Burning Questions About What the Orioles Might Look Like One Year from Today

The 2022 All Star Game has come and gone and now it’s time to look ahead to the second half of the baseball season.

Here in Birdland – thanks to a remarkably hot stretch in the weeks leading up to the All Star break – that second half figures to be far more interesting than it’s been in several years.

We have a team with a .500 record…a tremendously improved bullpen…a lineup with fewer holes than we’ve had in years…a stellar defensive outfield…and rookie Adley Rutschman behind the plate.

Not to mention the fact that we might get a long look at prospects like DL Hall, Kyle Stowers and Terrin Vavra at Camden Yards as well.

(And in case you’re wondering, yes…I’m deliberately avoiding the topic of a Trey Mancini trade. If I ignore it long enough, it might go away, right?)

With the team just 3.5 games out of a wild card spot, it’s fun to imagine a postseason push over the next two months.

But let’s look a little further out on the horizon. Let’s look ahead at what the Orioles might look like one year from now – at the 2023 All Star break.

With that in mind, here are three questions to ponder about what the 2023 Orioles might look like at this point next year:

Question #1: Will Adley Rutschman represent the Orioles at the 2023 MLB All Star Game in Seattle?

After a slow-ish start (8 for his first 57 — .140 batting average) to his major league career, Adley Rutschman has been just as good as advertised for the Birds over the past several weeks.

He’s hitting .227/.340/.455 in the month of July and 21 of his 36 base hits have been for extra bases. His at-bats have been impressive, as he clearly likes to see a lot of pitches and his 17 walks show that he has a firm grasp of the strike zone.

Defensively, pitchers are raving about his game calling and framing skills, and his presence in Baltimore has no doubt played a role in the team’s improved performance since his debut on May 21.

So the question is…will he be among the American League catchers at the All Star Game next season?

One thing he has going for him is name recognition. As the former first overall draft pick – and the consensus #1 prospect for a while – his name was mentioned frequently when media members would discuss the Orioles’ future. So he should do well in the popularity contest that is MLB All Star voting.

The leading A.L. vote getter at catcher this season was Toronto’s Alejandro Kirk. And at 23 years old, Kirk could become a fixture – especially if he continues to hit as well as he did in the first half of 2022 (.315-11-37.)

Beyond that, his backup on the roster was Jose Trevino of the Yankees – a 29-year-old hitting .251 with 7 home runs and 27 RBI in 63 games with New York this season.

And while Trevino provided some interesting moments while mic’d up with teammate Nestor Cortes on the Fox broadcast, it seems likely that Rutschman will elevate to one of the top two spots in the league by this time next season.

Prediction: Rutschman makes the 2023 A.L. All Star team, but as a reserve…not as a starter.

Question #2: What will the team’s starting rotation look like?

At this point, the only name I would consider to be a certainty for the O’s rotation next July would be Tyler Wells.

Wells, the former Rule 5 pick, has been outstanding this season in his transition to the rotation, posting a 7-5 record with a 3.38 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 18 starts. He’s holding opponents to a .224 batting average and has pitched five or more innings in eight of his last ten starts.

Beyond that, however, are some question marks.

Will Jordan Lyles still be an Oriole this time next year? If so, he’s in.

Will John Means be recovered from his Tommy John surgery by July 2023? If so, then he’s in as well.

How about Grayson Rodriguez? It seems likely that he will be recovered from his lat injury by spring training – if not before the end of this season. And as we all know, he was on the verge of promotion to Baltimore on the night he suffered his injury.

Dean Kremer has been a pleasant surprise as well with a 3-1 record and 2.59 ERA in eight starts this season. Will he continue to perform at that level?

What will Kyle Bradish look like once he returns from the injured list? He showed flashes of great potential as well as frustrating inconsistency before shoulder inflammation put his season on pause.

Can Bruce Zimmerman bounce back from his struggles and regain that changeup he had in the early weeks of the 2022 season?

What about DL Hall? He seems to be on his way to Baltimore shortly as he is now striking out nearly 50% of the batters he’s facing at Triple-A Norfolk.

A rotation that includes Means, Wells, Lyles, Rodriguez and Hall would seem to leave the others (Kremer, Bradish, Zimmerman, Austin Voth and Spenser Watkins) on the outside looking in.

But let’s go beyond that…if the Orioles and GM Mike Elias feel that the team is close to contention, might this be an offseason where they look to add pitching?

Prediction: The July 2023 Orioles rotation will include Wells, Rodriguez, Hall, one of Kremer or Bradish…and a new pitcher acquired in an off-season trade. Means will be eased back into the rotation by July, but will be on a strict innings limit for most of 2023.

Question #3: Will the Orioles have signed a long-term lease extension to remain in Baltimore?

This is the question that will continue to hang over the franchise like a dark cloud until it’s resolved.

The recent lawsuit filed by Louis Angelos brought to light a nasty family dispute, which no doubt raised some concerns among MLB officials about the future of this ownership group.

Those concerns were reportedly addressed at the recent owners’ meetings in New York, however, although there’s no doubt that additional legal filings and news leaks could bring further embarrassment to the club.

But none of that is what’s most important to Orioles fans.

What is most important – particularly for those of us old enough to remember the way we felt on the morning of March 29, 1984 when we woke up to the news that our beloved Baltimore Colts had snuck out of town in the middle of the night – is that the team remains the Baltimore Orioles.

There’s no doubt that John Angelos has been clear in his public statements that he does not intend to move the team. And he has stated that he’s looking for a true partnership with the city and state regarding the future of Camden Yards.

The only problem is…those are just statements. No lease extension has been signed.

The most recent extension – a two-year extension – is set to expire at the end of 2023. That extension came with a team option for a five-year extension, which would keep the club in Baltimore through 2028, but that option must be exercised by February 1, 2023.

When the most recent short-term extension was announced, it was billed as a way to buy time for the more serious negotiations to move forward on a longer-term lease. And since that time, the state of Maryland has promised the team up to $600 million worth of enhancements to the ballpark (contingent upon a long-term lease extension.)

So the money is there for the ballpark upgrades. I can’t imagine the team – under current ownership – attempting to extract even more concessions from the state.

The only thing that remains is a signature on a new lease. Because with the potential for a sale of the club at any time – as was mentioned in the lawsuit filed by Louis Angelos – things could become unpredictable in a hurry.

Assurances and proclamations are nice. But as we learned 38 years ago, they’re no substitute for a long-term agreement.

Prediction: The Orioles will execute the five-year extension option before February 1 to keep their options open in the event a sale is more aggressively pursued.

Of course, there are plenty of other questions about what the O’s could look like one year from now. And those are worth examining as well…but in the interest of not posting 10,000 words at a time, we’ll hit those in a lightning-round format:

Question: Where will Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg be playing next July?

Prediction: Henderson will be at shortstop in Baltimore, with Westburg just a few feet away from him at third. (Although neither will be on the Opening Day roster as their service time will be manipulated next spring.)

Question: Will the Orioles be in one of the top wild card spots at the break next year?

Prediction: I think they’ll be within a game or two of the final wild card spot…but not quite improved enough to vault to the top of the wild card or division standings.

Question: Who will be playing right field for the Orioles in July 2023?

Prediction: Since I’ve already gone on record as saying the O’s will acquire a new starting pitcher by next season, I’ll also predict that they trade Anthony Santander to help get that pitcher, opening right field up for Kyle Stowers.

Question: Where will 2022 #1 overall pick Jackson Holliday be playing next summer?

Prediction: The Orioles don’t have much history with high level high school picks to go on here – other than Henderson – so it’s tough to say. I can’t imagine them rushing Holliday along but I do see him starting 2023 at Delmarva. My guess is that he finishes 2023 in Aberdeen, but the promotion doesn’t come until after the MLB All Star break – so he’ll still be in Delmarva this time next season.

Question: Who is the Orioles closer next July?

Prediction: Jorge Lopez has been such a great story in 2022 that I very much want to say it will be Lopez. But this front office is all about extracting the most value from its assets, which leads me to believe Lopez will be traded before the end of this season. That would make Felix Bautista the front-runner to take over the job and I say he keeps it next year.

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