With new deal done, Ryan O'Hearn heads into second season with the Orioles

During a season where he turned 30, the Orioles Ryan O’Hearn became a middle-of-the-order hitter on a 101-win Orioles club that finished atop the American League East.

Not bad for a player who was in the big leagues part-time between 2018 and 2022 with Kansas City. His career line with the Royals was .219/.293/.390/.683. He elevated his game with Baltimore and now has a new contract to show for it.

When the Orioles acquired him from Kansas City on Jan. 3, 2023, for cash considerations, there was no guarantee he would even see one day on the big league roster, much less become a key cog in the lineup and in the clubhouse.

But it comes later for some players, and it sure did for O’Hearn, who batted .289/.322/.480/.801 with 22 doubles, a triple, 14 homers and 60 RBIs in 368 plate appearances. His OPS+ of 122 ranked third on the team, behind only Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson.

O’Hearn set career bests in most categories including games, hits, doubles, runs, RBIs, extra-base hits (37), multi-hit games (26), and multi-RBI games (13). He was 3-for-5 with five RBIs in his first three games with his new team, becoming the 10th Oriole in team history with at least five RBIs his first three games for the club and the first since Manny Machado (also five RBIs) in 2012.

It is not easy to remember now, but two days after the Orioles added O’Hearn last Jan. 3, they designated him for assignment and a week after that they removed him from their 40-man roster. He went to Sarasota and had a great spring but did not make the Opening Day roster and finally did get to Baltimore on April 13. But May 5 he was sent back down. He would quickly return on May 9 and was with the Orioles and active for the rest of the 2023 season.

It was a season where he hit .349 with an OPS of .891 with runners in scoring position. He got big hits often and was 3-for-7 with eight RBIs with the bases loaded. He had an OPS of .837 in one-run games and .950 in close and late situations - defined by Baseball-Reference.com as any plate appearance from the seventh inning on in which the batting team is either in a tie game, ahead by one run or has the potential tying run on deck. O'Hearn produced an .800 OPS in 36 AL East games.

O’Hearn was honest to say that his offense got the benefit of the no-shift rules. He also did some good work with the O’s hitting coaches that helped him produce more consistent launch angles and improve his ability to hit the ball in the air more.

“I think I had to make some mechanical adjustments to allow myself to hit the ball in the air. Nobody wants to hit the ball on the ground anymore and I wasn’t trying to the past few years. But the stuff I had going on mechanically, it was hard not to. Got that cleaned up and the work I’ve done in the cage with these hitting coaches has really helped me," O'Hearn said in a mid-season interview.

"I’m excited coming to the field every day and having fun playing with this team," O'Hearn added. "At the same time, I’ve experienced in the past when people start telling you how good you are, you can take that one of two ways. I appreciate the confidence and the pats on the back and all that, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet.

“I think I have the talent to be a middle-of-the-order type hitter you know, not for just a month or two months or a flash in the pan. My goal is to be a consistent major league hitter that drives in runs. That’s an ongoing process. Just trying to stick to the things that got me here. When the season is over maybe I can enjoy it a little bit more. Right now, just having so much fun playing and enjoying it with this group."

O'Hearn became the last of 17 players that were arbitration-eligible this offseason. to secure his 2024 contract with the Orioles on Wednesday. He agreed to a $3.5 million dollar deal for 2024 that includes a team option for 2025 at $7.5 million with no buyout. The 2025 salary could increase by $500,000 for O'Hearn playing in 120 and 150 games this season.

Good for O'Hearn, who earned bigger bucks off his big year in Baltimore and the Orioles, who with the club option, make sure they can retain his services for next year should they choose to. O'Hearn could be a free agent at the end of the 2024 season.

Now his next task is try to repeat his success from last summer. 


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