SAN DIEGO – Kyle Gibson reached out almost immediately to Jordan Lyles after hearing from the Orioles, an interesting twist in his free agent journey, since he appears to be replacing the veteran starter in the rotation.
The Orioles already began making their sales pitches to Gibson, which led to the agreement on a one-year, $10 million contract. Now, it was Lyles’ turn – no matter how it would impact his own professional life.
“I value his opinion, I value his friendship,” Gibson said of his former Rangers teammates, “and he only had glowing things to say about Baltimore, and that was one of the reasons why I felt so comfortable making the decision. Just hearing how he’d talk about the approach, why he thought he got better, to me was very interesting. And without going into it because I don’t want to speak for him too much, but that was really cool to hear him give credit where he thought credit was due.
“Talked about the makeup of the team, talked about even things like pitching to (Adley) Rutschman. Just the things that stood out to him. I look forward to hopefully being an extension of Jordan because I feel like we’re fairly similar when it comes to how we approach people.”
Similar but not identical.
“I definitely talk more than he does, so hopefully the guys don’t get too bugged by that, because you’ve got to pull some words out of Jordo every now and then,” Gibson said. “But his glowing review of Baltimore and the staff and the people definitely resounded with me.”
Gibson signed his contract while the Winter Meetings were underway in San Diego. He hopped on a video call this morning, happy to share the reasons why he chose the Orioles and also making certain that it didn’t come across as a jab at the Phillies, where he spent the last 1 ½ seasons, or any other team that had interest.
The Orioles set up their own video calls with Gibson, which included executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, manager Brandon Hyde, pitching coach Chris Holt, assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes and pitching strategy manager Ryan Klimek. They offered a presentation that centered on their pitching program, the kinder dimensions in left field, the culture, a defense that could improve his numbers and his luck.
“The resources that the pitching side has,” as Gibson described it.
A winning record didn’t hurt, either.
“I meshed with Chris really well and Holmesy really well on a couple talks we had, and to me that’s pretty important,” Gibson said. “I want to know the type of conversations I’m going to have. I want to know where they’re coming from, what’s important to them. Those are the guys I’m going to be working with a lot.
“Seeing from the outside what Baltimore had last year, just the fun they were having, the second half they had, the direction of the team, there was a lot to like. I was fortunate this time around in free agency to have a couple teams that were on the winning side of baseball, and going for deep October runs, so that made it enticing and not an easy decision, but when it comes to how this team is built with the good young players, how they play defense, just the whole package, I felt like this was a really good opportunity for my family and I.”
Gibson talked about Rutschman, but also Gold Glove third baseman Ramón Urías and Fielding Bible award-winning shortstop Jorge Mateo. They suit his style.
“That’s obviously appealing when I’m facing right-handed hitters, hopefully throwing a lot of sinkers in and getting a couple two-hoppers,” he said. “All of those things hopefully, mixed in with a deeper left field wall, hopefully that allows me to take advantage of some of those things.”
Elias noted that Gibson had some bad luck this season with the Phillies, including defensive lapses behind him that contributed to a 5.05 ERA in 31 starts. The Orioles can fix it.
“Periodically through the year you take inventory of luck or unfortunate incidents,” Gibson said, choosing his words carefully. “I don’t think any of that is necessarily … I don’t want it to sound like an indictment on any teammates, obviously. But I think when I look back and you see, OK, there are certain starts here, certain starts there that one or two plays makes a big difference. I think bad luck is part of baseball. Whether it’s a 65 mph looping line drive that drops in, or a wind-aided homer, all of those things happen, and some of them are your fault and some of them aren’t your fault. But I think that’s just one thing about baseball that makes it, and it’s not just baseball, that makes sports pretty unique.
“But I think there are things about Baltimore that give me a chance to take step forward. … I think there’s obviously a draw to Chris and Holmesy with what they’ve done with some pitchers.”
It wasn’t imperative to Gibson that he find a new team before executives met in San Diego, but he saw no reason to drag his feet. If it felt right, do it.
“We made it clear to the teams that called early on – this was probably going on for maybe at least two weeks, two going into three weeks – and we let them know we’re not in any hurry,” Gibson said. “This isn’t something that we need to get done before the Winter Meetings, but also, if we felt like we were in a situation where it was pretty clear what the market was for me, we had a location that we wanted to be and we had a situation that was a fit, we didn’t see a need to wait until after the Winter Meetings.
“If it didn’t happen until after the Winter Meetings, that was fine, but similar to three years ago, we felt like we had a pretty good spot. We had an offer that we thought was more than fair and a situation that was going to be really good for my family, so we thought the time was right. The tricky part about some of this is that you just never know when teams need to pivot and go to other players. They can’t wait on any given player or as long as that player wants. In this situation, we thought Baltimore was a great fit and we wanted to make sure we didn’t take a chance a week later and that fit wasn’t a possibility.”
Gibson has made six starts at Camden Yards, none in 2022, and allowed two home runs in 32 2/3 innings. He tossed six hitless innings on March 31, 2018.
Making the ballpark his home also seemed like a good idea after talking to last season’s backup catcher, Robinson Chirinos, another former Rangers teammate.
“Man, another guy who only had good things to about that group,” Gibson said.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing in Baltimore. It’s one of my favorite road parks. I think it’s a sneaky city to go to. I love restaurants in Little Italy. There’s a lot to love about Baltimore. We opened up there with Minnesota in 2018, one of the more fun starts I’ve had. Playing against that team (in) ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, they were really good, and that stadium was just electric to play in, so a lot of cool memories for me playing there. That has something to do with it.
“Who knows what I’m going to think of the stadium. I’ve seen it on TV. Obviously, I enjoy seeing the short wall sitting in the dugout as a player, not as much as a pitcher, but it’s something that everybody gets used to. I’ve heard people aesthetically say what they want, but as a pitcher, yeah, I think when you see how many less home runs you would give up if you pitched all your games in Baltimore, that’s a pretty good thing.”
And now he can be the same type of leader as Lyles. They'll probably talk about that, too, in the coming months.
“I looked at the roster the other day,” he said. “I think I’m the only person born before 1992 and maybe the only person with more than five or six years of service time, so it’s an opportunity that … I don’t necessarily hunt out the opportunities or pick a spot just so that you can work with people. My job is to go get outs, my job is to be the best pitcher that I can be. But I was really fortunate as a young guy to have a guy like Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, Phil Hughes, and I could just keep naming starters that took me under their wing and helped me with direction on and off the field. So, I think it’s something that, when the opportunity arises, because I’m sure it will, I look forward to hopefully helping guys in any way I can.
“I love watching bullpens, I love watching guys throw and just soaking up information, kind of digging into people’s brains and how they’re trying to get better and what they’re trying to accomplish in the bullpen today. And just watching. I think that’s how you can really absorb information and learn a lot about guys. I look forward to those opportunities and whatever questions come my way and whatever capacity I’m needed, I’m excited to do it.”