The Baltimore Orioles had a great 2023 season. Mike Elias and company have put together a franchise that should be successful for years to come, but not every move is a successful one. The O's brought in free agents, made a few trades before and during the season, and signed a few players off waivers. Now that the Orioles season is over we can look back and reflect on how the moves that brought big contributors to Birdland paid off.
The first big move of the past off-season was to sign RHP Kyle Gibson. Just two years removed from an all-star appearance, Gibson was brought in to be a veteran leader to a young group of pitchers with tremendous potential. He may not have blown many people away with his stats, but Gibson was everything the Orioles had hoped for and more.
He led the team by far in innings pitched, was tied for third in the American League with a career best 15 wins and was a clear leader in the clubhouse. He went above and beyond by not only being a leader in the clubhouse, but a leader in the community. Gibson received his third Roberto Clemente award nomination this season and even though he did not win the award, it does not take anything away from the enormous impact he's had on every community he's been in.
Overall grade: A
Like Gibson, Adam Frazier was two years removed from an all-star appearance and brought in to help give the Orioles infield prospects develop. Frazier was a topic for debate among O's fans all season long as everyone seemed to either love him or hate him.
He was inconsistent during the season but he either set or tied career highs in home runs, RBI's and stolen bases, and his .987 fielding percentage shows that he was better defensively than people give him credit for. Whether you loved him or hated him, there's no denying that he was responsible for several big moments both offensively and defensively this season and his versatility in the outfield gave him added value.
Overall grade: B-
James McCann came to the Orioles as part of a trade with the New York Mets. The O's got McCann for Luis De La Cruz, who had spent the past two seasons in the DSL, and the Mets agreed to pay $19 of the $24 Million remaining on McCann's contract. McCann went on to have a very strong season behind the plate, had great pitch framing and led the league in percentage of potential base stealers thrown out. Offensively he was streaky, but he did put together one torrid stretch in August.
McCann allowed the Birds to rest or DH Adley Rutschman as much as they wanted and made an argument for himself as the best backup catcher in the game. His ability to work with the young pitching staff was priceless and for the cost of a DSL prospect and just over 20% of his salary, the Orioles got incredible value out of McCann. He has another year under contract remaining and he's going to have to step it up in 2024 if he wants to hold off Samuel Basallo.
Overall grade: A+
In early January the Orioles made a seemingly insignificant trade sending cash to the Kansas City Royals for Ryan O'Hearn. After starting the season in Norfolk, O'Hearn was called up and became a very valuable hitter for the O's spending much of his time in the heart of the order. O'Hearn became a regular starter against righties and was often used as a pinch hitter in games he didn't start.
Ryan had by far his best season as a major leaguer setting or tying career highs in almost every major offensive category including the first five stolen bases of his career. On top of being half of the greatest two Ryan's to ever platoon with each other at first base (the other being Ryan Mountcastle), O'Hearn was also a solid outfield performer allowing Manager Brandon Hyde to put even more left handed hitters in the lineup against righties. O'Hearn has another year under contract and could be the steal of the year across all of baseball.
Overall grade: A+
After signing Gibson the O's front office was still looking to sure up the starting rotation. The Orioles traded for LHP Cole Irvin from the Oakland Athletics. Irvin was supposed to shore up the end of the starting rotation but struggled mightily early on and was sent to the minors after only three starts. He made his way back to Baltimore by the end of May but was used out of the bullpen as much as he was a starter.
Irvin did become a serviceable bullpen arm late in the season but that was far from the role he was brought in for. To make matters worse, the INF prospect the Orioles traded to Oakland, Darell Hernaiz, had a great year in the Athletics farm system and should break into the majors next season.
The O's are loaded with infield prospects and they could afford to take the risk in this trade, but unless RHP Kyle Virbitsky, who also came over with Irvin and spent the season with the Aberdeen IronBirds turns into a star, this trade was a clear loss.
Overall grade: D+
Another quiet acquisition from the off-season was that of LHP Danny Coulombe. The Birds got Coulombe from the Minnesota Twins for cash considerations, and he turned into a great purchase. Coulombe was very effective and used regularly in high leverage situations late on ball games. He was just one out shy of matching his career high in innings pitched and set or tied his career best in ERA, FIP, WHIP and K/9.
Coulombe also picked up his first two career saves. As a middle reliever he never got much spotlight but his contributions to the team did not go unnoticed by the fans. Coulombe is arbitration eligible this season and should be in line for a pay raise before coming back to Baltimore to help the O's improve upon their success in 2024.
Overall grade: B+
The Orioles were relatively quiet at the trade deadline but they did make another trade with the Athletics, this time for RHP Shintaro Fujinami. The fireballer had come over from Japan with an incredible arm but he lacked control. Fujinami began the season in the starting rotation but was relegated to the bullpen and eventually shipped to Baltimore.
Fujinami had some very good outings for the Orioles and also picked up his first two career saves, but he also had some very bad outings. When he has control of his pitches, Fujinami is almost unhittable, but when he can't find the strike zone he's unplayable.
The biggest problem is that on the nights Fujinami doesn't have his best command, he can't seem to find a way to work through it. Fujinami will enter free agency after the World Series. The O's didn't give up much to get him the first time and they may be willing to take a chance on him again.
Overall grade: C+
Looking to shore up a starting rotation that was showing signs of fatigue, the Orioles traded for RHP Jack Flaherty from the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline. After having a down season in St. Louis, Flaherty came to Baltimore and pitched very well in his first game for his new team earning a win. Unfortunately, that was his only win for the Birds and things went downhill from there.
Flaherty pitched poorly in his starts and was eventually relegated to the bullpen at the end of the season. The salt in this wound came when the Orioles were shut out by LHP Drew Rom (who was traded to the Cardinals for Flaherty) at Camden Yards.
Overall grade: D
The best mid-season move the Orioles made was claiming RHP Jacob Webb off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels. The O's saw the potential in Webb and after they signed him, they put him to use. A lot. Webb appeared in 25 games in less than two months for the Orioles and gave a tired bullpen some much needed relief.
Webb was very reliable out of the Birds bullpen and played a big part in their run to claim the AL East title. Webb has three more years of team control left on his control and isn't arbitration eligible until next off-season. This move may not have completely made up for the deadline trades, but it was a big boost.
Overall grade: A
The front office in Baltimore has made a lot more good moves than bad and fans should be very happy. There is a big list of young prospects in Orioles organization that look to be major league ready or close to it. The Birds had a ton of success in 2023 and should only be getting better, but every front office looks for ways to improve even more. I would not expect Elias to make any major moves, but he seems to always have something up his sleeve. This off-season should be even more exciting than the last.