Orioles’ good vibes obscuring big loss that will loom over 2024 season

The O's will be missing a big piece of their bullpen in 2024.
Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Felix Bautista (74)
Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Felix Bautista (74) / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The excitement surrounding the 2024 Baltimore Orioles is palpable. The entire Baltimore community can feel it. After surging to the top of the AL East standings in 2023 and gaining national notoriety for the team's massive amount of burgeoning stars, the Orioles franchise is ready to prove that they have staying power.

Adley Rutschman, Jackson Holliday and Gunnar Henderson are spearheading the youth movement in Baltimore. With the Boston Red Sox doing virtually nothing this offseason, the New York Yankees concerned about the health of their top stars, and the Toronto Blue Jays whiffing on the best free agents available, the O's look like the class of the AL East.

But a key member of the Orioles bullpen will be absent in 2024, and not enough fans are talking about how monumental the loss will be in reality. Last August, Felix Bautista landed on the injured list with a UCL injury. Just before the playoffs began last season, it was announced that the right-hander would be undergoing Tommy John surgery, essentially wiping out any chance of Bautista pitching in the postseason and the 2024 season.

Orioles’ good vibes obscuring big loss that will loom over 2024 season

It's hard to overstate just how important Bautista was to the success of last year's team, and how much the 2024 version of the Orioles will miss their 29-year-old hurler. Despite all the top talent Orioles fans saw in 2023, Bautista ranked fourth in bWAR (3.0).

Bautista was a workhorse, appearing in 56 games out of the Baltimore bullpen and converting 33 of 39 save attempts. Bautista was 8-2 with a sparkling 1.48 ERA, 1.88 FIP, and 110 punchouts in 61 innings work last season.

Instead of Bautista, the Orioles will be turning to (gulp) Craig Kimbrel as the team's closer in 2024. Kimbrel had a successful regular season in 2023 with a 33.8% strikeout rate and 3.26 ERA. But Kimbrel's postseason results were not good.

The right-hander imploded for the Philadelphia Phillies during the NLCS, allowing four earned runs on five hits while walking four of the 18 batters he faced. Frankly, it's rather surprising that Kimbrel was even able to secure the type of contract he did this offseason.

If his spring is any indication of how the 2024 season is going to go, Orioles fans may want a refund. Kimbrel has allowed five runs on seven hits in three appearances this spring, including two home runs. It's just spring training, but the 36-year-old has looked terrible in the Grapefruit League thus far.

Those young Orioles hitters we talked about earlier might have to score more runs than they think. No lead is safe, especially if Kimbrel is on the mound in the ninth inning. If you doubt that, just go have a chat with a Phillies fan.