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From Pending Free Agents to Positions Needed, Here’s What You Need to Know – Twin Cities

In a press conference last week, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias did not detail the team’s offseason goals. He has not committed to increasing the payroll next season… although that seems almost guaranteed – he also hasn’t detailed what specific additions he hopes to make.

“We are looking to improve,” he said, “and we must also look to maintain.”

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

Pending free agents

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

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

It’s likely the Orioles will add at least a few free agents this winter, but there’s a good chance it won’t be any of these five.

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

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

Players eligible for arbitration

The Orioles have 16 arbitration-eligible players, tied for second in the major leagues. These players, who have between three and six years of MLB service, are all expected to earn more in 2024, which will likely cause the Orioles to spend 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 did not individually discuss the team’s many arbitration-eligible players, but said having so many is “kind of a sign of having a good roster these days.”

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

The Orioles are expected to retain most, but not necessarily all, of their eligible players and they will have until November 17 to decide which players to non-tend, that is, refuse to offer a contract. Here are the 16 players, sorted by how many MLB Trade Rumors drafts they will complete 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 Urias ($2.0)
  • Cole Irvin ($1.8)
  • Dillon Tate ($1.5)
  • Cinel Pérez ($1.3)
  • Jacob Webb ($1.2)
  • Keegan Akin ($800,000)
  • Ryan McKenna ($740,000)

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 most of the year with the big league club. They are also loaded in the outfield, with several capable players – Hays, Mullins, Santander and rookies Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad – filling all three spots. They also have two receivers under contract.

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

“Another question that concerns me,” Elias said of identifying Bautista’s replacement. “It’s a huge hole. I don’t even think we totally felt it because of the way the games went after he got hurt. It will be difficult to replace him, so we will mobilize all our intelligence to answer this question.

The Orioles will also likely look to add at least one starting pitcher. They will bring back right-handers Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer, as well as left-hander 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 a trade — would make sense.

When asked Thursday if Bradish, who had one of the best seasons in the majors last year, was a true ace, Hyde said that even if he wasn’t yet, he could eventually becoming it.

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

Last year, the Orioles signed Gibson to a one-year contract worth $10 million. Baltimore will likely look for a starter again; Whether he’ll offer a bigger, longer contract for a high-end pitcher remains to be seen.

Help comes from the farm – again

As has become customary for the Orioles, the club is once again expected to see the sport’s top prospect make his major league debut in 2024. Hot on the heels of Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, Holliday – who will be 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 player.

Cowser and Kjerstad, who are both still classified as rookies, could also bolster next year’s roster. When asked if the two (who might not get consistent playing time in a crowded outfield) might skip spring training camp with the big league club, Elias said yes.

Some prospects could improve the 2024 Orioles in another way, however – as trade pieces. With plenty of talented young players — including infielder Joey Ortiz, third baseman Coby Mayo and 19-year-old catcher Samuel Basallo — the Orioles could trade a few of them in exchange for a starting pitcher.

Important appointments

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

November 17 — Between now and this deadline, the Orioles must determine which arbitration-eligible players they will not tender.

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

December 6 — Draft Rule 5. An often overlooked part 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 initially acquired Santander and Wells.

February 24, 2024 — The Orioles are playing 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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