This, that and the other

No matter how the 26-man roster is constructed for Opening Day, the Orioles will depend heavily and utilize to its fullest the versatility and flexibility that provides manager Brandon Hyde with a wealth of lineup options.

Gunnar Henderson seems like he’s going to keep bouncing between shortstop and third base, as Jordan Westburg can do between second and third, with at least a slight possibility of getting his first major league innings at short.

Jackson Holliday, whether in March or later, would play second and short. Third base isn’t in the immediate plans. The utility role demands movement, which can be handled by Ramón Urías, Jorge Mateo or Joey Ortiz. Maybe a combination of two.

Ryan O’Hearn can play first base and the corner outfield. Anthony Santander can play right field and first base.

James McCann’s value as the backup catcher includes his ability to play first, where he’s made six career starts and 11 appearances. Adley Rutschman can do it, as proven during his college and minor league days, but the Orioles haven’t tried it.

Heston Kjerstad is viewed as a right fielder but will keep working out at first in case he’s needed.

“I think if the season started tomorrow,” Hyde said at the Winter Meetings, “I would probably be doing the same thing I did toward the end of the season last year with matching up guys the best way I can.”

This approach is predictable considering how the game has evolved over the years, and Orioles drafts that elevated more than the talent in the system. The athleticism rose dramatically.

* The Winter Meetings didn’t alter the perception that a trade is the most likely avenue to acquire a starting pitcher, especially if it’s for the top part of the rotation.

How to go about it is ripe for debate.

The Orioles could package some prospects who may be blocked. They could surrender major league talent.

They could do both.

Hyde must accept the possibility of losing players he likes in order to upgrade the roster. Out with the old, reluctantly, to bring in the new. A balance that he talked about in Nashville.

“Right now we're trying to win,” he said. “I like a lot of our players, but whoever is going to help us win the most for me, that's the deciding factor right now. We're in win mode, and if we feel like a certain player is going to help us win more than the other, then that's the decision we make.”

* Whatever is done with the rotation won’t change what the Orioles expect from Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez, who ended the season as the club’s top two starters.

Bradish has a fourth-place finish in American League Cy Young voting. Rodriguez has former top pitching prospect stature and a ceiling that’s through the roof.

Rodriguez was drafted 11th overall in 2018 to be an ace. Bradish was the gem in the December 2019 trade that sent Dylan Bundy to the Angels, though reliever Isaac Mattson was closest to the majors.

Baseball America’s breakdown of the prospects received included how Bradish “doesn’t have the velocity or command to start but has a tick of promise as a potential reliever,” and suggested that he’d be “organizational depth” if his fastball velocity didn’t tick up.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias obviously had a much different viewpoint, which he shared on the day of the trade.

“Bradish in particular is somebody that I have liked dating back to the 2018 draft,” Elias said. “He went out and straight into the Cal League, which is a nasty place to pitch, and pitched over 100 innings, struck out over 120 hitters coming from a small conference, from the WAC, and was one of the better pitchers in the California League last year over a very long body of work. Made the All-Star team. He’s got a very unique delivery, which can create some strong opinions about him one way or another. But he’s got four real pitches, all of which will show above-average at times, and he strikes out a lot of hitters. There’s a lot of things to like there.”

You know the rest. Bradish, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Angels’ No. 21 prospect before the trade, made the necessary adjustments and learned how to pitch. How to set up hitters, read their swings and keep the ball off the barrel.

Less usage of the fastball and more of the slider and curveball.

His confidence soared as his ERA and WHIP dropped.

McCann, visiting with media at the Winter Meetings, expects Bradish and Rodriguez to keep getting better.

“I think one thing, Bradish specifically, is he truly took a step forward in understanding who he is as a pitcher, understanding how he has to pitch to have success,” McCann said.

“I think Grayson took a huge step forward this year in understanding his mechanics and being able to repeat those over and over and over.  So, I think both of them just are going to continue to refine those things and keep growing. They have a chance to be a pretty special one-two punch for a long time for the Orioles.”

* Hyde is entering his sixth season as a major league manager, the time flying at breakneck speed. Like a ball off Henderson’s bat.

Where did it go?

The first four were spent neck-deep in the rebuild process, when it was impossible to fairly judge Hyde’s managerial abilities. The roster wasn’t suited for it. Who knew what he could accomplish with more talent?

An 83-win 2022 season shocked the industry, and the Orioles posted the best record in the American League this year. Another unexpected development. No one sober or without bias predicted it.

Is Hyde a better manager today than during those 100-plus loss years?

“I think, like a player, I think experiences help,” he said. “I think this is going to be my 12th or 13th year in the big leagues and sixth year managing. I think just paying attention nightly and just trying to get better every single year, every single … really every day, analyzing myself and decisions I've made and talking it over with people, I think you just continue to improve. You're trying to improve always.

“So, yeah, I'm sure I've grown a lot in six years. Hopefully continue to grow.”

* Baseball America has chosen Elias as its MLB Executive of the Year.

Elias earned The Sporting News award earlier in the offseason.

The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society honored the Orioles with the 2023 Athletic Training Staff of the Year award at the Winter Meetings.

The award, presented to head athletic trainer Brian Ebel and assistants Mark Shires, Patrick Wesley and Chris Poole, “recognizes the commitment and excellence of the team’s athletic training staff in providing top-notch care to the players.”

The latest collection of honors follows Hyde’s Sporting News and Baseball Writers’ Association of America AL Manager of the Year awards, Henderson’s AL Rookie of the Year award, Silver Slugger awards for Henderson and Rutschman, and Félix Bautista’s selection as the AL’s top reliever.

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