is very different, and this is where the concept of winning comes into play. You play to win the game, yes that is true, as one once famously said. But on the farm you play first to develop players – this is truly job one.

Here is what Blood said on that topic.

“Well, the major league manager’s job is to win games, do as well as he can to get the team to the playoffs and to, ideally, win the World Series. There is still development going on at the MLB level, but the strategy is to win games. In the minor leagues it’s the inverse of that. In the minor leagues, the No. 1 job is to develop players, so when they make the majors they are ready to contribute. You know winning, trying to win, comes secondary to development. We definitely want competitive teams and players that are trying to win baseball games, but we’re not going to sacrifice development for winning in the minor leagues.”

I asked Blood if the O’s minor league managers make out the lineups or, for development reasons, there is front office input.

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Looking at the makeup for the late innings in the O's bullpen

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The signing of former Orioles right-hander Mychal Givens lengthened the current Orioles bullpen with the addition of another quality arm. In one sense he can pick up some of the slack that Jorge López left behind after his trade to the Minnesota Twins.

One possibility that could really benefit the team would be a scenario where Félix Bautista closes out games in the ninth with setup help in the eighth from left-hander Cionel Pérez. Pérez was such a surprise last year and got out both left- and right-handed hitters. It is unlikely the O’s would need just two pitchers for those innings, but in many wins last year before the López trade, Bautista did get into the game in the eighth and López in the ninth.

The ways clubs use bullpens these days, they pretty much look to match up from about the seventh inning on, maybe even starting with the sixth some nights. But having two dependable hurlers to handle those last two innings many nights in winnable games is one way to go.

The O’s could have some combo of Bautista, Pérez, Dillon Tate, Givens and Bryan Baker for those last nine or 10 or so outs. If DL Hall makes the team and/or winds up in the bullpen, we can add him to this mix. Or Keegan Akin, Joey Krehbiel or several other bullpen candidates/options.

But for now, pending any further moves, the Orioles look to be fortified pretty well for the late innings.

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More props for O's farm and young talent

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At a time when the Orioles farm system gets major props from outlets throughout the sport, more encouraging news came this week. Baltimore already is ranked by several outlets as having the No. 1 farm system in baseball and this follows a 2022 season when both Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson were ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball and Grayson Rodriguez was ranked as the No. 1 pitcher.

In this article this week, which summarized a podcast, MLBPipeline.com’s Jim Callis predicted that O’s infield prospect Jackson Holliday would be ranked as their No. 1 prospect in the top 100 by the end of the 2023 season. That would give the O’s three No. 1 players over a two-year period.

The podcast/article was rather promising about the Orioles as both Callis and fellow analyst Jonathan Mayo predicted that Henderson would be voted the 2023 American League Rookie of the Year.

Saying Henderson is “everything he was cracked up to be,” Callis adds he would vote Henderson the No. 1 prospect right now and currently he ranks No. 2 on the MLBPipeline.com board behind Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez.

In that same article, Callis also projected Holliday to be the MLBPipeline.com Hitter of the Year for 2023 as Henderson was for the outlet last season.

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The O's hurler who featured one of the most dominant pitches in the majors

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To say the least, Orioles reliever Félix Bautista has a devastating split-finger fastball. It would dive down in the zone under the bats of many hitters as a huge swing-and-miss pitch and played very well with a fastball that averaged 99.2 mph. His split averaged 88.5 mph.

It was not only among the very best splitters thrown by any pitcher in the game, but that pitch, which has the facts to back it up, was among the very best individual pitches thrown by anyone during the 2022 season.

What a year Bautista had and to put it further into perspective, his first minor league season was 2013. Not until 2021 did he even make it to Double-A, where he pitched 13 1/3 innings. He would add 18 1/3 Triple-A innings. So he made the O’s roster last season with a total of 31 2/3 innings in his life above A-ball.

Then for the Orioles, he went 4-4 with a 2.19 ERA and 15 saves in 17 chances. Over 65 2/3 innings he allowed just 38 hits and produced an 0.929 WHIP. He gave up just 5.2 hits per nine and 1.0 homers with 3.2 walks and 12.1 strikeouts. Lefty batters had a .523 OPS against him and right-handers were at .541. He had a 9.1 walk percentage and 34.8 strikeout percentage. At home his ERA was 2.58, and on the road it was 1.65.

So yeah, pretty strong from start to finish by almost any measure.

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A few more from the 2023 season wish list

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As the New Year began on Sunday, we provided a wish list for some players and O's staff for the 2023 season. We add to that here today.

Terrin Vavra and Kyle Stowers: More regular at-bats. I think that on rebuilding O’s teams that were headed for 100 or more losses, one or both of these players may have been given 300 or 400 plate appearances, and we could really tell a bit about them in such a sample. The 2023 edition may make that hard for one or both.

But among all Orioles that batted last year, Vavra’s .340 OBP ranked fourth. We know this kid can work the count and uses the whole field, We also know he hit just one homer in 103 plate appearances. The power is just not going to be there, but he has to bring what he can bring, which is the plate discipline needed on a club that ranked 22nd in the majors in this stat last year.

Stowers power seems to be a real thing. He ranked fifth on the team in slugging among all O’s batters in 2022. He can drive it out to all fields and worked to decrease his K rate at Triple-A last year. I think that, given enough at-bats, Stowers could produce solid corner outfield stats and also would bring average-or-better defense with a plus arm.

Jorge Mateo: The ability to find once again whatever he found batting that made his hitting, sub-par to that point, look above average and even special at times for a spell last year. He did have a nice five-week stretch of hitting that ran from July 16 to Aug. 23, including his big night at the Little League Classic. In that span of 31 games he batted .321 with a .944 OPS. You thought maybe he had turned a corner. But that did not hold up, and over his final 36 games he hit .174/.213/.270/.483.

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Looking at a few more available free agent pitchers

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If the Orioles are going to add a pitcher they can slot at or near the top of their rotation, they are probably going to have to go the trade route at this point and potentially part with one or more of their top 30 prospects. But if they want to add a pitcher that can slot in the middle or back end of their rotation, they could still look to sign a remaining free agent.

Here are a few possibles.

Righty Zach Davies: In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Orioles selected a kid pitcher out of a high school in Arizona named Zach Davies. They picked him in round 26 and yet he signed for a big overslot bonus of $575,000.

Then-scouting director Joe Jordan knew the kid didn’t throw very hard but was wiser than his years in knowing how to attack hitters, and he had a strong changeup.

Davies has turned those traits into a decent big league career, and if the Orioles seek a reunion years later, they could have one. On July 31, 2015, the O’s traded Davies, then pitching to a 2.84 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk, to Milwaukee for outfielder Gerardo Parra. That one did not work out. At the time of the deal Parra had an .886 OPS for the Brewers, but that number dropped all the way to .625 with the Orioles. At the end of the year he signed with Colorado.

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A wish list for the 2023 season

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As the New Year begins today, here is a wish for health and happiness for all of us. Without the first, it gets more difficult to have the second. Let’s all go two-for-two in 2023.

As it relates to baseball and the Orioles, here is a wish list for a few people for the 2023 season.

Manager Brandon Hyde: A wish that he not change one thing. Not anything. He has proven to be a great leader for a young clubhouse and has experience handling young talent. He is just what the Orioles need right now as skipper, and I can see him leading some very good O’s teams for a long time. I love the relationship he seems to have with Mike Elias, and the duo make a great team at the top of the O’s baseball operations.

On a personal note, Hyde has been great for local reporters, although I, of course, can only speak for one of us. He’s fair with media and has shown enormous patience. In baseball, in every market, managers get a lot of the same questions over and over again. Hyde has never played media favorites and respects reporters. It is clear that he does. He is just a good guy who works well with people and cares. In 2022 more and more O’s fans realized what they have in the dugout.

Pitcher Mychal Givens: Welcome back, and here’s a wish for a great year. I think Givens would love to be a key member of another good O’s team, as he once was. He’ll be a great fit in this ‘pen – both on the mound and in the clubhouse.

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The Orioles trade Tyler Nevin to the Detroit Tigers

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On Aug. 30, 2020 the Orioles traded reliever Mychal Givens to the Colorado Rockies for three players, including Tyler Nevin. Recently Givens rejoined the Orioles, but now Nevin is officially leaving the organization.

Designated for assignment on Dec. 21 when the club acquired catcher James McCann from the New York Mets, Nevin was traded to the Detroit Tigers for cash considerations Saturday night. The New Year’s Eve move beats the end of 2022 by several hours in what is likely the club’s final move of this calendar year.

Nevin, 25, played in 58 games for the Orioles in 2022 and in 184 plate appearances batted .197/.299/.261/.500 with four doubles, two homers and 16 RBIs. He debuted for the Orioles in 2021, going 4-for-14 (.286). In 64 career games he hit .205 with a .604 OPS.

In parts of the last two seasons for the Orioles, Nevin made starts at first base, third base, left and right field. Most of his starts came at third in 2022 when he made 40 starts at the hot corner.

This past season for Triple-A Norfolk, Nevin batted .291/.382/.479/.861 in 44 games for the Tides. Nevin tied Norfolk's franchise record and set a professional career high with eight RBIs on April 15 versus Scranton. He went 3-for-6 and hit his first career grand slam in the second inning.

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Taking a look at O's reported interest in Eric Hosmer

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The report was that the Orioles and Cubs have interest in free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. The former All-Star won a World Series ring with the 2015 Kansas City Royals and is said to be “on the radar” of the Orioles and Cubs.

This tells us, well, not much. How much interest do they have and how much interest will Hosmer have in them?

The Padres traded Hosmer to Boston last August, and the Red Sox released him just a few days ago. Whichever team signs him will only pay him the major league minimum as San Diego remains on the hook with Hosmer for three more years at $13 million each. The Padres signed him in February 2018 to an eight-year deal worth a whopping $144 million.

If it turns out that Hosmer goes from being on the Orioles' radar to being signed and in their clubhouse, he would join a list of vets they have added that includes Kyle Gibson, Adam Frazier, James McCann and Mychal Givens, players they see as good clubhouse guys that can help a young team get to the next level.

Whatever energy, mentorship and leadership that is gone with departures of Jordan Lyles, Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor will be made up and perhaps exceeded by this new group.

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Another look back at the winning season we saw in 2022

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If you were told there would be no math here, you got misled. Today’s blog will include plenty of numbers, most of them good for the Orioles. As we are about to end calendar year 2022, we today take another chance to note the season in ’22 for the Orioles produced the club’s first winning season since 2016.

On top of that the club has the No. 1-ranked farm system in the majors and is about to send players such as pitcher Grayson Rodriguez to the majors for the first time.

But first some notes on the 83-79 regular season for the Orioles:

* It produced a 31-win gain, going from 52 in 2021 to 83.

* The Orioles were the last American League team to be eliminated from postseason contention.

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Revisiting the situation with Jorge Mateo

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The story from Dec. 19 in The Athletic said the Orioles are receiving trade calls on shortstop Jorge Mateo. Not that they were shopping Mateo or initiating the calls, but of course they listen on just about everything.

The Athletic wrote: “The Twins, Braves, Red Sox and Dodgers all lost shortstops on the open market. Mateo, entering his age 28 season, might be an affordable and potentially attractive fit for interested clubs, a player whose value as an athletic defender and stolen-base threat should only increase as the league introduces shift restrictions, larger bases and pickoff rules in 2023."

Right now there is a lot to like about Mateo as an Oriole, including the above that interested other teams. He seemed to fit in great in the Orioles clubhouse and is a popular teammate. He also seems to love it here, realizing this is the club that gave him the chance to play every day.

Mateo’s hard work at improving his English and thus his one-on-one communication with reporters impressed me. I had several interviews with him in which he worked hard to understand every word I said and was thoughtful with his answers. He seemed to even appreciate when a reporter double-checked to make sure the words that they heard were correct.

This guy is impressive on and off the field.

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What might be still to come for the Orioles

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Hey, Birdland and all readers here, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season. 

We can make no promises, but the time leading up to Jan. 1 should be pretty quiet around baseball. We'll see if that holds.

But here are a few more questions about the Orioles as the New Year soon arrives.

Is a big trade still coming?: The Orioles have yet to pull off a deal where they trade from their deep pool of prospects. They have the No. 1-ranked farm in the game, and surely their top 30 list and beyond will draw the attention of all teams in the sport.

Is a big trade for a frontline pitcher in their future? The Orioles were unable or unwilling to sign a top-of-rotation starter. Could that pitcher be had via a deal?

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