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Irvin Deal Likely Concludes Underwhelming Offseason

John Angelos
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The unofficial end to the Orioles’ offseason came yesterday when they traded an underrated but caught-behind-a-logjam prospect, Darell Hernaiz, for pitchers Cole Irvin and Kyle Virbitsky.

In a vacuum, this is a good trade for the O’s.

Hernaiz came from the heralded (and small) 2020 draft class. He is an under-the-radar prospect in a system that has had 10 different players appear on the various top 100 lists that have been published over the last week or so. He has some upside, likely at second base, and could become a starter in the majors, but that is far from a sure thing. Bottom line is that he likely had no future with the Orioles considering the talent in front of him.

In return, the Orioles get a starter in Irvin who has excellent command and control, throws a lot of strikes and eats innings and starts. He has started 30+ games the last two years and has averaged about 180 innings in those two seasons. Irvin is also under team control for another four seasons and will be very inexpensive in the years to come. All of that is reason enough to make this deal. Add in Virbitsky, who has excellent command and control himself, and the trade is a relative no-brainer.

This also likely pushed Tyler Wells to the bullpen. Wells showed well as a starter last year but the frequent injuries and the success he has had in the pen likely means they put him back there, which will really strengthen the back end of the bullpen. That’s a necessity, as we just don’t know if everyone will hold up again.

This trade also represents the first time Mike Elias has traded a prospect for an established Major Leaguer. We know he has tried to do so in the past, but failed so far. So, this was a step in the right direction with respect to that and let’s face it: the Orioles have to trade out of this infield depth they have. This was just a start in that regard.

All of that being said, this is also a perfect ending to the Orioles’ offseason. No, spring training isn’t starting tomorrow, but Elias is likely done adding to the major league roster. He brought in two starters, a left-handed second baseman, backup catcher, and players who could compete for corner outfield spots, DH and 1st base at bats.

These are all things he said he would do.

Of course, none of the moves he made were significant needle-movers. In some cases, he blocked younger players while giving their innings or at bats to mediocre veterans.

He increased payroll by a good amount percentage-wise, but it’s how they are spending the money that is the issue. People will point to the absolute numbers of the payroll, but that really doesn’t mean that much since they have so many players on the roster making so little money (which now includes Irvin).

Right now, according to COTs, the Orioles’ projected payroll is around $65M, which will be at or near the bottom of the league.  Again, we have to remember that they could have as many as 13-15 guys on the MLB roster making the league minimum (mostly due to service time).

Could they have spent $30M on one player and added other pieces and pushed the payroll closer to $100M?  Sure, there is no doubt about that, but we know ownership isn’t going to let that happen. It’s doubtful Elias lives in a world where he will even want to spend money on those types of huge free agent contracts, since he comes from an arguably the best organization in the sport, where they don’t do it either.

I think it is fair to question if we should expect the 2023 Orioles to be as good or better than the 2022 Orioles.

On one hand, they’ll have #1 prospect Gunnar Henderson and MVP candidate Adley Rutschman for the whole year. They get top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez on the MLB roster from day 1 (we hope). They have other young players who gained experience last year and figure to grow from that.

On the other hand, their free agent acquisitions are maybe marginally better than what they had last year. Their two trade acquisitions, Irvin and James McCann, should represent some kind of an upgrade – but to what extent?

Also, the Orioles were very healthy last year, which is something that we don’t bring up enough. With the exception of John Means (and Rodriguez, if you want to throw him in), they were very lucky injury-wise.

Does that keep up? And if it doesn’t, can they overcome it? Do the players who came out of nowhere last year, keep it up? Who declines? Who ascends?

Lots of questions and this team should have far fewer of them entering this year if Elias and ownership were willing to do more this offseason. I was hoping to see the Orioles obtain some players that increased their talent and, more importantly, margin for error, but they chose not to do that.

2023 will be an exciting year for sure. You have lots of young talent to watch in the majors and the minors are absolutely loaded again. Also, if the team is in position to contend in July, maybe a big trade happens, as the team certainly has the depth to do it.  You also have players like Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg, Colton Cowser, DL Hall and perhaps Heston Kjerstad that could force their way up to Baltimore and provide even more of an infusion of talent. All or some of those names figure to have big roles on this team at some point this year.

There is a lot to like this year but it still feels that they are one really good starter and one really good bat away from legit contention. They could have solved that this offseason. As an O’s fan, that is a punch to the gut, knowing that they could be squandering another Adley year because the organization doesn’t feel that now is the best time to make those bigger moves.

Add in to all of this the drama with the team’s terrible ownership group, and a season that should have had people lined up to buy season tickets will instead again see them playing in front of 10-12K fans a night. The level of excitement in the air has been muted compared to where it should be.

That is unfortunate because there is a lot of positivity around this organization and for good reason. There are so many exciting things happening.

Unfortunately, upper management and ownership aren’t willing to jump in with both feet. And that sucks.

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