When the Orioles went to a six-man rotation late in the season this year it proved to be pretty important. How much so? At his season-ending press conference yesterday manager Brandon Hyde didn't pull punches on it.
Said Hyde: “For me, when we decided to go to a six-man rotation, that possibly was a season-saver. Because I feel like all those guys, that was kind of crunch time a little bit. And, it allowed all those guys to get an extra day. And they showed what they could be like when they were rested, and I think it was the right thing to do for every one of them because they were flying over their innings (totals from the previous year) because they were pitching so well and we needed them. So, for me, that was a huge part of our season, when we made that decision at that point.
“I’m excited about our rotation going forward. I’m not sure what’s going to happen from a roster standpoint, but I know that we have some guys in there that had great experience this year and had really good seasons. And are still really young in their career. Just go back at what Tyler Wells did in the first half. And what he did the last week of the season. Unbelievable. Arguably, our best starting pitcher of the first half, and showed the stuff he had out of the bullpen a couple of years ago.
“Our starting pitching is up and coming. And I think they are only going to get better.”
The extra innings some pitchers threw this year and pitching into October should benefit this group next season, even if they gave up 13 runs in eight combined October innings in three playoff games.
For this year, Kyle Bradish pitched 28 1/3 innings over his 2022 total (counting majors and minors), Dean Kremer was 38 1/3 innings over and Grayson Rodriguez was a whopping 87 2/3 over his injury-shortened 2022 season.
And while for the year the O's rotation ERA of 4.14 was seventh-best in the American League, in the second half the rotation ERA was 3.74. That number for the full year would have ranked first in the league.
Elias' press conference: Everyone in Birdland wants to know if the team will spend more money on payroll next year or sign a player to longer than a one-year deal. So, what about the money?
I asked O's executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias yesterday if the club would consider signing a player to a deal akin to the one Texas struck with pitcher Nate Eovaldi, who has come up big twice this postseason for the Rangers.
His free agent contract signed with Texas last December will pay him $34 million over two years, and if it vests per innings pitched over the 2023-24 seasons, he could get a three-year deal worth as much as $63 million.
Could the O's be playing in that free agent ballpark? Would they sign a player to that level of deal?
“I look at everything on a case-by-case basis," said Elias. "There are players and trade targets that we have pursued in the last 12 months that we didn’t get that were in the (salary) ranges that you are alluding to. Those pursuits will be on the menu again. We are trying to win.
“Obviously, a part of that doesn’t mean you have to do them any given year. But we will be talking about them and doing what we have to do to have another great season and an even better season. And then also seasons and seasons after that.”
Elias was asked about Baltimore now as a free agent destination. Free agents can now see a young and talented team that won 101 games and a division championship. Is Baltimore more attractive now?
“I sure hope so. I think that’s been increasingly the case here last couple years," he replied. "And you know, I think we’ve now had Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson come here on one-year contracts and have really great years and great experiences. It’s something that is really important for me to have a good environment for players. We talk constantly about how best to do that. I think it showed this year. I think our clubhouse is wonderful. Lot of people to credit for that. But we want this to be a great place to play."
When I look at what could be the 2024 Orioles roster, I most wonder about the closer's role, now that Félix Bautista has had elbow surgery.
“Another question that has been on my mind," said Elias. "And that is a massive hole. I don’t even think we felt it totally just how the games went after he got hurt. And it’s going to be tough to replace him. So, we’re going to bring all of our brain power towards answering that question.”
Many fans are wondering about baseball's No. 1 prospect, shortstop Jackson Holliday. Will he make the '24 Orioles?
“He’ll be at major league spring training, and he was last year," noted Elias. "He hasn’t had a full season anywhere because he moved so fast. He hasn’t been in Triple-A terribly long, but he did pretty well. I think when you are 19 and then you’re 20, it’s one year, but that’s a lot of aging and physical development. I can’t wait to see what he looks like in spring training. Look forward to having him there. He’s going to have a chance to make the team.”
Hyde got some criticism for moves he made in the playoffs. Elias has always seemed to be a strong Hyde backer, and that was on display Thursday too.
“I thought he had an unbelievable season," Elias said of Hyde. "He’s going to win Manager of the Year. He should. If he doesn’t, I don’t know what happened. He had a great season"
And Elias had praise for the clubhouse and roster and what they achieved this season and might do moving forward.
“We’ve got a lot of people around here that are very serious about winning. And, we fell short," the GM said. "And so, we are all individually going to reflect on things that we could have done better, even though a lot of great things happened this year. I think that’s how you stay a champion or become – we won a championship this year, the American League East, but there were a couple of others we fell short of. So, we’re all going to work on ways to better our chances for those next season.
“The regular season, 101 wins in the American League East. We were dreaming of that when we started the rebuild. It seemed impossible. You know, the people here pulled it together and I think it’s just a historic achievement. This group of players, regardless of where else they go in their careers and their lives, I hope the city of Baltimore remembers this group for kind of reminding the world this is Baltimore and we do baseball here."