The Cardinals signing of Kyle Gibson to a one-year, $12 million deal with an option didn’t shed much light on the Orioles’ plans for their rotation.
Those intentions already are illuminated.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias wants an upper-level starter for the rotation. Gibson is a great guy who put up some good numbers in 2023, but Elias is aiming higher.
He won’t find a higher-quality individual, but this is about upgrading the rotation.
Elias gave interviews at the general managers meetings and to MASNsports.com and 105.7 The Fan over the last few weeks, and it’s the same summary. He wants pitching. Near or at the top of the rotation and in the back end of the bullpen.
It’s confirmation more than enlightenment. And it seemed to lock out Gibson, who exceeded by $2 million the $10 million made with the Orioles this season. He also receives an option for 2025.
Gibson was the Opening Day starter this year and he earned it in spring training, but the field also was tilted in his favor. He had the experience and track record. The Orioles had John Means on the injured list following Tommy John surgery and a younger group of competitors with limited or no success in the majors.
Pitchers who were going to zip past their previous highs in innings, requiring more careful handling.
Gibson was an ideal one-year solution.
The 17 quality starts, and a final outing in the regular season that produced five scoreless innings. The 192 innings overall and 15 wins to lead the club. The clubhouse leadership and class. Exactly the type of guy a team wants to set an example.
That’s the part that will be missed, but Elias is checking the free agent and trade markets for a starter with credentials of a No. 1 or 2. Gibson was expected to fill out the back of the rotation before rising to the top.
The outlook has changed with Kyle Bradish’s emergence this season, which placed him fourth in American League Cy Young voting. The Orioles weren’t banking on a 2.83 ERA and 1.043 WHIP in 30 starts. They saw the potential and what they could do with it through their pitching program, but the results had to exceed expectations.
Grayson Rodriguez didn’t make the club out of spring training and was optioned again later, but he posted a 2.58 ERA and 1.096 WHIP in 13 second-half starts. He allowed seven earned runs in 29 innings in September, tossing eight scoreless innings against the Rays. The former No. 1 pitching prospect is climbing toward his ceiling.
Dean Kremer became an established starter, which also wasn’t a lock as he competed for a spot in spring training. Tyler Wells was the club’s best starter in the first half before appearing to tire, getting a reset in the minors that provided a breather, and returning as a reliever.
Manager Brandon Hyde hasn’t forgotten the production Wells provided out of the rotation, mentioning it during his season-ending media session.
DL Hall could get another chance to start. His role is to be determined. And Means returned to make four starts before elbow soreness kept him out of the Division Series.
Cole Irvin also returns after splitting his appearances between starts and relief work. That’s an ample supply for the middle-to-back of the rotation.
"We’ve got two guys in Bradish and Rodriguez that basically pitched like front-end starters all year, most of the year, and they’re coming back,” Elias told MASNsports.com. “But there’s pressure on them and it would be nice to bring them some help. If we’re able to import a clear upgrade to one of our rotation spots, that’s going to radiate out into the rest of the rotation.
“We’ll see what the best opportunity is, who the best person is for the job. Whether we’re able to get our hands on this guy. It’s hard to narrow yourself too much going into an offseason. There aren’t that many (starters) available."
A few more have come off the free-agent board, including Aaron Nola, who re-signed with the Phillies for $172 million over seven years. He was never in play for the Orioles, and anyone else with a similar price tag, including Yoshinobu Yamamoto, also is out of reach.
The Athletic’s Jim Bowden predicted that Nola would earn a five-year, $125 million contract. Costs already are rising.
Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell also seem out of the Orioles’ financial range, but other starters could be more affordable and slot higher, or Elias could find a trade partner that doesn’t view an untouchable prospect as a deal breaker.
Gibson would have fit in the payroll. He just didn’t fit any longer in Elias’ vision for the rotation.
We already knew.