Questioning exactly what the Orioles need in their rotation (Hyde, Elias and Henderson win awards)

The World Series begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with the Rangers facing the Diamondbacks. The way nobody expected it.

I didn’t perform an exhaustive search, but I’m confident in saying industry-wide projections back in March didn’t include this pairing. But teams get hot at the right time, and they burn a path to the Fall Classic.

They also scorch the doubters, and the list of names was miles long.

Jordan Montgomery would have been a nice fit with the Orioles, but the Cardinals traded him to the Rangers around the deadline, along with reliever Chris Stratton, for left-hander John King and two top 30 prospects in pitcher Tekoah Roby and infielder Thomas Saggese.

The Orioles have the No. 1 ranked farm system in baseball. They won’t outspend teams but can out-prospect them.

Montgomery is a pending free agent and, going back to the spending part, could be too expensive for the Orioles. Their window to get him probably has slammed shut.

Nathan Eovaldi signed with the Rangers for two years and $34 million, plus a vesting player option and incentives that could push the total value to $63 million.

Eovaldi is a big-game hunter with a career 2.87 ERA and 0.971 WHIP in 15 playoff appearances. He held the Orioles to one run in seven innings in Game 3 of the Division Series.

Are Montgomery and Eovaldi true No. 1 starters? Definitions vary on the subject. But they can perform like aces, and having one of them in the rotation certainly would have benefited the Orioles.

The club is crafting its winter shopping list, and a rotation upgrade likely is a priority. This leads to today's question:

Do the Orioles really need a No. 1 starter?

A legit ace, and the sport isn’t littered with them, could make all the difference. And especially in the postseason, where the Orioles are expected to frolic again next fall.

The cost in free agency is prohibitive – don’t believe any rumors pertaining to Blake Snell, for example - but there are starters who won’t destroy budgets and could slot at the top of the pack. And not by default.

There’s also the possibility of the team inheriting a bigger contract via a trade, whether from the major league roster, a list of available prospects or a combination. No bidding wars.

But back to my question …

Perhaps the target isn’t a No. 1. Kyle Bradish could be that guy after going 12-7 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.043 WHIP and 4.9 bWAR in 30 starts – 18 of them quality by definition. The last 16 innings scoreless to close out the regular season. The first qualified Orioles pitcher with an ERA below 3.00 since Mike Mussina (2.54) in 1992. The 168 strikeouts that are the most on the club since Dylan Bundy fanned 184 in 2018.

Bradish posted five consecutive quality starts from Aug. 6-Sept. 8, the longest streak by an Oriole since Alex Cobb’s six in a row in 2018. His 2.23 ERA in 13 home starts was the best single-season mark in the ballpark’s history among pitchers with a minimum 70 innings.

Only three starters had a lower ERA in the majors. Only two had a lower WHIP. Only one in the American League had a lower average against. And it all happened within a broad sample size.

Bradish has an impressive repertoire of pitches, and rearranging the order turned around his career. The slider ahead of the four-seam fastball, followed by his sinker, curveball and changeup. Able to pitch backward, and to locate. An advanced approach that’s sustainable.

Talk to any scout, coach or manager and he’ll say Grayson Rodriguez can be a No. 1. He has the stuff and the mentality for it. He just needs the experience.

Rodriguez posted a 2.58 ERA in his last 13 starts. His 9.52 strikeouts per nine innings are the most by a rookie in team history with a minimum 100 innings. His 129 strikeouts in his first 23 career starts also are a record. So is his stretch of five starts in a row by a rookie with six or more strikeouts.

Rodriguez threw 22 pitches that registered at least 100 mph, the most by an Oriole in the tracking era that began in 2008.

So yes, the stuff is there.

John Means is here again after recovering from Tommy John surgery. You remember Means. Owner of a no-hitter and an All-Star berth. Four runs allowed in his last three starts over 18 2/3 innings. His flirtation with a no-hitter in Cleveland. Lowered strikeout numbers but plenty of outs.

Where does he slot if he’s back to the version that made him the Opening Day starter prior to the elbow blowout?

Bradish, Rodriguez, Means and Dean Kremer can be penciled into the rotation next spring. Kyle Gibson and Jack Flaherty are free agents. Cole Irvin will fight to regain a spot but could work in long relief.

Tyler Wells and DL Hall have been weapons in the bullpen. Wells was the club’s best starter in the first half before appearing to run out of gas. Hall’s health has stalled the organization’s plans to develop him as a starter.

A veteran starter is expected to join the fray. It always happens. A No. 1, however you define it, would do a lot more than just make the unit deeper. It could be dominant. But that also can happen if a track record pitcher, more than a leader and consumer of innings, slots at two.

Since it’s also NFL season, let’s spend the morning tackling that question. Must the Orioles acquire a No. 1 starter?

Notes: The Nationals announced the hiring yesterday of former Orioles director of draft operations Brad Ciolek as senior director of amateur scouting.

The news broke on Oct. 14 and was confirmed here by multiple sources.

The Sporting News announced its award winners this morning, as voted on by players, managers and executives, and the Orioles received three honors.

Brandon Hyde has been chosen American League Manager of the Year, Mike Elias is Executive of the Year, and Gunnar Henderson is American League Rookie of the Year.

Hyde also won the award in 2022, and his club reached the playoffs this season for the first time in seven years and won the division for the first time in nine. The 101 victories led the American League.

The Red Sox's Triston Casas was runner-up to Henderson, who's expected to be named AL Rookie of the Year in voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Elias was praised for his draft picks over the years, notably Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Jordan Westburg, Heston Kjerstad, Colton Cowser and Jackson Holliday, and moves made on a modest budget that also improved the roster in 2023.

Rutschman also made The Sporting News' AL All-Star team, tying Seattle catcher Cal Raleigh. Félix Bautista, who underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this month, was selected as the top reliever.

Front office executives vote for the All-Star teams.

The Orioles also announced 11 promotions within the scouting department.

Matt Blood is vice president of player development and domestic scouting. Koby Perez is vice president of international scouting and operations. Mike Snyder is senior director of pro scouting. Gerardo Cabrera is director of Latin American scouting. Kevin Carter is manager of pro scouting. Hendrik Herz is manager of domestic scouting analysis. Chad Tatum is manager of domestic scouting. Will Robertson is special assignment scout. Alex Tarandek is a senior analyst in scouting. Michael Weis is a senior data scientist of draft evaluation. And Maria Arellano is senior manager of international operations and baseball administration.

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