Orioles offseason guide: From pending free agents to positions of need, here’s what you need to know

During a news conference last week, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias did not detail the team’s offseason goals. He didn’t commit to a higher payroll next season — although that seems all but guaranteed — nor did he specify any specific additions he hopes to make.

“We’re looking to get better,” he said, “and we also have to look to maintain.”

But after a stellar 2023 campaign, attention in Baltimore has shifted to 2024, a season in which, for the first time in years, many fans will enter the season expecting a playoff appearance. Here’s an early look at how the Orioles’ 2024 roster could shift in the coming months.

Pending free agents

Five players — all of whom the Orioles acquired within the last year — will soon hit free agency: right-handed pitchers Kyle Gibson, Jack Flaherty and Shintaro Fujinami, infielder Adam Frazier and outfielder Aaron Hicks.

It’s unlikely, however, they’ll be back with the Orioles next year. In some cases, like with Frazier and Hicks, the team has enough young, major league-ready talent at crowded positions that signing a veteran seems unlikely. And even if it might behoove the team to sign one of the pitchers, like Gibson, the Orioles have not built the bulk of their roster in free agency. Only two players on this year’s American League Division Series roster (Gibson and Frazier) were signed as offseason free agents.

It’s likely the Orioles will add at least a couple of free agents this winter, but odds are it won’t be any of those five.

“We’ll see what happens. They’re at a certain point in their careers where they’ve earned the right to go and do whatever’s the best situation for their families,” manager Brandon Hyde said.

In addition to those veterans, three Orioles minor leaguers — pitcher Austin Voth and catchers Anthony Bemboom and José Godoy — recently elected free agency.

Arbitration-eligible players

The Orioles have 16 arbitration-eligible players, tied for the second-most in the major leagues. Those players, who have between three and six years of MLB service time, are all expected to earn more in 2024, which will likely result in the Orioles spending more on player payroll — especially if they add a few free agents. Baltimore finished the 2023 season with the third-lowest payroll in MLB.

Elias didn’t individually discuss the team’s many arbitration-eligible players, but said that having so many is “kind of an earmark of having a good roster these days.”

“It’s a really good group of players and they had good seasons and they’re going to get raises through the system,” Elias said.

The Orioles are expected to keep most, but not necessarily all, of their eligible players and they’ll have until Nov. 17 to decide which players to nontender, meaning decline to offer a contract. Here are the 16 players, sorted by how much MLB Trade Rumors projects they’ll make via arbitration.

Anthony Santander ($12.7 million)
Cedric Mullins ($6.4)
Austin Hays ($6.1)
John Means ($5.9)
Ryan Mountcastle ($4.2)
Ryan O’Hearn ($3.0)
Jorge Mateo ($2.9)
Tyler Wells ($2.3)
Danny Coulombe ($2.2)
Ramón Urías ($2.0)
Cole Irvin ($1.8)
Dillon Tate ($1.5)
Cionel Pérez ($1.3)
Jacob Webb ($1.2)
Keegan Akin ($800K)
Ryan McKenna ($740K)

Positions of need

The Orioles will likely return two first basemen. They’re long on infielders, especially if baseball’s top prospect, Jackson Holliday, spends the bulk of the year with the big league club. They’re loaded in the outfield, too, with several capable players — Hays, Mullins, Santander and rookies Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad — filling the three spots. They have two catchers under contract, too.

Thus, the bulk of the Orioles’ offseason additions will likely come on the mound. With All-Star closer Félix Bautista out for 2024 as he recovers from Tommy John elbow reconstruction, Baltimore will need to find someone to fill his big shoes. That could come in the form of someone on the current roster — Yennier Cano and DL Hall are possibilities — or from outside of it.

“Another question that’s been on my mind,” Elias said of identifying Bautista’s replacement. “That is a massive hole. I don’t even think we felt it totally just with how the games went after he got hurt. It’s going to be tough to replace him, so we’re going to bring all of our brain power towards answering that question.”

The Orioles will likely seek to add at least one starting pitcher, too. They’ll bring back right-handers Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer, as well as lefty John Means and could turn to Hall or Wells in a starting role. However, bolstering the rotation with an offseason addition — via free agency or trade — would make sense.

Asked Thursday if Bradish, who had one of the best seasons in the majors this past year, was a true ace, Hyde said that while he isn’t yet, he could eventually be.

“It’s hard to be a true No. 1,” Hyde said. “So, does [Bradish] have the ability to? Absolutely. Does Grayson have the ability to? Absolutely. They’re a ways away, you know what I mean? They’re a ways away.”

Last year, the Orioles signed Gibson to a one-year, $10 million contract. Baltimore will likely again pursue a starter; whether it will offer a larger, longer contract for a top-of-the-line pitcher remains to be seen.

Help is coming from the farm — again

As has become customary for the Orioles, the club is expected to again have the sport’s top prospect make his major league debut in 2024. On the heels of Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, Holliday — who will turn 20 in December and was one of the youngest players in Triple-A this year — will likely play for Baltimore this upcoming season, giving the Orioles another talented position player.

Cowser and Kjerstad, both of whom are still classified as rookies, could also boost next year’s roster. Asked if both of them (who might not get consistent playing time in a crowded outfield) could break spring training camp with the big league club, Elias said yes.

Some prospects might, however, improve the 2024 Orioles in another way — as trade pieces. With plenty of young, talented position players — others include infielder Joey Ortiz, slugging third baseman Coby Mayo and 19-year-old catcher Samuel Basallo — the Orioles could swap a couple in exchange for a starting pitcher.

Important dates

Early November — Free agents can officially sign with new teams five days after the conclusion of the World Series.

Nov. 17 — By this deadline, the Orioles must determine which arbitration-eligible players they will nontender.

Dec. 3-6 — MLB executives will convene at the winter meetings, held in Nashville this year, to discuss league business and potential trades.

Dec. 6 — Rule 5 draft. An often overlooked portion of the offseason, teams can add certain minor leaguers from other clubs to their 40-man roster via the draft, which is how the Orioles originally acquired Santander and Wells.

Feb. 24, 2024 — The Orioles play their first spring training game of the 2024 campaign.

March 28, 2024 — Camden Yards hosts the Los Angeles Angels on opening day.


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