Will the Orioles be left with only right-handers in their rotation?

One of the potential benefits of attending the Winter Meetings, held next week at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, is the chance to gain more clarity on the Orioles’ preferences for the construction of their roster. Any specifics regarding the pitching staff or lineup. How they might pivot if the original plan begins to crumble.  

Daily media sessions with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias can be enlightening, without any expectations of him providing play-by-play on his meetings with executives and agents. Information can be dispensed in broad terms and still satisfy the masses.

The desire to sign or trade for at least one veteran starting pitcher has been confirmed. Nothing new on that front. And the targeted areas in free agency are below the top tier, which you’d hope would douse any reports linking the Orioles to the priciest arms and suggesting that they’d engage in a massive bidding war.

Here's the question that hasn’t been answered: What is the exact level of importance in bringing in a left-hander?

John Means will head back to the 60-day injured list after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Bruce Zimmermann broke camp last spring as the No. 4 starter but made a few trips to the minors and isn’t a lock for the rotation after registering a 5.99 ERA and 1.480 WHIP.

Tyler Wells, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Austin Voth, Spenser Watkins and Mike Baumann are right-handers who combined for 108 starts. No. 1 pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez would be included if he hadn’t suffered a Grade 2 lat strain with Triple-A Norfolk.

Only 17 starts were made by lefties in 2022, including 13 from Zimmermann and two from Means.

Keegan Akin made one in an emergency, after Jordan Lyles was scratched due to illness. DL Hall made one on Aug. 13 to get his feet wet inside the dome in St. Petersburg before being optioned and later returning as a reliever.

Akin is staying in the bullpen. Hall is expected to compete as a starter in spring training.

The Orioles might be flexible with Hall’s role, with consideration given to putting him back in the ‘pen, where he allowed one earned run with 11 strikeouts in his last eight appearances totaling 8 2/3 innings.

Hall could be a real weapon as a third left-hander with Akin and Cionel Pérez, consuming multiple innings or pumping plus fastballs for an inning at the back end. But only if the Orioles don’t prefer to continue his development as a starter in the minors if he can’t win a job in the rotation.

Breaking camp with Hall as a starter would give the Orioles at least one left-hander. Drew Rom was added to the 40-man but is expected to stay with Norfolk after making seven Triple-A starts this year.

So we swing back to the pitching question of whether the Orioles would be comfortable going from two lefties on opening day to none. They were committed to five right-handers for much of the season with Means undergoing elbow surgery after only two starts and Zimmermann being optioned in June.

Does it matter?

Does it influence trade talks and negotiations with free agents?

I doubt that the appeal of Corbin Burnes, Pablo López or Zach Plesac, all viewed within the industry as available in the right deal, is lessened because they’re right-handers. The same applies to free agents Jameson Taillon, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker.

Left-hander Sean Manaea, ranked as the No. 17 free agent by MLBTradeRumors.com and projected to receive a four-year, $52 million contract, also is on the radar. He would make sense for multiple reasons.

The Rule 5 draft returns on Wednesday afternoon after its cancellation last December due to the lockout. It’s usually held on a Thursday morning to close out the Winter Meetings.

The Orioles made selections in 15 consecutive years before the interruption, which occurred with them holding the first pick, and it would be surprising if they passed next week at No. 17 with two openings on the 40-man roster.

“It’s kind of a tradition in Baltimore of taking, if not one, sometimes more than one player in the Rule 5,” Mike Snyder, the director of pro scouting, said this week during an interview that airs tonight on the debut episode of the “Hot Stove Show” on MASN.

Snyder said the Orioles take the list of eligible players and whittle it to maybe “a couple hundred that we would say merit serious consideration,” but wind up with a couple dozen who are viewed as possible selections. From there, the final draft might contain three-to-seven players, and the Orioles wait to see how teams react ahead of them.

A player is chosen “only if we think that person has a significant, real chance of helping the team that year,” Snyder said.

“It’s very easy to fall in a trap of saying, ‘Oh, we can hide this player and they’ll be on the roster for the year,’ and then you can maintain that control over the player for several years, and we haven’t felt like that is all that fruitful. So in the past, the players that we’ve selected we felt had a chance to impact the team that following year and in the future.

“This year, that hasn’t changed. What might have changed a little bit is that we feel good about where our roster stands now, and the bar might be a little higher to clear for what does help your big league team looking forward into 2023.”

Shameless plug alert: I’m joining Paul Mancano tonight at 9 p.m. on the “Hot Stove Show” on MASN.

Join us weekly for the latest news, analysis and exclusive interviews.

The Nationals’ “Hot Stove Show” follows at 9:30 p.m. with Brendan Mortensen and Mark Zuckerman.

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