A few questions for O's fans

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Sometimes our fine readers ask me questions in the comments section, and I enjoy trying to answer most of them or form an opinion to pass along. Today is one of those days I ask the questions and seek answers and opinions from the readers.

Welcome to our first offseason edition of “A few questions for O’s fans.”

Feel free to answer all the questions and provide feedback and comments on the opinions of other readers as well.

On to today’s questions:

Is O’s biggest need a frontline pitcher or hitter? Give reasons for your answer.

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O's offense came up a bit short in the 2022 season

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The cold and hard math from the 2022 season tells us this: The Orioles had a below-average offense this year. But not by a large amount. Still, it was enough to have Birdland’s concern meter on the rise as the year ended. The O’s offense stumbled badly at the end, and for some, that is the lasting memory of how they did with the bats this year.

Wins is the stat that matters above them all, but for offense, the number of runs tells the most complete story. The Orioles averaged 4.16 runs per game this year to rank 10th in the American League, behind the league average of 4.22 per game.

For much of the year the club was at right about league average. They were at 4.20 runs per game at the All-Star break and scoring 4.24 through August. Had they maintained that, they would have finished just above league average. But the Orioles scored just 3.97 runs per game in the final month, and their season-long average decreased.

The highest-scoring teams in the league were the Yankees (4.98 rpg), the Blue Jays (4.78 rpg) and the Astros (4.55 rpg).

In 2021, when American League teams produced more offense, the O’s scored 4.07 runs per game to rank 14th in the league, well behind last year's average of 4.60 per game. So they went from 14th in 2021 to 10th in runs per game in 2022.

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Orioles make pair of waiver claims from Reds

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The Orioles have made the following roster moves:

  • Claimed C Aramis Garcia off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds.
  • Claimed C Mark Kolozsvary (COLES-very) off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds.
  • Designated RHP Louis Head for assignment.
  • Designated RHP Beau Sulser for assignment. 

The 40-man roster remains at 40 players.

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For Cedric Mullins, that brilliant '21 season was a tough act to follow

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For Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins, a follow-up act was always going to be a challenge. How does a player produce the first 30-30 season in Orioles history and then repeat that?

Since 1954, the club’s first year in Baltimore, no player had ever hit 30 or more homers and stole 30 or more bases in the same season. It was not done by anyone else in the majors in 2021 and had not happened in the American League since 2018.

It probably would have been more of a surprise if Mullins had in fact repeated the feat, but he fell 14 homers short. In one sense, was the great achievement of 30-30 a bit of a burden for him this season? Maybe somewhat.

“Yeah, but in terms of pressure I wasn’t feeling pressure to repeat that, but I had that as a goal. But I think at the end of the day I just wanted to put together a strong season like I feel I have,” said Mullins.

It was a year where his OPS was four percent above league average, but not 37 percent as it was when he was the unanimous Most Valuable Oriole. In ’21 he batted .291/.360/.518/.878 with 37 doubles, five triples, 30 homers and 59 RBIs. He stole 30 of 38.

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Watkins waiting again to learn whether he remains with Orioles

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Spenser Watkins started the fifth and 162nd games for the Orioles in 2022. In between were impressive stretches, an injury, a demotion and a return.

What’s next for Watkins?

When you find out, please let him know.

Watkins signed another minor league deal with the Orioles in November after they outrighted him, and his contract was selected on April 11. He could stay on the 40-man or again become a casualty. He could be at spring training again as a starter or relief option or be pitching for a different team.

“Those thoughts definitely creep in, but just trying to focus on the fact that what I’ve done this year is great for an opportunity with this club, with another club, whatever it is,” he said.

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Jorge Mateo's future with club: It's complicated

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When it comes to Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo, there is a lot to like. He led the American League in stolen bases, he plays very solid, sometimes outstanding defense, and that top-of-the-scale speed never goes into a slump.

The defense and speed are plenty good enough for a first-division team, but is his offense? At a time when there are so many good-hitting shortstops in the American League, the O’s have a player that comes up short in that area.

When we consider Mateo’s future with the club, there are two elephants in the room: One, will that offense improve sufficiently or can we overlook it with that speed-defense combo? Two, will one or more of the O’s numerous and talented infield prospects be coming to take his job?

First, kudos and props for Mateo. In Orioles history, only Luis Aparicio and Brian Roberts have ever led the AL or been tied for first in steals. Mateo’s 35 topped the circuit by one over teammate Cedric Mullins, and by three over Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena.

Mateo’s dWAR, per baseball-reference.com, of 2.8 was tied for eighth-best in the major leagues. His 11 Outs Above Average (OAA), per Statcast, led AL shortstops, and his 14 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) ranked third among big league shortstops and second in the AL to Houston’s Jeremy Peña.

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Orioles claim Jake Cave off waivers from Twins

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The Orioles have made the following roster moves:

  • Claimed OF Jake Cave off waivers from the Minnesota Twins.
  • Designated RHP Jake Reed for assignment.
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After solid end to year, Heston Kjerstad gets more work in AFL

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After going – and this is accurate – a full 27 months between his last college game at the University of Arkansas in March 2020 and his first pro game earlier this season for low Single-A Delmarva, outfielder Heston Kjerstad continues to make up for lost time.

And he lost a lot of time.

The bout with myocarditis that is now in his rear-view mirror and the hamstring injured that sidelined him early this year. His long-awaited pro debut came on June 10 this summer for Delmarva. On July 13 he moved to high Single-A Aberdeen and ended the minor league year in the playoffs with the IronBirds. And now he’s doing well in the Arizona Fall League with the Scottsdale Scorpions.

In a late-season interview at Aberdeen's Ripken Stadium, Kjerstad said just being back on the field, playing in games and being healthy again, made this a special year for him.

“It’s been a great season,” he said before an IronBirds playoff game. “After going through my struggles, it’s even more fun (just playing) than I remember it being. And just being able to be out here everyday with the guys, working and getting better. Now let’s go home with some wins.”

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Wondering where Orioles would slot new bat into their lineup

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Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is taking a more general view of the areas that he’s seeking to upgrade during the offseason.

In the past, he’s sought veteran placeholders at shortstop and come away with José Iglesias and Freddy Galvis. He’s tabbed third base as a priority and signed Maikel Franco.

Elias is hoping to add more punch to the lineup after the Orioles finished 20th in runs scored with 674, in hits with 1,281, in batting average at .236 and in OPS at .695. Their .305 on-base percentage ranked 22nd. They were shut out 11 times.

Where would the Orioles plug in a bat? That's the burning question.

“I don’t have a specific prediction about which position any major league acquisitions are going to come in,” Elias said last week. “I think one thing that makes this a little bit tricky is that we have very interesting internal candidates for almost every single job, so it’s not necessary that we go target one particular part of the team.

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Orioles claim Cave off waivers from Twins

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The Orioles made their second roster move since ending the 2022 season, claiming outfielder Jake Cave off waivers from the Twins today and designating reliever Jake Reed for assignment.

An industry source confirmed the waiver claim, which appeared on the major league transactions page.

Cave, 29, appeared in 54 games with the Twins and batted .213/.260/.384 with seven doubles, three triples, five home runs and 20 RBIs in 177 plate appearances. He’s a career .235/.297/.411 hitter in parts of five major league seasons.

The Yankees selected Cave in the sixth round of the 2011 draft out of Kecoughtan High School in Hampton, Va. The Reds chose him in the 2015 Rule 5 draft and returned him on April 5, 2016. The Yankees traded Cave to the Twins on March 16, 2018 for pitcher Luis Gil.

As a rookie in 2018, Cave batted .265/.313/.473 with 16 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs and 45 RBIs in 91 games. He hasn’t played a full season in the majors, with those 91 games representing his career high.

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The MLB playoffs: Drama, surprises and the LDS up next

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We sure can’t say the 2022 Major League Baseball playoffs have lacked in surprises or drama. We saw three road teams advance, a 15-innings thriller, a six-run ninth inning rally, an ear inspection and a team trailing 8-1 in the fifth inning rally to win.

So yeah, a lot going on in just three days of ball.

The madness resumes today with four Division Series matchups, three of which are interdivision matchups. Should be fun and no doubt we will see more surprises and more drama.

I did not expect to see the Toronto Blue Jays go two and (barbe) que. One of baseball’s best offenses got shutout in Game 1 and Seattle rallied from seven runs down to win Game 2. Wowser. Maybe this series provided the latest example that how a team ends its season matters little in the postseason. Toronto went 22-11 in September and the Orioles saw it first-hand when they played them three times and lost all three series. But even at loud and crazy Rogers Centre, which was rocking at times again in October, they lost.

Tampa Bay was also two and done versus Cleveland. I was a bit surprised that some O’s fans took pleasure in the Jays and Rays getting eliminated. For me, I kind of like the talk of how strong the AL East is and was again this year, but teams losing in the opening round takes some shine off that. I can see not rooting for Boston and New York, but it seems some O’s fans want all four to destruct in October.

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Figuring which Orioles are primed for raises in arbitration

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An increase in spending by the Orioles during the offseason leads the imagination directly to the free agent and trade markets. However, the club has seven players eligible for arbitration. Raises are coming to most, if not all, of them.

Outfielder Anthony Santander leads the pack after making $3.15 million this year. He doesn’t reach free agency until after the 2024 season due to his status as a Super Two player.

Santander lost his arbitration hearing during his first year of eligibility and settled for $2.1 million instead of the $2.4 million that he sought. The sides agreed to a $3.15 million deal on Nov. 30, 2021.

MLBTradeRumors.com ran its annual salary projections yesterday and placed Santander’s at $7.5 million after he led the Orioles with 33 home runs, 89 RBIs, a .455 slugging percentage and a .773 OPS, tied Cedric Mullins for first with a .318 on-base percentage and ranked second in walks with 55 and in runs with 78. He played in a career-high 152 games.

The Orioles are building a surplus of outfielders, with Colton Cowser approaching his debut next summer. Kyle Stowers already arrived. Santander has drawn trade interest in the past and his value is at its highest, coming off his finest season and being under team control beyond 2023.

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From Bowie to Baltimore: Gunnar Henderson had one special season

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The Orioles Gunnar Henderson was not in the major leagues that long – for 34 games – but long enough to experience both hot and cold streaks at-bat. And long enough to have some big moments and hits, long enough to show he belongs and that his considerable talents play at the level at the age of 21.

Unlike with fellow top prospect Adley Rutschman, he was hitting well almost from the start, although he did have some struggles late in the year when he said he was getting a heavy dose of breaking balls.

Henderson’s first go-round in MLB produced these numbers over 132 plate appearances: .259/.348/.440/.788 for an OPS+ of 123 with seven doubles, a triple, four homers and 18 RBIs.

He remains rookie eligible, falling short of thresholds of 130 at-bats (he had 116) or 45 days on the roster to lose rookie status. He could win the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year.

He did win the 2022 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year award. Over 121 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, he batted .297/.416/.531/.947 with 101 runs, 19 homers and 76 RBIs.

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Checking on some O's minor league stats leaders for the 2022 season

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While just one of the four O's full-season minor league affiliates - high Single-A Aberdeen - made the playoffs this year, it was a banner season for the organization in player development. They had two players ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the sport and both Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson made the majors and did well when they got there.

The Orioles prospects list was noted for both the quality and depth it showed this season. That was seen by the Orioles being ranked as the No. 1 farm at midseason by Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and ESPN.

Today let's take a look at a few stat categories for both hitters and pitchers and see which players were among the top five O's this year for those stats. Later we'll take a look at more stat categories.

OPS (min, 250 PAs)

.946 - Gunnar Henderson
.886 - Connor Norby
.884 - Kyle Stowers
.874 - Colton Cowser
.852 - Jordan Westburg

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Two more reflections on Orioles' 2022 season

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The Orioles played their last games on Wednesday, a doubleheader feeling like a kick in the pants on their way out the door.

A gentle nudge would have sufficed, but the sport can be cruel.

Some of my reflections were shared ahead of the finale. Maybe a bit premature, but rules are made to be broken.

I’ve already noted how Matt Harvey never had his contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk, Gunnar Henderson earned a promotion despite his age, Yusniel Diaz stayed only for a cup of coffee, Rougned Odor lasted into September, we never saw Robert Neustrom, DJ Stewart didn’t make it back to the Orioles after three games to begin the season, Jorge Mateo was exclusively a shortstop, Bryan Baker stuck for the entire season, and Nick Vespi will never give up another Triple-A run.

That last one might come back to bite me, but man, he was good.

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A look at one aspect where improving might be tough for '23 O's

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There is one area where it might be tough for the 2023 Orioles to match the 2022 version. It’s an area that we won’t be able to compare on a stat sheet. It’s team chemistry and camaraderie.

For the 83-win Orioles this year, it was exceptional.

Players cited it throughout the year and as the season went on, it was hard not to notice how close-knit this team was. And the closeness developed and showed itself both before games and even outside of the ballparks and then showed up many nights at 7 o’clock. There was no stat for it – advanced or otherwise, but this chemistry was vital to this team this year.

As the Orioles look to take the winning to the next level, outfielder Austin Hays said the togetherness is important. Players genuinely enjoyed seeing teammates suceed, not because they should do that, but because it came naturally.

“I think we turned the culture here into a winning environment,” said Hays. “Where, we are celebrating wins in the clubhouse as a team. We’re going and having team dinners together. We had a win belt this year for player of the game and guys had to give speeches after that. All those things that come with the wins, just the team growing together and growing with one another, it was a culture we didn’t have here for the last three years.

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Tate: "I still don’t feel like I’m established yet"

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Dillon Tate can be pleased with his 2022 season. He probably should be ecstatic.

How he led the Orioles in appearances with 67 and also established a career high in innings. How he posted the lowest ERA and walk average in his four years in the majors. How he became a trusted late-inning reliever on a contending team with 16 holds and five saves as a substitute closer.

Pleased, ecstatic … but not satisfied.

I wasn’t expecting Tate to treat the summer in such a casual way when I sought his personal reflections before Wednesday’s doubleheader. But he isn’t ready to relax. He can’t do it and go against his competitive nature.

He must stay true to it.

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Austin Hays takes a look at his 2022 season

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When I asked Orioles outfielder Austin Hays to analyze his own season before Wednesday’s doubleheader, the first point he made was an important one and I could tell it really mattered to him.

He stayed on the field this year.

There were a few bumps and bruises along the way, but he played in a career-high 145 games taking a career-high 535 at-bats. His team could depend on him to be there this year even if he wasn’t always playing at 100 percent. That is important to any player and gains him respect in the clubhouse.

“Personally I think it was a big win for me to stay healthy from the start to the end of the year,” Hays said. “I had a really, really solid first half. The second half I was very inconsistent and had a couple of bad stretches where I went down (in the stats). But overall I learned a lot this year and am happy with how my personal year went.”

He had 53 more plate appearances this year than he did in 2021 and produced nine more doubles with six fewer homers and 11 fewer RBIs.

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Orioles taking care of minor matters before getting into major business

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A tweak of the 40-man roster yesterday was similar to cleansing the palate before the main course. Likely the first and only time that Anthony Bemboom has been compared to a sorbet.

The Orioles can’t really get busy with their offseason until after the World Series. The free agent market opens. Executives discuss potential trades. Decisions are made regarding arbitration-eligible players and who’s protected in the Rule 5 draft.

Bemboom had his contract selected yesterday from Triple-A Norfolk, preventing or delaying his plunge into minor league free agency, depending on whether he stays on a 40-man roster that’s currently full.

Pending free agents Robinson Chirinos, Rougned Odor and Jesús Aguilar will come off the 40-man, and Jordan Lyles would join them if the Orioles don’t pick up his $11 million option. John Means and Chris Ellis must be added from the 60-day injured list, though the latter isn’t guaranteed to stick.

The Orioles could designate Ellis for assignment and try to re-sign him to a minor league deal or cut ties.

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Orioles select Bemboom's contract, Tate to play in WBC

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The Orioles made an adjustment to their 40-man roster on the first day of their offseason.

Catcher Anthony Bemboom’s contract was selected this afternoon from Triple-A Norfolk, and right-hander Anthony Castro was designated for assignment in a corresponding move.

Bemboom didn’t play for the Orioles after No. 1 prospect Adley Rutschman arrived on May 21. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Norfolk six days later.

The Orioles signed Bemboom to a minor league contract and he broke camp with the team, beating out Jacob Nottingham as the backup to veteran Robinson Chirinos. He appeared in 22 games and went 6-for-52 (.115) with two doubles and a home run.

Bemboom threw out three of eight runners attempting to steal.

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