The task of constructing a 26-man roster for 2024, and it’s never too early to begin the process through staff meetings, is easier in some ways for Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.
The backup catcher already is in place with another season left on the four-year deal that James McCann signed with the Mets. The Orioles usually hold a camp competition that involves players on one-year contracts and minor league deals, or with salaries set via the arbitration process. But next spring’s drama will be reduced to determining who’s the next man up in case of injury.
Anthony Bemboom headed north with the team again after McCann went on the IL with a left oblique strain.
The outfield already is crowded and Elias could be dissuaded from pursuing a veteran. He’s got to figure out how to potentially fit Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad. Not to block them.
The infield also is deep, and Jackson Holliday has a chance to make the Opening Day roster. Second baseman Connor Norby put up big numbers in Triple-A. Third baseman Coby Mayo mashed in Double-A and Triple-A, hitting a combined .290/.410/.564 with 45 doubles, three triples, 29 home runs and 99 RBIs in 140 games, and earning Most Valuable Player honors in the Eastern League.
Where it really gets interesting is the Orioles' continuing interest in plugging veterans inside their clubhouse who can provide leadership. To replace the ones who walk out the door.
The statistics didn’t explain the value last summer of starter Jordan Lyles, infielder Rougned Odor and catcher Robinson Chirinos. They were going to be one-and-done with the Orioles, who sought upgrades but also appreciated the intangibles.
Enter McCann, Opening Day starter Kyle Gibson, second baseman Adam Frazier, and later, outfielder Aaron Hicks. Gibson signed for $10 million, the highest-paid player on the active roster. Frazier signed for $8 million. Hicks was the real bargain with the Yankees paying most of his salary and the Orioles responsible only for the prorated league minimum.
Only McCann is certain to return, with the others set for free agency. Hicks became eligible after the Yankees released him.
The Orioles are expected to pursue another starter, with a trade possible to avoid the bidding wars that make them fold. They can deal from their depth. But do they also attempt to find their next Odor or Frazier, the latter providing more of a return at the plate, though the last of his career-high 13 home runs was hit July 30?
Asked last week about leaders lost, manager Brandon Hyde said, “I would expect that we’re going to possibly acquire veteran players, also.”
“I think that’s an important part of the clubhouse, and Mike’s done a great job of getting the right type of veteran guys in here," Hyde said. "You need six or seven of those guys, and they’ve all been incredibly helpful.”
And they remain loyal.
“Robbie still sends me texts. Robbie watches every game,” Hyde said.
“Those guys have been a huge impact on our younger players. You can’t really see it out there. Nobody sees it. But we know it inside the clubhouse what they do for them, the young guys. I assume it’ll be the same way going forward.”
Hyde would like to keep the trio on his roster but also understands the business. What’s good for the club but also those players.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “They’re at a certain point in their career that they’ve earned (the chance) to go do whatever’s the best situation for their family, and so whatever’s the best for them, I’m fully on board.”
The older holdovers have developed the qualities of leadership. Guys like outfielders Anthony Santander, Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins who were minor league teammates and later lived through and survived the rebuild.
“You’ve seen a lot of growth,” Hyde said. “They’re so vocal now and established. Haysy starts in the All-Star Game. Santander’s one of the best switch-hitters in the game. They’ve gotten older and had more experiences now, and they’re not afraid to speak up. They’ve matured extremely well. They’re fun to be around.”