After a long offseason, the highly anticipated, at least in Baltimore, Orioles 2023 season is upon us. The Orioles were one of the biggest surprises in MLB last year. They came out of nowhere to win 83 games and were competitive for the final wild card spot until late in the season.
As I am sure you read this offseason, it is normal to see a team that won 20+ more games than they did a year before experience a step back before ascending long term. A recent example of this was Houston in 2016.
Can the Orioles buck that trend? Most people in and around the game are predicting the Orioles to be a 4th or 5th place team in the AL East. While most people feel the team is coming fast, they feel that they just aren’t quite there yet and you can argue that three of the four best teams in the AL are Toronto, Tampa and New York, so it is a tough hill to climb.
The Orioles did very little in the offseason to build on the 83-win team. They replaced Jordan Lyles with Kyle Gibson, which is probably going to be a wash. They replaced Rougned Odor with Adam Frazier, and while Frazier will be better than Odor, he still isn’t that good and was an awful signing in every way imaginable. And that signing looks worse and worse every day with the way top 10 prospect Jordan Westburg is playing this spring. They added Cole Irvin, a player who will be a fan favorite quickly, in a solid trade. He was a good move but not enough. His upside is limited but should provide them solid enough innings to justify running him out there every 5th day.
The Orioles also must find a way of replacing the eye popping numbers Jorge Lopez gave them prior to his own trade, and the numbers and leadership Trey Mancini provided. Yes, the O’s moved guys into their roles last year but that was in a smaller sample size and we need to see how players can perform over a full season. I feel good about Felix Bautista being a good closer but it’s a chain reaction in the bullpen, so everyone has to step up. The bullpen is already being hit hard with a few key injuries to Mychal Givens and Dillon Tate, two guys that were going to be counted on for some high leverage situations all year long.
Speaking of those injuries, health was on the Orioles’ side last year. Obviously the injuries to John Means and Grayson Rodriguez were important but overall, the team was very healthy last year and that is unlikely to occur again. How the team is able to replace injured guys will be a big key to the season. This is a big reason I wanted to see them spend more money this offseason and bring in a few key free agents/trades to help with the margin for error and increase the talent to the top end of the roster.
The other thing the team has to avoid is the potential fall back of players who came out of nowhere in 2022 and performed at a high level. Whether it was starters like Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer or relievers like Cionel Perez, Bautista or Keegin Akin (who did tail off some as the season went on, but still had an overall solid year). And whenever he does come back, can Tate continue to throw strikes at a high rate and limit the walks or will he revert back to previous form and be more mediocre overall?
The pitching largely came out of nowhere last year and while the new wall and poorer league wide offensive numbers helped, these guys still did a good job, especially in the pen. How they come back in 2023 will largely determine where this team goes this year.
That being said, while there are reasons to be negative about the upcoming season, there are plenty of reasons to be positive. The defense should be very good. I am not sold that Jorge Mateo, another out of nowhere guy in 2022, will duplicate what he did defensively in 2023 but he should still be good at shortstop, and if he doesn’t last, the O’s have multiple candidates who can take over.
The rest of the defense should be very solid. Frazier should at least provide good defense at second. The corner infield spots should be very good and the outfield should be solid, especially if they take Anthony Santander out of the outfield often, as I expect them to do. Kyle Stowers, who has many question makes including with the glove, may or may not be an upgrade over Santander but he should get the chance and Santander can mostly play DH, get some 1st base at bats and the occasional OF start.
We also will have the much anticipated debut of Grayson Rodriguez. We learned this morning that he won’t make the team out of spring training, so his recent rough outings were enough “reason” for them to send him down. He can get in a little more work and then the team will bring him up in about 3-6 weeks, when they conveniently are able to get an extra year of service time.
We will also see if DL Hall can hone in his command and control and become a major league-caliber starting pitcher. His velocity has been down a little bit this spring. Maybe that is him just building up his arm or maybe he is trying to take a little off for command and control purposes. We will see how the next month or two goes with him but Hall and Rodriguez reaching their ceilings, or close to it, is a huge shot in the arm for this franchise. They take Baltimore from maybes to one of the better teams in the league if they can do that.
Offensively, the team has a solid to even excellent upside, especially if they get more of their high-end, young players up to the majors and replace the subpar veteran position players in front of them. Guys like Westburg, Colton Cowser and Joey Ortiz could give this team and lineup a big jolt as the season goes on. Ryan Mountcastle is in position to have a nice bounce back year. He was very unlucky in 2022 and Walltimore certainly hurt him. He is usually a slow starter, so hopefully the good spring he is having can carry over and he can start off well.
And then you have the excitement of knowing Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman will be here all year. I am expecting a minimum of 10 WAR combined from these guys in 2023. Adley could definitely be in the MVP talk (especially if the team does contend) and he will take the mantel of being the best catcher in the majors. Gunnar has a chance to etch his name amongst the best third baseman in the majors very quickly as well.
The more balanced schedule is a big help as well. Not having to play as many games vs the AL East is a huge help, even if the AL is pretty loaded overall. There aren’t many bad teams and the expansion of interleague play could be an issue as well. Overall, I think the new schedule is more favorable to the O’s than most teams.
Overall, my expectations are for the team to be in the 75-85 win area. I don’t think they will be legit playoff contenders, although I do think they could be on the fringe, like last year. How guys develop and health will determine if they are on the higher or lower end of that range. Also, the trading deadline could be a huge factor this year. They need to start moving some of this depth because they can’t play everyone, so that could factor into things as well.
If I were to predict a record, I would probably have them right around 80 wins. The upside is definitely there for them to be more than that but the downside is there because of what the team didn’t do in the offseason.
I will say this though: this is the most anticipated season for me personally in quite some time. The young talent, the upside of this team and a full season of Adley and Gunnar have me very excited for 2023.
What are your expectations for 2023? What would constitute a good season for you?