Ranking the Orioles’ free agents from least to most likely to return in 2024

After the Orioles’ season-ending loss to the Texas Rangers, a few of their pending free agents were asked whether they wanted to remain with the club in 2024.

Veterans Adam Frazier and Aaron Hicks said they did — it would have been unwise to say otherwise — but whether that’s so is perhaps more up to the Orioles’ brass than the players.

“Of course, man,” Hicks said earlier this month. “This roster is loaded with a bunch of young talent that obviously has enough grit and talent to get all the way to the postseason. With this opportunity for them to be able to play in the postseason for the first time is awesome. I think that this would be a great place for me to land if given the opportunity.”

“I would love to be,” Frazier said after the Game 3 loss in the American League Division Series. “Like I said, it’s a lot of special baseball players in this room, a lot of great people. It makes it easy to go to work every day. … I would love to continue being a part of that, for sure.”

The roster that won 101 games in 2023 will largely be back next year, but there will be new names and faces — a fact that veteran pitcher Kyle Gibson articulated after the ALDS sweep.

“For the most part, we’ll never be together again,” Gibson said. “So you try to enjoy every moment you can, and I think we did a really good job of maximizing the fun and the relationships we have. But these guys will be friends for a long time, whether I’m on their team or not.”

Last offseason, the Orioles didn’t bring back veterans Jordan Lyles, Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos, instead adding upgrades in Gibson, Frazier and James McCann, whom they acquired in a trade with the New York Mets. Could the same happen this offseason?

Hicks, Frazier and Gibson are three of the Orioles’ five pending free agents, along with right-handers Shintaro Fujinami and Jack Flaherty. MLB free agency opens five days after the World Series ends, but in that window, the Orioles can negotiate with their free agents. Here’s who could return in 2024, ranked from least to most likely.

Adam Frazier

It’s not hard to recall Frazier’s importance to the 2023 Orioles.

He was perhaps the most clutch hitter on the most clutch team in the AL. The Orioles’ success with runners in scoring position and in high-leverage situations vaulted them to the top of the AL East, and many of the club’s biggest hits came off Frazier’s bat. His 13 homers and 60 RBIs were both career highs. Despite that, Frazier, whom the Orioles signed for $8 million last offseason, is unlikely to return in 2024.

He will enter his age-32 season coming off a campaign in which he hit .240 with a .696 OPS, and the Orioles have plenty of infield options to replace him. Infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg are already in the big leagues, top 100 prospect Joey Ortiz debuted in 2023 and second baseman Connor Norby put up impressive numbers in Triple-A. Oh, and 19-year-old Jackson Holliday is also waiting in the wings, hoping to earn a spot on Baltimore’s opening day roster.

It’s time for the club’s stockpile of young players to fully take over the Orioles’ infield.

Jack Flaherty

Like Frazier, Flaherty returning would be a surprise.

The Orioles gave up three prospects ranked inside the organization’s top 20 — but outside its top 10 — by Baseball America for Flaherty at the trade deadline, but the right-hander didn’t pan out. The former St. Louis Cardinal posted a 6.75 ERA in 34 2/3 innings with the Orioles down the stretch and lost his spot in the starting rotation.

However, his poor performance means his price has fallen. Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has yet to hand out a multiyear contract to a free agent during his tenure, and given Flaherty’s struggles, it’s possible he takes a one-year deal to get his career back on track before testing the market again.

Kyle Gibson

If the Orioles bring back a starting pitcher, it’s seemingly more likely to be Gibson than Flaherty.

The $10 million Baltimore gave Gibson last offseason to stabilize its rotation was the largest contract Elias has handed out to a free agent since taking over the Orioles’ front office in November 2018. That money was largely well spent, as Gibson pitched 192 innings and led the team with 15 wins.

But he didn’t have the full bounce-back season he and the Orioles were hoping for, with the 11-year veteran posting a 4.73 ERA. That could put Gibson in the same boat he was in last winter: seeking a one-year contract to provide veteran support for a rotation.

Given his steadying presence this year, it’s possible the Orioles go in for another year of Gibson. It’s more likely, though, that another pitcher is brought in to bolster the rotation or that left-hander John Means, who expects to enter spring training healthy and ready for a full workload, will serve as the rotation’s veteran leader. Without Gibson, the Orioles have at least six rotation candidates — Means, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells and DL Hall — as well as the club’s Nos. 2, 3 and 4 pitching prospects (Cade Povich, Chayce McDermott and Justin Armbruester) in Triple-A.

Aaron Hicks

Of the Orioles’ five pending free agents, Hicks performed the best.

After a dismal past three seasons with New York, the veteran outfielder signed with Baltimore in late May after being released by the Yankees. He then rejuvenated his career by being one of the Orioles’ best hitters over the season’s final four months with a .381 on-base percentage and .806 OPS, although he missed some time with two stints on the injured list.

A switch-hitting outfielder with a plus arm who can play all three spots is attractive for any team’s bench, especially for an Orioles club with outfielders Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins who have dealt with their fair share of injuries. However, Hicks’ success might have priced him out of Baltimore, as another team could be willing to give him everyday at-bats or more money. Like Frazier, Hicks’ presence would likely block a prospect who seems worthy of a spot in the big leagues, as prospects Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad both debuted last season.

During Elias’ end-of-season news conference, he was asked if it was possible for both left-handed hitting outfielders to make the Orioles’ opening day roster. His response: “Yeah.”

Shintaro Fujinami

Similar to his unpredictable performance, there might be a case for Fujinami to be the least likely on this list.

His inconsistency since joining the Orioles via trade in July was difficult to manage, as the flamethrower was at times a high-leverage option and others only usable in blowouts. He posted a 4.85 ERA in 29 2/3 innings with the Orioles, ending the season poorly enough to be left off the ALDS roster.

Fujinami has said he wants to be a starting pitcher, but it’s unlikely an MLB team will give the Japan native that opportunity. He will also likely be the least expensive of the Orioles’ five free agents.

His volatility is frustrating, but the upside remains, and with closer Félix Bautista sidelined for all of 2024, it would make sense to chase Fujinami’s potential. Amid his struggles was a dominant stretch in which he pitched to a 1.35 ERA in 13 1/3 innings with 16 strikeouts versus just two walks. The 29-year-old also accustomed himself well to the Orioles’ clubhouse and his fellow relievers in the bullpen, crediting them for calming him down and giving him the confidence to throw more strikes.

Still, though, it might be more likely than not that Fujinami pitches elsewhere next year and that this offseason is similar to last with none of the Orioles’ free agents returning.


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