Ladies and gentlemen, we have made it. After nearly 100 days of negotiation and PR nightmares, we have baseball back. After Wednesday night had ended, I didn’t think we would ever get here, but the two sides got it done. MLB is back, which means that the Orioles are also back. Players arrived to camps over the weekend.
With the excitement of baseball coming back, let’s discuss some storylines to watch for the 2022 Orioles.
In no particular order, here are five storylines to watch for the Orioles in 2022
Will the Orioles sign another free agent?
Now that the lookout is over, teams can negotiate with the players and their agents. There were rumors the Orioles were interested in Carlos Correa during the lockout, but I still feel like the chances are slim. In my roster breakdown series, I mentioned free agents that seemed to fit the Orioles well, and my favorite is Aidam Ottavino. He was solid last year for the Red Sox, and I think the bullpen needs a veteran presence, rather than playing Novibet Roulette with young unknowns.
Will the Orioles do anything, though? Yes, I believe they make at least two signings, either in the rotation or the middle infield/bullpen. So far they have signed veteran catcher Robinson Chirinos, and they are rumored to have made an offer to veteran lefty Danny Duffy.
They might not be the big names that the fans want, but I do think they will be upgrades over the Matt Harvey’s of the world.
Will the Orioles trade one of their MLB Outfielders or Trey Mancini?
Along with free agency coming back, so did the ability to make trades. This opens up an interesting discussion: what will the Orioles do with the corner outfield situation or Trey Mancini?
Austin Hays is coming off a year where he didn’t look like he was healthy at all, and Anthony Santander also suffered injuries last year, and he had a down year that saw his defense fall apart while struggling to be consistent offensively. Mancini had a down second half, is a free agent next year, and the Orioles haven’t signed him to an extension yet. With a team in a rebuild, trade talks will always exist with veterans.
However, I don’t think the Orioles make a trade during spring training. These players’ values are just too low right now for a team to reach Elias’s high ask for his players. For Now, I think the corner outfielders and Mancini stay.
How will the Orioles handle prospects who were in limbo during the lockout?
Before the lockout started, the Orioles had to add some of their prospects to the 40-man Roster to protect them from the now-canceled Rule V Draft. This was tough for the prospects because the Orioles couldn’t communicate with them during the lockout as they were considered a part of the Major League roster. This also means that some had to rehab injuries on their own without the help of the organization. Along with this, these prospects are behind the others because they missed about a month of development since the Orioles have been holding camps since February.
So with all this info, how do the Orioles move forward with the prospects? I think it is a case-by-case scenario because the front office is just now getting a full look at how these players have been preparing for this upcoming season/rehabbing their injuries from the 2021 season. Unfortunately, I can’t predict where these prospects are, and getting a full look at them is the only way to determine that. At the end of the day, I have faith in the front office to make the correct decision about handling these “limbo” players.
Where do the guys who might have been taken in the Rule V Draft fit in?
Like I mentioned, the Rule V Draft was canceled for this year, so where do the prospects who might have been taken fit into the Orioles roster? Outside of just how these guys fit, I am happy they don’t have to worry about what organization they will be playing in. Being a minor leaguer is hard enough already without worrying about what organization you might be in this year. In terms of what they bring, I want to focus on two prospects, Robert Neustrom and Nick Vespi.
Neustrom had a breakout season last year, showing much-improved power and becoming a launch angle darling. I was pretty disappointed he wasn’t protected, but I am so happy he is back with the Orioles because he can be fun to watch. Neustrom can hit some very long home runs with his uppercut swing and high exit velocities. Neustrom also adds some solid depth in the outfield.
Vespi was the prospect I didn’t want to see taken in the Rule V draft because I think he can bring legit value to the Orioles. Vespi has some good spin rates and great velocity to his pitches that make him particularly nasty when he is on. Vespi can be a good arm out of the bullpen if the Orioles need him this year, and he provides great pitching depth. I am happy these guys have an organization to play in now and can focus on playing.
Does Adley Rutschman become the Opening Day Catcher under the new CBA?
This is the biggest question for the Orioles in spring training. The CBA didn’t abolish service time manipulation; instead, it added extra layers to Mike Elias’s decision. Basically, If a team promotes a prospect on Opening Day and doesn’t manipulate a prospect’s service time, the team can get the prospect’s extra year if he finishes first or second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Even if said prospect doesn’t finish first or second, the team in question can still be given draft pick compensation if the prospect finishes in the top five of the voting. These circumstances can only be put in place if the prospect is on the Opening Day roster.
Here is the biggest question for me: how much confidence does Elias have in Adley Rutschman to finish at least top 5 in Rookie of the Year voting to get the draft pick compensation/finish in at least second to get the extra year of service time? It isn’t just about Adley playing well; it is up to the voters to determine where Adley finishes and just what Elias will receive.
This isn’t an easy choice for Elias because he is leaving the extra year of service time that he can get guaranteed if Adley isn’t on the Opening Day roster and gets called up in May. While you can say that the extra year shouldn’t matter, Elias is trying to build for the future, and that extra year is huge. The Cubs in 2015 wouldn’t bring up Kris Bryant on Opening Day, despite having a team ready to win. So many teams have done this over the years, and it is smart business from the organizations’ standpoint, but it hurts the overall product for a month.
I understand this decision seems so easy from a fan’s perspective just to call up Adley and take your chances with the voting process, but it isn’t that easy for Elias because the voting isn’t guaranteed, as we saw last year with Ryan Mountcastle getting no love from the voters.
As talented as Adley is, he is not guaranteed to finish top five in voting. Also, you have to account for a potential injury as well.
So what do I think will happen then? Considering everything, I predict that Adley will be with the team in Tampa Bay on April 7th for Opening Day. Look, there are many unknowns with this process if this does happen, Adley could very well not finish top five in voting, and the Orioles could get nothing in return. However, I am confident in Adley that he will at least finish top five in voting, which is what he needs to do for the Orioles to get the draft picks. Let’s just hope that Elias also feels the same.
I am so excited for baseball to be back, and I can’ wait to see how these storylines shape up. See you guys next time.