The Orioles don’t need more reminders that their bullpen has a giant hole in the back. They’ve felt the impact of losing Félix Bautista. They’ve made late-inning relief a priority in the offseason.
But Bautista’s importance to the club, how much he dominated hitters this summer, was discussed again last night with his selection as the American League’s top reliever.
Bautista received the Mariano Rivera Award, with Milwaukee’s Devin Williams getting the National League’s version named for Trevor Hoffman.
A six-man panel of former relievers, including Rivera and Hoffman, handled the voting, and Bautista was the unanimous choice.
This is the latest honor for the Orioles, after Gunner Henderson was chosen as the AL’s Rookie of the Year, Brandon Hyde as Manager of the Year and Mike Elias as Executive of the Year. Henderson and Adley Rutschman won Silver Slugger Awards.
Bautista was 8-2 with a 1.48 ERA, 33 saves and 0.918 WHIP in 56 appearances, and he struck out 110 batters in 61 innings before tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on Aug. 25. Opponents batted .144 against him.
No one was better. He seemed like the obvious selection for the award.
Less obvious is how the Orioles attempt to fill a portion of those spikes.
White Sox closer Liam Hendriks was named the AL’s Comeback Player of the Year on Tuesday. Orioles first baseman Ryan O’Hearn was listed among players who received votes.
* MLB.com posted an article this week on six potential landing spots for five-time All-Star reliever Josh Hader.
You guessed it. The Orioles are lumped with the Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies, Rangers and Yankees.
The need to replace Bautista makes Hader a logical free agent target. He’s also a local guy, though Elias would pursue an upgrade if it was from Neptune. Being an Old Mill High graduate probably doesn’t carry that much weight.
I’m a graduate of the school and it hasn’t gotten me that far.
There’s an industry perception again that the Orioles will spend more money. Lift-off was misunderstood last winter, and I don’t think payroll will support Hader’s projected six-year, $110 million contract.
Hey, I could be wrong. Elias isn’t inviting the media to join conference calls with agents. But money must be spent on raises for the arbitration guys, with outfielder Anthony Santander’s salary approaching $13 million. That’s a payroll bump.
They also could be active in free agency, though I’ll say again that the trade market is a friendly alternative. Throw prospects at the problem rather than cash.
They’re flush in the former.
I’ve set the Phillies as the favorites to sign Hader, but the Rangers are a very close second. I don’t envision him taking a substantial hometown discount. Just like I don’t envision the Orioles handing out a six-year deal with Bautista returning in 2025. Or to anyone who isn’t already on the club and worthy of an extension.
I’m basing all of this on how the Orioles have operated in the past, the constant reminders that they’re a small-to-mid market franchise, and how building the talent pipeline was deemed necessary in order to contend. Paying anywhere near $110 million goes against all of it.
* MLB Network tossed out five names yesterday as “potential targets,” pitchers in the mold of Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson the past two seasons. As if that’s the type of starter who remains on the radar.
Michael Lorenzen, Martín Pérez, Mike Clevinger, Wade Miley and Sean Manaea were the chosen ones. I’m choosing to believe that the Orioles are aiming higher at this stage of the offseason. No matter how many tickets Miley would sell.
But seriously, why not stick Jack Flaherty on the list if this is where we’re going?
* Because everything is up for debate on social media, I saw opposing viewpoints on the Orioles setting home start times at 6:35 p.m. for all weeknight Monday-Thursday games throughout the season.
The earlier start time was introduced in 2023 for weeknight home games before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. The change is done, per the team, to “allow families with children to enjoy more games on school nights and throughout the summer.”
The dissenting votes usually come from fans worrying about missing first pitch after rushing home from work.
You can’t please everybody. They have a point. So do the fans who want to return home with their kids at a reasonable hour. Or without their kids.
I’m coming at this from a different angle. Anything that gets me back to my house earlier is a winner, and that includes the new 4:05 p.m. start times for all Saturday games except June 29. But the ballpark is like being in the office for media. The clubhouse usually opens around 3:10 p.m. for 7:05 p.m. starts. The last story is filed more than an hour after the last out.
But it’s not about us. I get it. I’m just explaining why I prefer day games or the ones beginning at 6:35 p.m.
The home schedule features 13 Saturday afternoon games beginning at 4:05 p.m., 29 weeknight 6:35 p.m. games and 10 mid-week day games. I’m willing to give it a chance.
I don’t have a choice anyway. You do. Are you OK with it?
The 2024 Birdland Memberships go on sale today at 10 a.m., with 10 diverse plan options and exclusive benefits that include access to Opening Day and postseason tickets, VIP experiences and entry to the Birdland Membership Clubhouse. Members also enjoy up to 30 percent off on concessions, parking and merchandise, along with flexible ticket exchanges and no-interest payment plans.
Go to Orioles.com/Memberships for more details and to make a purchase.
* The Athletic reported yesterday that former Orioles infielder Ryan Flaherty will be named Cubs bench coach.
Flaherty was a finalist for the Padres managerial job that went to Mike Shildt. He was their bench coach and offensive coordinator.
The Cubs made Flaherty the 41st overall selection in the 2008 draft out of Vanderbilt University, so he’s going back to his first organization.
The Orioles chose him in the 2011 Rule 5 draft, and he spent six seasons as a utility infielder and a favorite of former manager Buck Showalter.
* My mailbag is light and not ready for emptying. However, I’ve been asked by a few fans whether the Orioles are bringing back the Birdland Caravan this winter.
The short answer is “yes.”
That’s also the long answer because the dates haven’t been finalized.
Last year’s Caravan ran from Feb. 2-5, beginning with a fan rally at Bel Air High School and including a stop at the Maryland Food Bank, where 11,000 pounds of food was packed to provide 9,166 meals to families in need, and Happy Hour appearances at breweries in Salisbury, Baltimore and Odenton. There also was a bowling event at Bowlero College Park, a player gathering at TopGolf, and a bunch of autograph signings.
Details on the 2024 Caravan will be shared when they’re available. In the meantime, you have my word that I’ll attend as many Happy Hours as possible for research purposes.