The Baltimore Orioles are in uncharted territory.
When Mike Elias was hired in November 2018, the Orioles were in full rebuild mode. The O’s had already parted ways with Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Zack Britton, Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day.
Offseasons under Elias have been approached in similar ways: Sign low-cost veterans that can help the team in the short-term and hope they can be flipped for prospects at the deadline. That approach, among other things, led to the organization’s No. 1 farm system ranking, and allowed the Orioles to find diamonds in the rough through waiver claims, trades and small-money signings.
Elias’ patient approach culminated in a 2022 season in which the Orioles vastly out-performed expectations, racking up 83 wins and finishing just three games out of the final American League Wild Card spot.
The Orioles are no longer in full rebuild mode. Baltimore is ready to make the push for a playoff berth, and thus, the O’s approach this offseason could be unlike anything we’ve seen under Elias.
As Elias said, “I think it’s liftoff from here for this team.”
This week on the MASN All Access Podcast, Paul Mancano and I brought you the second edition of the Orioles Free Agency Bracket, a predictive look ahead to who the Orioles could be targeting this offseason.
The bracket was broken down into four regions, position groups that we believe the Orioles could target: starting pitcher, backup catcher, middle infield and “big bat,” a category that encompasses position players that could serve as a designated hitter, backup first baseman or corner outfielder. From a sea of potential free agents, Paul and I narrowed down our list to 32 names, ranked one through eight for each category.
November Madness doesn’t sound as catchy, but our bracket game worked just as any others would. The one seed faces eight, two faces seven, and so on and so forth. The winner of each category would advance to the final four, and eventually, a champion would be crowned.
Last year’s inaugural edition of this podcast was filled with some less-than-exciting names. The final four consisted of Robinson Chirinos, Matt Harvey, Marwin Gonzalez and Andrelton Simmons. Gonzalez won the bracket as our final prediction, but two of the final four ain’t bad, right?
This time around, big names like Carlos Rodón, Carlos Correa and Trea Turner filled up the white board. While the Orioles may not spend that big, the mere possibility should bring excitement to Birdland.
Let’s start with the backup catcher region. Not the most exciting, nor the most glamorous. Yes, Adley Rutschman needs off-days, too.
Chirinos was back on the bracket after his final four appearance last year, looking to defend his previous run. Chirinos checked in at the five seed, but was bounced in round one by Austin Hedges.
No Cinderella stories here, as the No. 1 seed Curt Casali met the No. 2 seed Roberto Pérez in the elite eight. Casali emerged victorious, as the right-handed veteran seemed to make the most sense as a backup to Rutschman. His 1.5 bWAR ranked highest out of any of the catchers in this bracket, and his .844 OPS against lefties in 2022 contrasts well to Rutschman’s .552 OPS against southpaws.
The middle infield region presented an interesting discussion. The Orioles are filled to the brim with internal options like Jordan Westburg, Terrin Vavra and Joey Ortiz. Should Baltimore bring in a free agent and risk blocking one of those prospects? On the flip side, can a potential playoff team afford to wait for those youngsters to develop?
As you might expect, this region also boasted some of the biggest names. Correa checked in as the No. 5 seed, while Turner checked in at No. 8. Turner was promptly bounced by the No. 1 seed Adam Frazier. Correa took down Josh Harrison in round one, but advanced no further.
The top-seeded Adam Frazier and No. 3 seed Joey Wendle met in the elite eight. Two players cut from a similar cloth: super-utility players who won’t break the bank, but that you’d be comfortable starting at just about any position on the diamond. Wendle moved on to the final four out of the two, as his ability to play third base and shortstop won out over Frazier’s outfield versatility.
Our “big bat” region was no slouch on big names either. Joc Pederson, Josh Bell, Michael Brantley, Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana and Trey Mancini all play roles that the O’s could greatly benefit from in 2023.
Mancini checked in as the No. 8 seed, as the veteran still presents similar question marks to a season ago. Mancini’s right-handed bat and positional limitations feel redundant to the skillset of Ryan Mountcastle, who is here to stay. For that reason, Mancini lost out to the No. 1 seed, Pederson.
Pederson advanced all the way to the elite eight, where he met the Cinderella of the tournament in Santana. Santana was the No. 7 seed, but the power-hitting first baseman could’ve been ranked much higher. If you’ve been following along with the podcast, you would know how hard I pushed for Pederson. I did just that, and Pederson advanced.
Starting pitchers provided a more difficult evaluation. What do the Orioles need? I’ve presented the argument for how the O’s should go after a starter with No. 2 or No. 3 potential, but an equally valid argument can be made for a Jordan Lyles-esque innings-eater, even if that pitcher has a higher ERA.
The higher-end starter argument won the day. Jameson Taillon advanced to the final four out of the starting pitching bracket, providing the best mix of potential and logical cost.
Still with us? After an hour-plus podcast, Paul and I had our final four: Curt Casali, Jameson Taillon, Joc Pederson and Wendle.
Taillon took down Casalli, as we couldn’t see the Orioles leaving free agency without a pitcher. For what it’s worth, we couldn’t really see them leaving without a backup catcher either.
On the other side, Pederson advanced over Wendle. Pederson just makes too much sense, as the left-handed power bat could easily slot in as a DH, backup 1B and backup OF.
The finals. The clash of the titans. That other cliché I can’t think of. It all came down to Taillon and Pederson. A starter with high-end potential and a booming left-handed bat.
In the end, it was Jameson Taillon that emerged victorious. Entering his age-31 season, Taillon would provide the Orioles with a quality starter who has posted an ERA below 4.00 in three of his six seasons in the bigs. Plus, Taillon only threw 2 2/3 fewer innings than Lyles this season. Nom nom.
What do you think of our winner? What matchups did we get wrong? Who did we leave off the bracket entirely? Check out the full podcast and let us know.