A few quick pre-Christmas thoughts

camden yards warehouse

Just a short entry today to wish all the readers at Steve’s blog and all of Birdland a wonderful Christmas and Holiday Season. Enjoy your time with family and friends and I hope it’s your best Christmas yet.

A few quick thoughts on things in the news the last few days ...

Yamamoto signs: The Dodgers signed pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto to a 12-year deal for $325 million. It will also cost them the nearly $51 million posting fee that goes to the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball.

The rich get richer (in talent) here as Los Angeles wins the bidding war over several other big-market teams, even though the finalists reportedly made impressive bids. He pitched to an ERA of 1.21 (yep, not a misprint) over 168 innings and gave up just two home runs all season in 2023. His ERAs the previous two years were 1.39 and 1.68.

Kodai Senga came from Japan and pitched for the Mets. After posting an ERA of 1.89 in 2022 in Japan, he pitched to a 2.98 ERA for the Mets. That ranked fifth-best in all of MLB, one spot behind Kyle Bradish of the Orioles.

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Holiday week won't weaken efforts to find pitching

elias cage

Baseball can experience an unofficial shutdown during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. However, there are some notable exceptions.

The Cubs traded starter Yu Darvish to the Padres on Dec. 28, 2020 for a package that included former Orioles minor league pitcher Zach Davies. A day earlier, the Rays traded starter Blake Snell to the Padres, the National League's Cy Young Award winner this year.

Going back to Dec. 28, 1994, the Astros and Padres consummated a 12-player trade involving Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley and Derek Bell.

Rickey Henderson signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Padres on Dec. 29, 1995.

Keep an eye on San Diego. They don't give a fig about the calendar.

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A few more facts and O's opinions

John Means throws white

Time today for a few more facts and opinions about the 2023 Orioles and the Birds who will take the field in 2024.

Fact: The Orioles’ team ERA for last season was 3.89 which ranked fifth-best in the American League and seventh-best in the majors. In the second half, their team ERA of 3.58 ranked first in the AL and third in the majors.

Opinion: Is the O’s pitching really that good? Well it was last season and they were rolling in the second half. Several pitchers made improvements as the year went on. The back-end of the bullpen will be interesting to watch as Craig Kimbrel tries to replace Felix Bautista.

O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said this in early November, before the Kimbrel signing: “I am worried about Bautista’s absence and I don’t believe we felt that fully in September of 2023. We are going to try like hell to bring in some help from the outside for the back of our bullpen.”

Well they got some help and now we see how that works out and if the bullpen, which appears a strength with some depth on paper, plays out that way once the games begin.

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Former Orioles infielder Ryan Minor has passed away after battling colon cancer

ryan minor 1998

Ryan Minor, remembered for replacing Cal Ripken Jr. at third base on the night that baseball’s Iron Man voluntarily ended his consecutive-games streak, died tonight after fighting Stage 4 colon cancer for more than a year. He would have celebrated his 50th birthday on Jan. 5.

Minor was placed in home hospice care last month.

Minor’s twin brother Damon, who played for the Giants from 2000-04, shared the news in a message on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“After a courageous and hard fought battle I’m sad to say that Ryan lost his fight with cancer this afternoon,” Damon wrote. “He truly was the best twin brother you can ask for. His family and I want to thank everyone for the prayers and support during this time.”

Minor spent parts of three seasons with the Orioles and finished in 2001 with the Expos. He also was a basketball standout at the University of Oklahoma and was drafted in two sports. He later managed at Single-A Delmarva and Frederick.

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After 101 wins, expectations will be high for the 2024 Orioles

rutschman celebrates division clinch 2023

The 2021 Orioles went 52-110 and finished 48 games out of first place. In an American League East where fourth-place Toronto won 91 games that season, the Orioles were 39 games out of fourth place.

No one could forsee that team two years later would win the AL East. The Orioles went from 52 to 83 to 101 wins in two seasons. It was quite a run and rise to the top of the division. They won the division last year for the first time since the 2014 season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

The Orioles, coming off that many wins - the most in the AL and second-most in the majors - are now going to have to deal with higher expectations when a new season begins, from fans and media alike.

Heading into the 2023 season and coming off a 31-win improvement, some thought the club might regress a bit before moving forward again. On their way to 100 wins, some teams surge forward, hit a bump in the road and then resume winning again. The O’s hit no speed bumps in 2023.

They got off to a good start and were 19-9 at the end of April versus a somewhat soft schedule. As the opponents got tougher in May, the Orioles held their own, perhaps showing that their winning ways of April were legit. The Orioles entered July at 6 1/2 games back of Tampa Bay, which got off to an amazing start, winning each of their first 13 games. But by July 19 the Orioles were tied for first as Tampa Bay was losing night after night. No one saw that coming, but it did.

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What does it mean if a prospect struggles, but in a small sample?

cowser debut

The question to Mike Elias at the Winter Meetings was not about rookie outfielder Colton Cowser specifically. Although it could have applied to him. Elias was basically asked about the impact of a player’s performance in a small sample size. If a top prospect gets a call-up and struggles, what does that mean?

Does the organization get down on the player or does it need more time to evaluate?

Well, it should not surprise us to hear that Elias essentially said they need more time. The small sample size, in many instances, just doesn’t tell us much. While some fans and/or media might surmise a player is not ready or needs more seasoning, sometimes the small sample size just really tells us we don’t have enough at-bats to know yet.

“There comes a point in time where, even if you have been a very successful minor league player, your major league failures start to make people go uh-oh," said Elias. "But it’s a lot longer than a pretty small sample. I don’t know what your definition of that is, but if it’s measured in months rather than a year or more, I would say it’s still pretty small. We have ways of objectively looking at that through our statistical analysis and other things that we do.

“But look, the big leagues are different than Triple-A and in my opinion it’s the biggest jump in the sport. Shohei Ohtani can’t get promoted out of the majors to another league, so it’s the one league where the best players stick around forever. There is a much larger jump from Triple-A to the big leagues and some guys’ success in the minors does not convert.

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This, that and the other (Orioles reach agreement with Bañuelos)

James McCann whites

The Winter Meetings wrapped up two weeks ago and the Orioles hadn't added anyone to their roster until trading for Royals pitcher Jonathan Heasley on Monday. The last deal was the $12 million paid to closer Craig Kimbrel in 2024, along with a $13 million option and $1 million buyout.

Exactly one year ago tonight, the Orioles and Mets swung a trade that provided a backup catcher to Adley Rutschman. James McCann was acquired for a player to be named later who became minor league first baseman/outfielder Luis De La Cruz.

The Mets assigned De La Cruz to their Dominican Summer League team. He didn’t play in 2023.

They also were responsible for $19 million of the $24 million owed to McCann, who had two years remaining on his contract.

McCann said he was Christmas shopping when contacted by his agent. The catcher was caught off guard.

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Anthony Villa settles into expanded role in O's player development operation

elias cage

In late October, coming off a 101-win season and an AL East championship and after the departure of Brad Ciolek, the club’s director of draft operations. for a job with the Nationals, the Orioles announced several promotions in their front office.

It was a bit of tweaking of and promotions within their scouting and player development operation. Two key staffers that have helped the club rise to No. 1 in farm rankings, once again have big roles in 2024 with promotions and slightly different titles.

Matt Blood was promoted from director of player development to vice president of player development and domestic scouting. Joining Blood to help head up player development now will be Anthony Villa, 29, who has been with the Orioles since the 2020 season. He is Blood's replacement as director of player development. Villa was first an O's minor league hitting coach, then a minor league hitting coordinator for the lower levels of the farm and last year he was hitting coordinator for the entire farm system.

“The titles are new, the working relationship (with Matt and the O's staff) is more or less the same,” Villa told me at the Winter Meetings. Blood may spend more time now heading up Baltimore's scouting operation and a bit less time in the day-to-day work of player development.

Villa (pronounced Vill-ah) was a 19th-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2016 and played in the minors for three seasons. He's been a fast riser in the O's organization and now he'll have an even larger role in player development.

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O's pitching development program got some props from Baseball America

Cade Povich Bowie 3

At a time when the Orioles organization has gotten a lot of props for their farm system, a lot of those props came due to position players/hitters that have already arrived like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, plus a few on the way like Jackson Holliday, Samuel Basallo and Coby Mayo.

On the O’s farm, the hitters are higher ranked than the pitchers. On MLBPipeline.com's O’s top 30 right now, there are just two pitchers ranked in the top 11: Chayce McDermott at No. 10 and Cade Povich at No. 11.

But despite that, there are also some reasons to be encouraged about the O’s pitching development program.

It recently got some props and scored quite well in Baseball America’s Farm System Statcast Pitching Rankings, co-authored by Geoff Pontes and Dylan White. It was a deep dive into minor league pitchers, aggregating full-season pitching data, metrics and stats for hurlers between ages 17 and 26.

The goal was “to more accurately understand which organizations have the highest quality of overall pitching talent.” And they were attempting to “view the developing pitching talent in each organization, not the team’s ability to stock quality MiLB free agents into Triple-A bullpens.”

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Orioles mailbag leftovers for breakfast

wells pitches grey

As we approach the Christmas holiday, I’ve decided to serve another batch of leftovers this morning.

Not from Thanksgiving. I’m brave but I also have my limits.

My mailbag is thinner but still could stand to lose a few pounds. Here are some extras from last week, with the usual reminders that I’d rather eat them than edit them.

Also, my mailbag is invited to office parties and yours is given the wrong date and address.

Do you think the acquisition of Craig Kimbrel makes it more likely that Wells starts the season in the rotation?
It might have improved his odds, but he could be destined for the bullpen if the Orioles acquire a starter, which they’re trying to do. New guy, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means, Dean Kremer. That’s five. Maybe Wells would be pitted against Kremer in camp. And DL Hall isn’t ready to bow out of the competition. Should be fun.

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Orioles acquire RHP Heasley

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The Orioles today announced that they have acquired right-handed pitcher JONATHAN HEASLEY from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for minor league right-hander CESAR ESPINAL.

Heasley, 26, did not factor in a decision while posting a 7.20 ERA (12 ER/15.0 IP) with 17 hits (5 HR), 13 total runs, one hit batter, two walks, and nine strikeouts in 12 MLB appearances for the Royals last season. He also went 2-5 with a 6.85 ERA (72 ER/94.2 IP) in 32 games (15 starts) for Triple-A Omaha. Entering 2023, 85 of his 92 professional games, including his first 24 in the big leagues, came as a starter.

A native of Plano, Texas, Heasley was selected by Kansas City in the 13th round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Oklahoma State University. In 36 career Major League games (24 starts), he has gone 5-11 with a 5.45 ERA (81 ER/133.2 IP) and 85 strikeouts against 52 walks. He made his MLB debut on September 17, 2021 vs. Seattle (L, 4.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 HR, HBP, 2 K).

Espinal, 18, played with the DSL Orioles Orange last year, going 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA (12 ER/34.0 IP), 29 hits (2 HR), three hit batters, 11 walks, and 34 strikeouts in nine games (8 starts). The righty was originally signed by the Orioles as an international free agent on June 7, 2022 out of La Altagracia, Dominican Republic.

The Orioles’ 40-man roster currently has 38 players.

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Orioles, state reach 30-year agreement to keep club at Camden Yards

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The Baltimore Orioles have agreed to a partnership with the State of Maryland, Governor Wes Moore, and the Maryland Stadium Authority that will keep the Orioles at Camden Yards for thirty years. The deal, which follows the broad, shared goals of the memorandum of understanding agreed to this fall, represents the commitment by the Orioles organization to the City of Baltimore, our fans, and the desire to reinvigorate the area in and around Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Downtown Corridor. Additionally, this new lease agreement will spur economic growth, drive community impact, and foster the ability to maintain and build a winning, competitive, and unmatched Major League Baseball team.

“When we began conversations with the state on a bigger vision for the ballpark and the greater plan for Baltimore, we had the shared goal of reaching an end result that would benefit both the city and state. I’m proud to say we accomplished that mission,” said GREG BADER, Chief Operating Officer of the Baltimore Orioles. “Thank you to the team in Governor Wes Moore’s office and the Maryland Stadium Authority for working with us to reimagine this partnership for the next generation. After a lengthy and complex process that has ultimately achieved the parties’ shared goals, we look forward to enhancements to Camden Yards that the Baltimore community can enjoy for decades to come.”

“From the very beginning I was clear that we would only sign an agreement that puts Maryland taxpayers at the top of mind, keeps the Orioles in Baltimore long-term, and benefits the entire City of Baltimore, and that is exactly what we have done here by extending the Orioles stadium lease at Camden Yards for another thirty years,” said GOV. WES MOORE. “The Orioles are a valued part of the Baltimore community, and we are grateful to continue this partnership with a deal that follows the broad shared goals of the memorandum of understanding from earlier this year. This agreement will not only benefit the world-class fan experience at Camden Yards, but the entire city as well, and we are thrilled knowing that Maryland will continue to see playoff baseball in Baltimore for years to come.”

“This agreement ushers in a new era for the Orioles organization, our fans, visitors, and the residents of this incredible city, and does so in a way that will complement the next three decades of Oriole magic,” said KERRY WATSON, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs of the Baltimore Orioles. “What’s next is an opportunity for a campus that brings life to the city 365 days a year.”

With plans to expand, develop, and implement an envisioned Downtown Corridor and Camden Yards campus, the historic agreement sets in motion the shared objective with Governor Moore to foster business, economic stability and growth, and positive community impact.

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O's international program keeps taking steps forward and a new class is coming

Basallo

The Orioles continue to see strong signs that their international program is really starting to hum. As they get set to open a brand-new Dominican complex, in recent weeks they had four international players ranked among the top prospects in the Florida Complex League. They had seven players taken in September in the Dominican Winter League draft, led by catching prospect Samuel Basallo.

Basallo is the shining star right now among the O’s international talent, but is far from the only talent starting to get noticed.

“In recent years we planted some seeds and the flowers are starting to come up,” said the O’s Koby Perez, promoted recently from senior director of international scouting to vice president of international scouting and operations. “Our staff and scouts on the ground have done a fantastic job finding talent and I can’t say enough about our player development system. Some of the fruits of our labor are starting to show.”

Perez and the Orioles will unveil a new international signing class when the signing date arrives on Jan. 15.

“We feel good about this upcoming class,” Perez told me at the Winter Meetings in Nashville. “We feel like we’re going to have a couple of players that are publicly ranked in the signing class. And there are other guys, maybe not publicly ranked, but that we value highly as we have in the past. We’re excited and can’t wait to Jan. 15 to get these guys under wraps.”

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Several questions for O's fans

DL Hall ALDS 2023

Time for more questions for Orioles fans. A pre-Christmas edition.

It's an occasional winter feature at Steve's blog. Answer one or all the questions. Respond to the answers posted by others. Just read it all and keep your opinions to yourself.

All is possible here today.

Now on to the questions:

1) We have debated often here recently the club's need or lack of such for a starting pitching addition. So do they roll the dice with what they have or add on?

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Taking a look at a few facts with some opinions, too

o'hearn trots @ MIL

Time to take a look at a few facts that came out of the 2023 baseball season and see how some of them may play out in 2024. This is where our opinions come in.

Fact: No. 1-ranked prospect Jackson Holliday has played just one full minor league season and just 145 career games on the farm. He rose four levels last year, but played only 18 regular season games and four more in the playoffs for Triple-A Norfolk. Now he could make the 2024 Opening Day roster for the Orioles.

Opinion: O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias got everyone’s attention at the Winter Meetings when asked if Holliday could make it to Baltimore for Opening Day.

"It's definitely a very strong possibility,” Elias said during an interview session in Nashville. “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but he had a historic first full season in the minors. Probably, you have to go back into, like, the '80s or '90s to find something similar to that, in my opinion, for an American kid out of high school. Got to Triple-A. Wasn’t there a huge amount of time, didn’t tear the cover off the ball, but he more than held his own and did well.”

As I have written a few times this offseason, sometimes teams just want to “get on with it” with a top prospect. They know the talent is immense and they move the youngster to the majors to complete his development while at the same time helping the big club. Holliday, as talented as he is and as mature as he is for age 20, is about at that point.

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Elias: "In terms of intangibles, I think we have a lot going for us"

elias celebrates playoff clinch

Money remains a determining factor in free agency, with the most lucrative offers usually winning out. The game’s evolution still has its limits. Some things stay the same.

However, the Orioles are finding that they’re a more attractive destination after emerging from the rebuild.

The perception of the organization has shifted, and more dramatically than the left field wall.

It won’t make Shohei Ohtani regret the $700 million he’s getting from the Dodgers, but the selling points are beginning to multiply.

“It’s been really refreshing and it’s such an easy conversation for Brandon Hyde and I to explain why this is a good place to come play,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said at the Winter Meetings.

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Now in the NL, Ohtani can chase Frank Robinson for MVP history

Ohtani at OPACY

Now that he has moved from the American League to the National League, if Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers wins an MVP award while wearing Dodger blue, he will join the one and only one player in baseball history to have won MVP awards in both leagues.

That player is former Oriole Frank Robinson, who won the NL MVP with Cincinnati in 1961 and the AL award in his first year with the Orioles in 1966 when he both hit for the Triple Crown and led the Orioles to their first World Series championship.

But oddsmakers say Ohtani is not the favorite for the 2024 NL MVP. Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., the 2023 winner, is. SportsBetting.ag released early MVP odds on Wednesday and listed Acuna at 3-1 and Ohtani at 6-1 to win in the NL. Ohtani and his two new teammates are the second, third and fourth betting favorites. Mookie Betts is at 7-1 with the Dodgers Freddie Freeman at 9-1.

In 2023, Acuna produced the first 40-70 season in MLB history. He hit .337/.416/.596/1.012 with 41 homers, 73 steals, 149 runs and 106 RBIs.

Ohtani won the AL MVP honor this year while with the Angels and it was the first time both winners were unanimously selected. Each got all 30 first-place votes. Acuna is the first player born in Venezuela to win the NL award. Two other Venezuelan-born players were winners in the AL, Miguel Cabrera (2012-13) and Jose Altuve (2017).

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More reflection on Orioles playoff ouster and moving on from it (Birdland Caravan returns)

henderson alds 2023

More than two months have passed since the Orioles lost to the Rangers in the Division Series. The first sweep by an opponent since May 2022. The finality knocking the sounds out of the visiting clubhouse at Globe Life Field, leaving players sitting in silence at their lockers.

The hurt lessens for some but the mind can’t forget.

“It hasn't eased for me,” manager Brandon Hyde said at the Winter Meetings.

“I think that there's a lot of disappointment. And I'm really proud of our season, I don't want to take that for granted. To win our division, to win over a hundred games, to have the individual performances and team performances that we had, it says a lot about our roster and our guys and how we have some really good players. But you do that and then you fall short like we did, that takes a while to go away. So, it hasn't gone away for me yet.”

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias called the sweep “a gut punch” during one his media sessions in Nashville.

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Trying to guard against regression in the rotation in 2024

rodriguez alds

The Orioles rotation – whether they add to it this offseason or not – just might be good enough now to take another run at an American League East championship. Currently, I expect that four members of that rotation look firm: Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means and Dean Kremer.

A fifth or even someone that could bump someone else out of that four could be in a group that includes Tyler Wells, DL Hall and Cole Irvin.

Surely, the Orioles could call on five of that group of seven and feel pretty good about their rotation right now. And again, they may add to that list of pitchers and maybe add someone who is pretty good. At least that was part of the plan when this offseason began.

The O’s rotation ERA of 4.14 for the 2023 year was just seventh-best in the AL for the full season. But it was much better in the second half at 3.74. An ERA of 3.74 for the year would have ranked first in the AL as Minnesota at 3.82 led the AL in rotation ERA for the season.

Kremer and Bradish got off to slow starts this year and Rodriguez had a 7.35 ERA at the end of May. The Orioles were 35-21 at the end of May and four games out of first place. So they were doing just fine, but things would get better in the second half when their pitching – especially among their starters - really got going.

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Is this pitcher a bit overlooked in the Baltimore rotation?

Dean Kremer white jersey

He is not the forgotten man in the Orioles starting rotation but maybe he is at times slightly overlooked.

With Birdland excited about Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez at the top of that rotation and the return of lefty John Means late last year in addition to the potential to add another starter, we can look past the 2023 contributions of right-hander Dean Kremer.

And we certainly should not, although on the stat sheet, his ’23 was not as strong in some respects as his ’22. But last season Kremer made 32 starts and the Orioles went 24-8 (.750). That stat alone should grab your attention. For comparison, they went 19-11 (.633) in Bradish’s starts and 14-9 (.609) when Rodriguez took the mound.

That doesn’t make Kremer a better pitcher since so much goes into that record like the defense behind you, run support and the ability for the late relievers to close out your game. But Kremer puts his team in position to win such a high percentage of his starts.

His season was marred by a slow start. In fact, his ERA was 6.67 in April. But then it was 3.59 his last 26 starts, as the Orioles went 21-5. Had he posted a 3.59 ERA for the full year he would have finished ninth in the AL in that stat.

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