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O’s Fans Need to Lower Hot Stove Expectations

Mike Elias presser
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…but here’s why that’s a GOOD thing

Turkey Day is upon us and for baseball fans, that usually means the offseason is about to really pick up. You don’t typically see much action until we get past Thanksgiving. For Orioles fans, we sit on the edge of our seats, waiting to see what Mike Elias will do to add on to a team that came out of nowhere to win 83 games.

If you go through Orioles Twitterverse, you see a lot of thoughts on what the Orioles should do and what you are largely seeing is people having the belief that the Orioles are about to not only spend money but spend it in a big way.

We are seeing names like Carlos Correa, Jacob DeGrom, Carlos Rodon, Trea Turner and others. We see Jim Bowden say he thinks the Orioles could be a sleeper team that will spend big. In a recent ESPN article, Brad Doolittle had the O’s signing Correa and Rodon.

All of that sounds good. It makes sense to dream big. The Orioles have a team loaded with guys that will be making the league minimum and will be making that for a few more years and then, after that, they will be seriously underpaid in their early arbitration seasons. So, of course this means the team will spend, right? I am sorry to say this but I think the fan base is about to get very upset if your expectation this offseason are that the O’s will spend a lot of money.

This ownership group as currently constructed isn’t going to hand out nine-figure deals. They aren’t going to spend $150M on a pitcher who has an injury history like Rodon. We are already seeing a shift in what Elias is saying. Not long ago, we saw him say this offseason was time for lift off. Now, we are already hearing that they are likely looking at the second-tier guys.

It’s just not happening  O’s fans have to get this thought out of their minds.

And guess what?

The Orioles are right for not doing it.

I get it, we like shiny things. We like big names and what those big names have done. We see that and say, “we should be adding them,” but the reality is that we really shouldn’t.

For example, many O’s fans are on the “add a shortstop” bandwagon this offseason. There are four good-to-great shortstop options on the market this year, but when you say the team should add them, what exactly are you looking at?

First of all, this team isn’t giving out $200-300 million dollar deals. Secondly, why would you want them to? These guys are already showing some signs of decline or are at the age where decline is inevitable or, in the case of a guy like Dansby Swanson, have been very up and down in their careers.

Why would you want the team to open themselves up to a deal with these guys?

Couple that with what the Orioles have in the minors and the desire to spend $300M on one of these guys makes no sense to me.

First of all, whether you like him or not (and I don’t, as a starter), Jorge Mateo was a 3 WAR player in 2022.  That’s extremely valuable. The Orioles also have Joey Ortiz seemingly ready to come up.

Now, I can hear O’s fans now, “why would you rely on him when he has only had a few good months with the bat?” That’s a fair question. The thing is, we don’t know how good the bat will be, but we know the glove will be excellent and we know the hitting should be better than Mateo.

Ortiz, who already is appearing on some of the top 100 prospect lists this offseason, profiles similarly to Jeremy Pena, another Elias draft pick. Oh and of course you still could put Gunnar Henderson at short. And this is before you mention Jackson Holliday. And yes, Holliday isn’t a major leaguer and a lot can go wrong, but the reality is that the Orioles are relying on him to be the starting shortstop by 2025. The best high school position players tend to move quickly. The Orioles drafted him because he’s a shorstop. They aren’t going to block him or spend high end money on a player they just move him in a year or two. That just isn’t smart or realistic.

Another thing I am seeing from O’s fans is that they need to spend money on guys that are #3/#4 type starters. “Go get Jameson Taillon or Sean Manaea or someone like that!”

My question is, why? When the Orioles didn’t pick up Jordan Lyles’ option, they essentially said they need someone better than him, but you don’t spend more money, give out a long-term deal for a guy who is a slight improvement. That just doesn’t make sense. Elias may end up doing it but I don’t see the need to.

What we know is the rotation will have Grayson Rodriguez, Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer in it..barring any injuries or surprising terrible pitching in spring training.  You add to that the Tyler Wells decision (rotation or pen?) and even Austin Voth and you have plenty of middling-to-back end guys. And that is before you have the DL Hall discussion. I am sure the Orioles will be on the lookout for more Voth-type waiver wire pick-ups as well. Remember, it will be easier to find a competent starting pitcher now because of Walltimore and the fact that the schedule won’t include AL East opponents as often.

Does this mean I don’t want them to upgrade the team?

No, not at all!

I have been saying the same thing Elias said: I think we need to add two bats. The positions of OF, 1B and DH have been mentioned, and I agree that’s where I’d like to see them add. Elias also said he needs to add one starter. I personally would like to see two, but if they aren’t moving Wells to the pen and/or will have Hall go in the rotation from day 1, so be it.

The best and most likely path to improving this team has always been via trades. I know what people think when they see that. Why would you trade assets when you can just spend money on what you need? Why trade away good prospects making little money or major leaguers that are important to the team? Those are fair questions to ask, but what I will tell you is that trades are needed. How many times have we seen prospects flame out, major leaguers come back to earth after unexpected big years, etc.?

Players aren’t there just for your team. They are there to use as assets to receive other things you need. You need to optimize their value before they fizzle out and are worth nothing.

And, perhaps most importantly, is that the Orioles can go out and get higher upside guys in the trade market. Players that are making less money, have more service time reamining and, more importantly, higher upside.

Whether you agree with it or not, the Orioles are an organization that will make a trade for a top-of-the-rotation guy before giving one $30M annually for five to seven years. It’s just the reality of the situation. O’s fans just need to come to grips with this, and also need to realize that, in large part, the organization is right in this approach.

I am not one who loves to spend crazy in free agency. There are occasions where I would like to and I certainly don’t think the payroll should be as low as it is right now or as low as I think it will be entering 2023. That said, I also think the best players to play are guys who just aren’t making much money.  This is what we wanted Elias to do: build a farm system, draft and develop well, etc.…Well news flash for everyone. He has done it and the best players on this team are going to come from within the system, which is exactly how all great organizations in all sports are largely built. There are the occasional exceptions to this (see the Yankees) but basically, that’s how you build a successful franchise.

We can debate who should go, who should stay and who should be brought in, but what I don’t feel is debatable is how the Orioles need to attack this offseason. The roster is largely set in many ways and with guys like Ortiz and Jordan Westburg ready to come up, you have some spots filled that were issues last year. There is no need to spend on the bottom portion of the roster. Most of your bullpen, your bench, the back end of the rotation and your second-tier everyday players should all be cheap.

There is no need to spend much money at all on those types of role players. In the past, the Orioles signed guys like Jay Payton, Danys Baez, Jaime Walker, et al. Those were always dumb signings. You should easily be able to produce your own guys like that or sign them off the waiver wires.

No, the offseason should be about attacking the top of the roster. Add in a few key bats, get that marquee starter (or at least a guy who is on the cusp or has the upside of being a one or two, which is not what most of the free agent pitchers are) and bring the kids up.

My colleague, Jared Pinder, recently wrote a good article for ESR and one of the things he mentioned was that we shouldn’t rely on so many rookies. That’s a fair point, but it’s one I disagree with. Sports are still a young man’s game. Peak age is still 27.  Players are still showing signs of decline in their late 20s-early 30s. Father time will always win and while some have been able to stave him off longer than others, you still need to play the odds.

If you believe in Elias and you believe in this organization which, right now, you should, trust the idea that these kids are ready to play. This is what we have all been wanting for years and now that we have it, you don’t block it.  You supplement it. I think, long term, the Orioles should carry a $125-150M payroll. I see very little reason to go beyond that. For this offseason, I want to see them spend on some hitters who can make contact and get on base (like Jose Abreu). I want to see them be aggressive and understand that this team can win in 2023.

But I want them to do that while also understanding what the long term future of this team looks like. I think many fans are about to be upset this offseason. Fortunately, I think that those fans may end up looking back and being glad Elias didn’t spend the way they had hoped, based on where those players are sooner rather than later.

Dare we steal a line from Ravens fans?

In Elias we trust.

Mike Elias on his laptop.
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