I recently spent about an hour taping a “Wall to Wall Baseball” show with Baltimore broadcasting legend Tom Davis that’s going to air throughout the month of November on MASN.
This is more than just a shameless plug. It’s a chance to go over a few questions that he asked, though I don’t recall whether they were on the air or during breaks. We like to chat.
The falling leaves and 40-degree temperature signaled the end of the baseball season. So did Game 5 of the World Series. But we aren’t done reviewing everything that the Orioles accomplished, and wondering what’s next.
Does Gunnar Henderson become an everyday player at one position?
I don’t think so.
Henderson made 68 starts at third base this season and 64 at shortstop. I’m assuming that he roams the left side of the infield again based on the composition of the roster.
Jorge Mateo received 95 starts at short, compared to 142 in 2022. He’s a non-tender or trade candidate, but Joey Ortiz is a plus-defender at short and Jackson Holliday is on the verge of making his major league debut.
Jordan Westburg is a shortstop who’s playing second and third base with the Orioles. Perhaps he gets some innings at his original position.
Henderson could play short while Holliday is at second base and Westburg is at third. Henderson could move to third while Holliday or someone else is at short. The Orioles could sign a veteran infielder with experience at second.
However it shakes out, Henderson seems destined to move around, which decreases his chances of winning a Gold Glove at short or third.
Is it still “this season” instead of “last season?”
Yes. Until 2024, per me.
Will the Orioles keep rotating so many players to different positions?
We’ve learned that they don’t just like versatility, they practically demand it. Check out the minor leaguers who move to multiple spots.
Holliday began playing second base and got a few starts at third. Second baseman Connor Norby made 26 starts in left field this year at Triple-A Norfolk and four in right. Coby Mayo moved across the infield from third to first. Ortiz is trusted at short, second and third, which makes him a legitimate utility candidate. Catcher Samuel Basallo has made 51 starts at first base in three seasons.
I grew up writing mock Orioles lineups that always had Brooks Robinson at third base, Mark Belanger at short, Davey Johnson and later Bobby Grich at second base, Boog Powell at first base, Don Buford in left field, Paul Blair in center and Frank Robinson in right. Lee May was the first baseman as I got older.
Those days are over. So are the days with Adam Jones in center, Nick Markakis in right, Manny Machado at third base, J.J. Hardy at short, Jonathan Schoop at second and Chris Davis at first. Manager Brandon Hyde finds at-bats and innings for everyone on the roster, made much easier with its flexibility.
Why doesn’t Orioles pitching get more credit?
The staff registered a 3.89 ERA that ranked seventh in the majors and fifth in the American League. The bullpen ERA of 3.55 ranked fifth in the majors and third in the American League.
The champion Rangers were 24th in the majors at 4.77.
Orioles pitchers posted a 3.58 ERA after the break that was third in the majors. They had a 3.22 ERA in September/October.
So, where’s the love?
I can only offer theories.
The staff lacked a consensus ace, though Kyle Bradish is developing into one and the same status is predicted for Grayson Rodriguez. The Orioles didn’t have a Gerrit Cole-type to add legitimacy.
They sneaked up on people who were dismissive of them. Who didn’t bother to dig into the numbers.
Kyle Gibson led the Orioles with 15 wins but also registered the highest ERA among the full-time starters at 4.73.
The Division Series wasn’t a good look, with Rodriguez and Dean Kremer each lasting only 1 2/3 innings. Critics had more fuel.
Is Mike Elias the Executive of the Year?
Yes. MLB announced it yesterday morning, but I didn’t need an email to provide an answer.
Elias isn’t working with a big payroll. Gibson's $10 million deal was the impact move last winter. He’s hands-on with the draft, trusting his people as part of a collaborative effort but also making the final calls. He hits the road to scout prospects. He isn’t planted behind a desk.
The Orioles are making the right picks and doing a nice job developing them.
Here’s an excerpt from the press release announcing Elias as winner:
“Baltimore’s core included homegrown draft selections such as All-Star catcher Adley Rutschman and 2023 Most Valuable Oriole-winning rookie infielder Gunnar Henderson, who joined an already established group of Orioles like Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Félix Bautista, all of whom have emerged as All-Stars, as well as outfielder Anthony Santander. Elias acquired pitchers Kyle Bradish and All-Star reliever Yennier Cano in trades, veteran Kyle Gibson in free agency, Tyler Wells in the Rule 5 Draft, reliever Cionel Pérez through waivers and reliever Danny Coulombe via a purchase. The acquisitions of seasoned veterans including catcher James McCann, infielder/outfielder Ryan O’Hearn, infielder Adam Frazier and outfielder Aaron Hicks contributed to an exemplary culture on and off the field. Among Orioles who debuted in 2023, Elias-era selections Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz were ranked among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects upon joining Baltimore’s roster.”
So, yes, Elias is being rewarded for past and present work. He's fulfilling promises made on the day of his hiring. And 101 victories and the best record in the American League came from it in 2023.
“It’s cool,” Elias said yesterday on MLB Network. “It’s voted on by peers and other executives in MLB. This is a really talented, savvy, competitive group of people, so to get recognized amongst that group and by that group is hard to do, and it’s a huge compliment.
“It’s been just really gratifying seeing the city of Baltimore and Maryland back as a baseball capital like it should be. Seeing Camden Yards back alive and our city. They love this group of players.”
Elias has listed reasons why Brandon Hyde was the right guy to manage the Orioles. Hyde, in turn, spoke during his season-ending media session about Elias being ideal for the rebuild task and leading the franchise into a new period of contention.
“Just a strong scouting background," Hyde said. "He’s done a little bit of everything from the front office standpoint, with international to player development to starting as an area scout. I think he’s got a real good feel. He’s a really good leader. He’s incredibly process based and he’s got a great temperament, where he’s never too up or too down.
"I like Mike’s background. He’s done a lot of things. And from a scouting standpoint, he’s a really good evaluator because of that. And he’s been a part of a championship organization. It’s all been really helpful.”
Notes: Reliever Joey Krehbiel declined his outright assignment to Triple-A and became a free agent. The Orioles designated Krehbiel for assignment on Nov. 1 and claimed outfielder Sam Hilliard off waivers from the Braves.
The list of Orioles minor leaguers declaring free agency includes infielders Adam Hall and Lewin Diaz, catchers Ramón Rodríguez and Tim Susnara, outfielder Daz Cameron and pitchers T.J. McFarland, Wandisson Charles and Kyle Dowdy.
The MLB Players Association chose Gibson as one of its three Most Valuable Philanthropists this year. Gibson, who also was the team's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, received $5,000 for his charity Big League Impact.
The Orioles' last offseason instructional camp is underway in Sarasota and runs through Nov. 17, with emphasis on weight training and skill development. It isn't open to the public.
Here's the list of participants:
Enrique Bradfield Jr.