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Offseason Forecast: Bullpen

photo: Eric Garfield
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Today, we’ll continue my off-season outlook series. Again, I will go through every position group weekly, which will take us right to the Winter Meetings.

This week, I’ll focus on the bullpen.

Also, before we begin, I need to go back to what I said in last week’s article about the starting pitching. I didn’t make it clear enough what my ideal rotation would look like, so here it is:

  1. Trade Acquisition/potential free agent signing (TBD)
  2. Jordan Lyles
  3. Kyle Bradish
  4. Dean Kremer
  5. Grayson Rodriguez/Tyler Wells/DL Hall
  6. John Means (post-All-Star Break)

While this may be confusing, a competitive team needs seven or eight great options, and with Means coming back, this is what I would want.

All right, with all that out of the way, let’s get into this bullpen.

If a section of this team needed the least improvement, it would be this group. The O’s pen is full of young, controllable arms that stepped up big. They were all so fun to watch last year. Even losing Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott to trade before the season and losing Jorge Lopez at the trade deadline couldn’t stop them. They were not perfect, but considering how young that group was last year, they showed well and beyond what was expected.

Therein lies the issue, though. This bullpen was filled with guys who only have one year of success and don’t have a long record of productivity. So can the Orioles count on them again in 2023? This is a similar argument I made last week with the starters, and I think the answer is a bit different. I think the Orioles trust their young guys in the bullpen more than those in the rotation because that is just how bullpens are built. Teams don’t usually spend millions of dollars there (well, the Mets may have just torpedoed that) and mainly just develop their guys.

Another point is that it has become really easy to find quality relievers. The three relievers who formed he backbone after the trade deadline were Cionel Perez, Dillon Tate, and Felix Bautista. All three of those guys were unknowns until last year, and now they’re written in the ‘pen in Sharpie.

It can be scary to rely on young relievers, but these guys don’t have numbers suggesting regression. The only point I would make is that it will be interesting to see what the Orioles do with Keegan Akin. He was the versatile guy for Brandon Hyde last year, either eating multiple innings or coming in and keeping the game close. As the year went on, though, and the starters began to perform better, Akin was the guy who could come into any situation. His numbers weren’t spectacular, but he was good at what he did; it just depends on what the Orioles want.

If improvements are to be made, they will probably come from waiver claims or free agency. The free agent market for relievers is bad. It is full of veterans who haven’t done anything in a long time or guys still trying to find their way as failed starters. Maybe the Orioles could throw a one-year deal at Michael Fulmer, who has good stuff, but outside of that, I just don’t see where the upgrades come from.

What will be interesting is if Elias is making a big deal for another position, and he throws in someone like Tate or Perez because he feels like he can find replacements for those players.

In conclusion, the bullpen will see the fewest number of upgrades, instead focusing on low-end deals and waiver claims and hoping that the rocks at the backend of the Bullpen can step up again.

While relying on young arms to carry a bullpen again can be risky, the Orioles have enough confidence in their developmental staff that even if they lost a guy like Perez or Tate to a trade, they could replace them.

This is just how bullpens are built, and I don’t see Elias bucking the trend and he sticks with his guys.

Mike Elias on his laptop.
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