The future looks exciting for the Baltimore Orioles, but they still have some tough decisions ahead

Baltimore won 101 games and an AL East title. Then the Orioles were swept by Texas in the AL Division Series.

Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Yennier Cano (78) walks in the dugout after the Texas Rangers defeated the Orioles in Game 3 of a baseball AL Division Series on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Arlington, Texas.Tony Gutierrez (AP)

Moments after the Baltimore Orioles were eliminated by Texas in the AL Division Series — swept for the first time all year — manager Brandon Hyde couldn’t help but look toward a future that should be very exciting.

“This team going forward, heads up,” he said. “It’s going to be a really good club.”

It was already a really good club this year, when the Orioles finished with the best record in the American League. They did it with what feels like a once-in-a-generation group of young players, all arriving at around the same time, who could keep Baltimore among baseball’s elite for years to come.

However, even a franchise like the Orioles — with so many standouts under team control for a while — still has some tough decisions to make, and that means this coming offseason will be fascinating.

The Orioles won 83 games in 2022, and after that 31-game improvement, there was a sense the team might regress a bit — or at least level off. The players still had a lot to prove this season, and they quieted doubters to the tune of 101 wins and an AL East title.

Now it’s ownership that probably has more to prove. Baltimore still has the No. 29 payroll in the major leagues. If that improves to, say, league average, the Orioles have a chance to add some significant help to this stellar young core. But if the payroll remains where it is or not much higher, the team might be shedding key players sooner than it would like.

Even on a young team, players reach arbitration eligibility and their salaries go up. There’s also pressure to sign franchise cornerstones to big extensions that postpone their free agency, as far off as it may be.

Baltimore has a couple of those cornerstones in catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson. The Orioles also have a more experienced — but still fairly young — trio of outfielders in Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander.

Rookies Grayson Rodriguez, Jordan Westburg, Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad and Joey Ortiz made their major league debuts this year and contributed to varying degrees. And there are still a few more top prospects in the minors, where the team’s Norfolk affiliate won the Triple-A Championship. Infielder Jackson Holliday is baseball’s top-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

So there’s a developing surplus of talent — a good problem to have, no doubt — and the Orioles will need to figure out how to get the most from it. Perhaps that will mean trading prospects for pitching help — or maybe dealing veterans with the expectation that younger players are ready to step up. Baltimore can bring back a very similar roster in 2024 if it chooses, but there may be a better way to build on this division-winning season.

The Orioles lost to the Rangers in large part because their starting pitchers didn’t make it out of the second inning in two of the three games, but Baltimore’s rotation held up well enough to outlast Tampa Bay in the division. Right-handers Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish have obvious potential. Lefty John Means finally made it back from Tommy John surgery, and Dean Kremer was a decent mid-rotation starter.

The Orioles have done a good job developing relievers lately, but now they have to face the likelihood of spending the whole 2024 season without star closer Félix Bautista following his Tommy John surgery.

Baltimore has plenty of time to decide how it wants to navigate all of its roster questions. What’s clear is that the team will be starting from an awfully good position. That’s been obvious for months now.

“We were supposed to win 76 games. Won 101, won the American League East. Really proud of our group. They defied all the odds. Nobody gave us a chance,” Hyde said. “It’s definitely a successful season and these guys are going to be really good going forward.”

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