Orioles fans have grown increasingly frustrated with a listless offseason on the heels of last year’s division title and quick playoff exit. The O’s entered the offseason with a wide-open payroll outlook and deep farm system, ostensibly setting the stage for either a major free-agent pickup and/or a splashy trade to address the starting pitching. Neither has transpired to this point, although general manager Mike Elias insists it’s not due to a lack of effort on his behalf. The Orioles are “probably being as aggressive as any team out there” on the trade market, Elias told reporters over the weekend (link via Andy Kostka of the Baltimore Banner).
Options on the trade market this offseason have been few and far between — particularly if, as one would expect, the O’s are reluctant to part with their glut of top-ranked, near-MLB-ready infield and outfield prospects. Dylan Cease has long been connected to the O’s, but many have begun to express doubt that anyone will meet the White Sox’ asking price before the offseason is up. Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has spoken openly about his aversion to trading young starters like Bryce Miller or Bryan Woo. The Marlins are at least listening on a handful of starters (Jesus Luzardo, Braxton Garrett and Edward Cabrera among them), but the ask figures to be similarly steep there, as each has at least three seasons of control remaining.
The Orioles, meanwhile, are rife with young big league-caliber talents. Gunnar Henderson is locked in on the left side of the infield — likely as the long-term third baseman. Jackson Holliday, the former No. 1 overall pick who’s currently ranked as baseball’s No. 1 overall prospect, could debut as the team’s long-term shortstop this year at just 20 years old. Middle infielders Jordan Westburg, Connor Norby and Joey Ortiz have all been ranked among the game’s 100 best prospects within the past year. Ditto corner infielder Coby Mayo, who could be pushed across the diamond to first base, where the Orioles also have Ryan Mountcastle and former No. 2 overall pick Heston Kjerstad as options. Kjerstad can also play the outfield corners, while still yet another top prospect, outfielder Colton Cowser, is a deft center fielder.
Baltimore’s veritable embarrassment of riches on the prospect front has yet to lead to a trade, however. Fans might quibble with whether Elias is truly being as aggressive as he indicates, based on that lack of a move, but the top-ranking O’s baseball ops exec also exercised caution on the trade front.
“You can look back and teams make aggressive trades, and it can really set the franchise back if the guy shows up and he gets hurt, or if you trade guys and you miss out on their long careers,” Elias said, noting that there are just such examples in Orioles history.
Elias didn’t mention any specific examples, though as with any franchise, they’ve had their share of “ones who got away” (my words, not his). Eduardo Rodriguez and Jake Arrieta come to mind as one such pair (under prior leadership, before Elias was hired), while the Orioles’ acquisition of Adam Jones in exchange for Erik Bedard (also under the former front office regime) is perhaps the prime example of Baltimore being on the more favorable side of that proverbial coin.
Of course, the enviable stock of position-player depth the Orioles have cultivated under Elias could also be a catalyst for smaller-scale trades. The team might balk at the notion of trading someone of Westburg’s ilk, but the sheer volume of MLB-ready infielders could make current bench options like Ramon Urias available. MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko suggested as much on Monday, noting that a roster including each of Urias, Ortiz and Holliday would have some redundancy and could lead to Urias being squeezed out — though that scenario is framed in mostly speculative fashion. There’s no indication the Orioles are shopping Urias, but it stands to reason that other infield-needy clubs would have interest.
The 29-year-old Urias, who’s earning $2.1MM in 2024 and is under club control through 2026, has given the Orioles above-average offense and solid defense for much of the past three seasons. He’s a career .264/.330/.404 hitter (107 wRC+) who can handle any of second base, shortstop or third base.
Urias had plus defensive grades at the hot corner, in 2022 in particular, but has broadly rated as a capable defender at any of the three spots. The O’s also gave him 63 innings at first base in 2023. Though he bats right-handed, Urias has far better career numbers against righties (.278/.342/.416) than lefties (.237/.306/.380). That’s not ideal for a team seeking a righty bat to pair with a lefty around the infield, but a club that’s just looking for general infield help overall could well see its interest piqued by an affordable and versatile option like Urias. He alone wouldn’t fetch the Orioles the rotation upgrade they seek, but he could either be dealt as part of a package or could perhaps simply net the O’s some modest help for the farm system to help replenish depth after surrendering some prospects in a larger-scale deal.
On the depth front, the O’s did get some good news in recent weeks. Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann tells MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski that he’s in Florida for early workouts and expects to be a “full go” when spring training opens. Zimmermann underwent core muscle surgery in mid-October. He pitched to a 4.42 ERA in 21 Triple-A starts last season and has a lifetime 4.15 ERA in 229 2/3 innings at that level. He’s struggled to a 5.57 mark in 158 1/3 big league frames, but Zimmermann has a minor league option remaining and gives the O’s some experienced depth if injuries create an opening in the rotation.
Similarly, reliever Keegan Akin told Melewski and others that he’s “right on track” for spring training after missing the better part of three months last summer due to back troubles. Akin attempted to come back multiple times but experienced continued back issues each time. He’s since had the time to rest and rehab his way to full strength. The southpaw clearly wasn’t right in ’23, pitching to a 6.85 ERA in 23 1/3 innings, but he was a key bullpen member in 2022 when he piled up 81 2/3 innings with a 3.20 ERA, 23.4% strikeout rate, 6.1% walk rate and 49.3% ground-ball rate.
Assuming he’s healthy, Akin will give the O’s yet another southpaw option in the ’pen. Danny Coulombe and Cionel Perez are locked into spots after each avoided arbitration over the past week, and 25-year-old DL Hall seems likely to join them — if the Orioles don’t give him another look in the rotation. That decision could hinge on any future acquisitions; Elias said on Friday that the Orioles still view Hall as a starter in the long-term but was less clear about the southpaw’s role in the shorter term (X link via Kostka). Hall, a 2017 first-rounder and former top prospect, pitched to a 3.26 ERA with excellent strikeout and walk rates in 19 1/3 innings out of the bullpen in 2023.