The depth in the Orioles rotation stacks up “pretty well,” one talent evaluator phrased it recently, when tracking starter candidates fourth through seventh. The back end and overflow.
Potential exists for higher grades. And to be in good hands from top to bottom if small sample sizes prove accurate in the longer term.
The Orioles are hoping that there really is strength in numbers.
They don’t have an established No. 1, 2 or 3 starter, but they want to further explore the group that includes Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. This can be done with or without another veteran acquisition to go with Kyle Gibson, who’s normally a fourth or fifth.
The club is maintaining its quest for someone with previous experience as a 1, 2 or even a 3, judging by the range of its search. Michael Wacha is the most appealing of the remaining free agents and the Orioles have kept their interest in him. He’s coming off an 11-2 season with a 3.32 ERA and 1.115 WHIP in 23 starts for the Red Sox, but maintaining good health and staying on the mound has been an issue.
The Red Sox twice placed Wacha on the injured list, with intercostal irritation from May 8-20 and right shoulder inflammation from July 8-Aug.14. Durability isn’t a selling point.
Wacha’s 127 1/3 innings would have ranked second on the Orioles behind Jordan Lyles’ 179. Kremer worked 125 1/3, and an oblique injury delayed his first appearance until June 5.
The Orioles entered camp last spring knowing that John Means was their opening day starter and Lyles likely would follow. The rest had to play out.
Wells instilled confidence that he could transition back from reliever to starter and was on the mound for the third game, a slot higher than anticipated when spring training began. Baltimore native Bruce Zimmermann started the home opener, a sweet story, and the identity of the fifth starter was withheld until later, when Spenser Watkins joined the roster.
Those rumblings about Watkins turned out to be true.
Kremer was believed to be a candidate until he warmed in the bullpen at Tropicana Field during the third game, where the right-hander sustained his injury.
The 2023 camp also will be filled with auditions and intense competition. It’s wide open and capable of expanding more if the Orioles don’t get a No. 1 while Means works his way back from Tommy John surgery.
The opening day assignment usually is known before pitchers and catchers report, though the Orioles changed their plans in back-to-back spring trainings in 2019-20 due to injuries sustained by Alex Cobb and Means. Andrew Cashner and Tommy Milone were the replacements.
Means started the last two games on opening day. He might not be ready to pitch this year until late in the first half.
Gibson could vault up the rotation based on his experience, with 261 starts over 10 major league seasons, and pockets of success that include his All-Star selection in 2021. Bradish and Kremer could keep building off their strong finishes. Wells could be the first half, pre-injuries version and elbow past everyone. Rodriguez could be too dominant to slow play early. Hall could do more than just silence any talk about a possible bullpen role.
Performances and how the Orioles want to line up for the first series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, followed by their trip to Texas, should be the determining factors.
Impossible to handicap at this stage of the offseason.
* The Orioles have developed an attraction to Red Sox pitchers, selecting Andrew Politi in the Rule 5 draft, signing free agent Eduard Bazardo to a minor league contract two weeks later and trading for left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez on Wednesday.
Would they keep going and make a run at Connor Seabold, who was designated for assignment Thursday to create a spot for veteran starter Corey Kluber?
The name jumps out of the transactions page because the Orioles drafted him in the 19th round in 2014 out of Newport Harbor High School in California. The previous front office, of course.
Seabold kept his commitment to Cal State Fullerton, and the Phillies selected him in the third round in 2017 before trading him three years later in the Nick Pivetta/Heath Hembree/Brandon Workman deal.
Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and FanGraphs ranked Seabold within the Red Sox’s top 30 prospects last summer. FanGraphs had him seventh back in March.
Durability is an issue, and the 11.29 ERA and 2.345 WHIP in five starts this summer aren’t helping, either. But he made 19 starts with Triple-A Worcester and went 8-2 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.131 WHIP in 86 2/3 innings.
He also has a minor league option remaining. Sweetens the pot.