The veteran presence that was important this year will be next year too

On an Orioles team that produced 101 wins, their first 100-win year since 1980, along with making the postseason for the first time since 2016 and winning the division for the first time since 2014, several veteran players made key contributions.

But the Orioles have five free agents and all five could be playing somewhere else in the 2024 season. Infielder Adam Frazier played in 141 games and had an OPS of just .696, but that number was .932 with runners in scoring position. Outfielder Aaron Hicks is a free agent also but his OPS was .806 in 65 O’s games.

On the pitching side, right-hander Kyle Gibson is a free agent after leading the team with 15 wins, 33 starts and 192 innings. He tied for third in the AL in wins and was sixth in innings. He was a leader in the clubhouse and outside of it as seen by his Roberto Clemente Award nomination. The guy sure gives back – within the clubhouse and outside of it.

I see value in having Gibson back on the team to provide pitching depth. I just have concerns of a price tag of $10 million or more for such depth. Hard to put a dollar figure on what his mentorship for young pitchers and leadership for all players meant. But the club might have to look somewhere else for the same thing next year if they decide to try and get what he brings at a lower price.

Pitchers Jack Flaherty and Shintaro Fujinami are also free agents. It’s hard to see a scenario where the club pursues Flaherty, but maybe there is one out there. Fuji was given every chance to hold down a spot in high-leverage relief and spent a few nights looking like a steal. And a few looking like much less than that. I say the O’s let him walk and look for more consistency elsewhere, even if it comes in a package that doesn’t feature a 100 mph fastball.

But whether the O’s retain one, two, some or all of these free agents, the 2024 club will need to have a few veterans to provide leadership as the 2023 group did.

It sort of started in 2022 when the likes of Jordan Lyles, Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor helped teach the young O’s how to win. They meant a lot to that team – much, much more than could be found on the stat sheet.

At his season-ending press conference, manager Brandon Hyde noted how helpful the group of vets were to winning O’s clubs in both 2022 and 2023.

And even at a time when more young O’s talent is on the way from the farm – with the arrival of No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday expected sometime next year – vets are always needed and for the usually sound reasons, which are important to all clubs.

So whether the O’s add new veteran players, keep the current group or maybe even do some of both, the veteran presence will be needed again next year to some level.

“I would expect that we are going to acquire veteran players,” Hyde said. “That is an important part of the clubhouse. Mike (Elias) has done a great job of getting the right type of veteran guys in here. They have all been incredibly helpful.  Those guys have been a huge impact on our younger players. You can’t really see it out there and nobody sees it, but we know inside the clubhouse what they do for the young guys. It will be the same way going forward.”

And yet, even as they look to acquire veteran players for next year, Hyde noted that some of his we might call younger veterans like Austin Hays and Anthony Santander are starting to add more leadership to their already large on-field roles.

“We have seen a lot of growth in Santander and Hays and how they are just more vocal now and established. Haysie starts the All-Star game and Santander is one of the best switch-hitters in the league. They’ve gotten older and had more experiences now and they are not afraid to speak up. They’ve matured and they are fun to be around."





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