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Checking in on the AL East: Baltimore Orioles

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Where do the recently perrennial cellar dwellers stand in this offseason pause?

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MLB: OCT 02 Orioles at Blue Jays Photo by Gavin Napier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s now been about six weeks that we’ve been in a standstill in this offseason, with the players and owners still seemingly far apart as they try to hammer out a new CBA. In the meantime, we’ve been examining the Boston Red Sox from all angles to figure out what lies ahead on the other side of the lockout, but what about the rest of the American League East? For this week, we’ll be looking at where the rest of the division stands this winter, going over what they got done before the lockout, and what questions they have to answer when things pick back up. We’ll go in reverse order of the 2021 standings, starting today with the Baltimore Orioles

What happened in 2021?

It was yet another brutal season for Orioles fans this past season as their long rebuild is continuing. Baltimore finished in last by a large margin in the AL East, winning just 52 games and making it three straight full seasons (i.e. not including 2020) in which they’ve finished with triple digit losses. The pitching on this roster was simply not up to snuff, boasting a couple of interesting relievers and a good starter in John Means, but not much else. That said, Baltimore got a massive breakout from Cedric Mullins in the outfield, and with players like Ryan Mountcastle, Trey Mancini, Austin Hays, and Anthony Santander, we’re starting to see some signs of growth offensively as their top prospects start to get to major-league age.

Who did they lose before the lockout?

  • Matt Harvey (RHP) made 28 starts with the Orioles, albeit with poor results, and he became a free agent at the end of the season. He remains unsigned.
  • Pedro Severino (C) was Baltimore’s primary catcher for much of the year, but he came up short both offensively and defensively for the O’s. He became a free agent and has since signed a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Who have they added this winter?

The Orioles are still very much in rebuild move, looking to add for the future more than the long-term. As such, with the first portion of this offseason skewing so heavily towards free agency rather than trade, there wasn’t a whole lot going on with the Orioles so far this winter. That said, there were a few notable additions.

  • Rougned Odor (INF) decided to stick around in the division after spending most of last season with the New York Yankees. The former Texas Ranger showed a little bit of intrigue when he first arrived in New York last summer, but he still looked like a bench infielder who can get hot at the plate but ultimately swings and misses too much to be effective. He signed a one-year deal with Baltimore, and at the moment probably is slated for a starting role.
  • Jordan Lyles (RHP) joined the Orioles staff right at the last second before the lockout went into effect. Baltimore’s staff is almost certainly going to be led by John Means, but they needed some semblance of reliability behind that. Lyles fits the bill perfectly for recent Orioles starters, with some mild upside if you squint hard enough but really just a home run tendency that will show up all too often in the coming season. Like Odor, Lyles signed on for a one-year deal.
  • Perhaps the biggest part of the offseason for Baltimore actually just passed with the start of the international signing period. The Orioles for a long time did not participate in the international market, but they have changed that policy in recent years and for a team in their kind of total rebuild these high-upside signings are important. They signed one of the top prospects of this year’s class in Braylin Tavera, and also signed a Cuban infielder César Prieto who is a few years older than most other international free agents and could make an impact in the majors within the next year or two.

What to watch for after the lockout

As a clearly rebuilding team, what Red Sox fans should be watching for from Baltimore is just how much they are going to commit to this rebuild in the short-term. They’ve been trying to build back up for quite a long time now, and they are starting to get some of their top prospects emerging towards the majors. That could mean they will start to hold on to some of their top trade chips if they are under team control for a bit longer. Some of their relievers like Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott are easy trade chips, but players like Mullins and Santander are more borderline.

Mullins in particular will be a fascinating one to watch, and what they do with him could provide us some insight into how much longer they are thinking of dragging out this rebuild. Mancini is another very interesting name to remember when transactions pick back up. After his battle with cancer he’s clearly a fan favorite, but he’s also a bit older than the Orioles are probably looking for and his bat could certainly help a contender.

Along with just the philosophical question of where the team is in their rebuild, the catcher position is also an interesting one for the Orioles. As mentioned above, Severino is gone, and as things stand right now Baltimore does not have a single catcher on their 40-man roster. Adley Rutschman, not only the top Orioles prospect but perhaps the top prospect in all of baseball, should be called up at some point this season, but as we know teams are wont to manipulate those type of players’ service time. The new CBA could curb that urge, but what kind of catchers they target could give us a hint for when Rutschman will start to make his impact on this division.