Analyzing how the 2024 Orioles roster was built from Dan Duquette to Mike Elias

From homegrown talent to waiver claims, the Orioles' front office quietly built a stacked team over the past 10 years.
Philadelphia Phillies v Baltimore Orioles
Philadelphia Phillies v Baltimore Orioles / Greg Fiume/GettyImages

The Baltimore Orioles were 52-110 (.321) in 2021, tied for the worst record in baseball. Just two seasons later, they were 101-61 (.623) — good for the second-best record in baseball. They have continued their success this season, boasting a 49-26 (.662) record that puts them at third-best in the league and just a half-game behind the Yankees in the AL East.

The Orioles' drastic and sudden shift from a 100-loss to a 100-win ball club begs an obvious question: how was this team built?

The Orioles current 26-man roster is made up of 11 homegrown players, seven acquired via trade, five claimed off waivers, two free agents, one picked up from the Rule 5 Draft.

The Orioles rank first in the number of players claimed off waivers, fifth in homegrown players, 16th in players acquired via trade, and 30th in players acquired via free agency.

Additionally, the Orioles total payroll sits at just above $100 million, which is the sixth-lowest in MLB. So, the Orioles front office has managed to construct a winning roster without relying on big free agents and without spending a ton of money.

Moving deeper into their roster, the Orioles with the top three OPS mark this season were all drafted: shortstop Gunnar Henderson in 2019 (Round 2, Pick 42), catcher Adley Rutschman in 2019 (Round 1, Pick 1), and third basemen Jordan Westburg in 2020 (Round 1, Pick 30).

And even beyond that trio of studs, the Orioles drafted left fielder Colton Cowser in 2021 (Round 1, Pick 5) and first basemen Ryan Mountcastle in 2015 (Round 1, Pick 36), both of whom sport an OPS above .750 this season. They also picked up right fielder Anthony Santander (.800 OPS) in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft and traded for DH Ryan O'Hearn in 2023 (.809 OPS).

The Orioles have acquired zero position players via free agency. No other team in baseball can say that.

Moving to their pitching, the Orioles picked up Corbin Burnes (2.14 ERA) and Cole Irvin (3.03 ERA) via trade; drafted Grayson Rodriguez (3.20 ERA) in 2018 (Round 1, Pick 11); and signed Albert Suarez (1.61 ERA) as a free agent. They also traded for injured starters Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer, and drafted John Means in 2014 (Round 11) — all of whom have given the Orioles good innings over the last few seasons. Other than Suarez, their rotation was entirely built with trades and draft picks.

Finally, they acquired relievers Danny Coulombe, Yennier Cano, and Dillon Tate via trade, picked up Cionel Perez and Jacob Webb off waivers, and drafted Keegan Akin. They also signed injured closer Felix Bautista and current closer Craig Kimbrel in free agency. But, outside of Kimbrel, their 3.07 bullpen ERA this season — which ranks second in baseball — was built on smart trades, waiver pickups, and a draft pick.

Their five waiver pickups also stand out, as the next closest team has three players from waivers and 12 teams have none. Waiver pickup Jacob Webb has pitched to a 1.91 ERA out of the 'pen this year, Jorge Mateo has swiped 30+ bases twice as an Oriole, and relievers Cionel Perez and Bryan Baker have also provided some valuable innings over the last few seasons.

And the Orioles, despite aleady being legitimate contenders, somehow have even more homegrown talent on the way. They have four players in the top 30 MLB prospects, including the No. 1 prospect in Jackson Holiday.

What makes all of this even more impressive is that winning teams generally have to spend a lot of money. And yet, among the top 10 teams in baseball right now, eight have higher payrolls than the Orioles; only the Guardians payroll is a fraction lower than the Orioles.

It becomes clear that this Orioles team was strategically and intelligently constructed. A lot of this credit goes to the Orioles GM Mike Elias, who started in 2018 and was GM for both the 100-loss and 100-win Orioles. Elias, alongside his scouting, player development, and baseball analytics teams, has made many impressive moves. Perhaps most brilliant are his draft picks.

Oftentimes, draft picks are considered successful even if the players are able to survive in the big leagues; Elias has already drafted three potential superstars in Henderson, Rutschman, and Westburg. Elias and his team are just better at scouting and drafting talent than other teams — especially considering that Henderson was taken 42nd overall and is tied with Aaron Judge for the highest WAR in baseball this season.

It is also important to recognize former Orioles GM Dan Duquette, who served as GM from 2011-2018. While the Orioles struggled during his tenure, Duquette drafted Hays, Mountcastle, Mullins and Rodriguez, picked up Santander in the Rule 5 Draft, traded for Kremer, and signed Bautista. Duquette may have not experienced much winning in his time, but he laid the groundwork for this team, and we still see many of the players he brought in contributing today.

The Orioles, unlike many teams right now, did not just buy the best players on the market. Duquette, Elias and their respective teams of analysts, scouts, statisticians, and others made careful, astute, and brilliant baseball decisions that crafted this roster — one that took close to 10 seasons to complete, including many losing efforts.

It's a roster that has players drafted as early as 2015 and as recent as 2021. And it is a roster that shows there is always some luck involved in building a baseball team, but it's the strategy and approach that matter most.