The Orioles are moving on from Jordan Lyles, at least for now.
The Orioles signed Lyles, now 32, to a one-year, $7 million deal in March 2022 with a team option for $11M. The deal was agreed to back in December 2021, but due to the MLB work stoppage, the Orioles were unable to make the deal official until March. The front office valued Lyles’ above-average spin rates and ability to eat innings for a club that was lacking proven starting pitching depth entering 2022.
The Lyles signing raised a few eyebrows among Orioles fans, marking the highest dollar amount they had committed to a pitcher since inking veteran Alex Cobb to a four-year, $57 million contract in 2018. Nevertheless, Lyles pitched decently for the Orioles, going 12-11 with a 4.42 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 32 starts for the Orioles. He was also worth 1 Win Above Replacement (WAR), his highest value since recording 1.8 WAR with the Brewers in 2019. Lyles was extremely dependable for the big league club, missing only one start all year due to a stomach virus.
However, at least for now, the Orioles have decided to let Lyles test the free agent market. While Lyles pitched respectably for Baltimore, this move makes sense, as the team has greater aspirations this offseason than it did last offseason, when it was merely looking for a veteran innings eater to stabilize the rotation. “I think we view this as a time to hopefully make a few Major League acquisitions that will increase our chances of making the playoffs that we narrowly missed out on. We think the team is ready for that,” Elias said earlier on Wednesday.
With a strong bullpen returning most of its pitchers in 2023, the Orioles primary focus this offseason should be on adding talent to an improving starting rotation. The free agent market contains several accomplished starting pitchers, such as future Hall-of-Famer Justin Verlander, left-hander Carlos Rodon, and oft-injured but effective Jacob deGrom. The “second tier” of free agent pitchers, which includes right handers Chris Bassitt and Nathan Eovaldi and left-hander Martin Perez, provides solid options for the O’s as well. Moreover, the Orioles have the assets to pursue a trade for a young, controllable starter, such as Miami’s Pablo Lopez or even Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes.
With so many options available, it is understandable that the O’s would pass on Jordan Lyles’ $11M option. In addition, some regression is possible for Lyles, who has a career 5.10 ERA and posted a 5.15 ERA with the Rangers in 2021.
The Orioles have not closed the door on a reunion with Lyles. However, given the team’s playoff aspirations, the market of intriguing starting pitchers available this offseason, and Mike Elias’s declaration that “it’s liftoff from here” for this team, the decision to decline Lyles’ option is sensible. Hopefully, it is the first of many good decisions the Orioles will make this offseason as they seek to improve their roster.