Building an Orioles wish list, from a starting pitcher to an opening day debut

Building an Orioles wish list, from a starting pitcher to an opening day debut

At the end of the MLB winter meetings earlier this month, Orioles general manager Mike Elias expressed why he was leaving Nashville, Tennessee, satisfied.

“We don’t force this stuff while we’re here, but it’s nice to go home with one of our big wish list items under the tree,” Elias said after signing closer Craig Kimbrel to a one-year, $13 million contract.

If it were up to Orioles fans, though, what other “big wish list items” would be waiting under their trees? With one week until Christmas, here’s what Orioles fans should ask Santa for:

A new lease

Not a “deal.” Not a “memorandum of understanding.” Not an “agreement.”

An actual lease that ties the team to Baltimore for the long term and unlocks the $600 million for Camden Yards improvements.

It might not be possible anymore for the team to get the positive response to an official new lease as they would have earlier this year. But Baltimore fans simply want to stop hearing about it and thinking of the worst-case scenario of the Orioles leaving town — an outcome that isn’t realistic but a belief that persists from a fan base that was spurned by the Colts decades ago.

The next step in this process occurs Monday when two state boards hold special meetings to consider the terms of a tentative agreement, but with the number of false starts in this process, fans will be rolling their eyes until it’s official.

2024 could be a year without such disgust or anxiety for fans if Santa — or, in this case, Chairman and CEO John Angelos and Gov. Wes Moore — officially get this done.

A trade for a starting pitcher

This is a big ask of Kris Kringle, but he’s got what it takes.

The Orioles boast the best farm system in the sport, giving them the potential to outbid any team for the starting pitchers available on the trade market — the Chicago White Sox’s Dylan Cease, Cleveland Guardians’ Shane Bieber, Milwaukee Brewers’ Corbin Burnes and several members of the Seattle Mariners’ rotation.

An “upgrade” for the rotation is the top item on the wishlist Elias spoke of at the winter meetings. Whether that comes via free agency or the trade doesn’t matter, but the Orioles can be more competitive in the latter than the former since starting pitchers are getting $20-plus million per year on the free agent market.

But adding an arm to join Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez atop the rotation would give Baltimore a better chance of repeating as American League East champions in 2024.

Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Adley Rutschman (35) celebrates his home run against the Houston Astros with Anthony Santander (25) during major league baseball at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun

The Orioles’ Adley Rutschman, right, celebrates his home run against the Astros with Anthony Santander. A long-term extension for Rutschman or another young star would be a gift for the fans. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

An extension for … someone

This is the item on the list that everyone knows is probably out of Ol’ Saint Nick’s range, but it can’t hurt to put it down anyway.

The Orioles have a long list of players they could extend, although some would be more challenging than others. From young stars Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Rodriguez to prospects Jackson Holliday and Samuel Basallo to the several established big leaguers on the roster, there are plenty of options to choose from.

A large portion of the fan base is wary about the players they love going elsewhere in free agency because of the team’s reluctance to hand out large contracts. It is impossible to assuage those fears in one offseason, but one extension would be a step in the right direction.

An NL team to sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto

In 2023, the AL East was one of the best divisions in baseball history, and it could be better in 2024 if the Yankees or Blue Jays get their way.

The Yankees already traded for superstar Juan Soto. The Blue Jays were reportedly finalists for Shohei Ohtani but lost out to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, the biggest name on the market is Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Of course, the Blue Jays and Yankees are also reportedly in the running for the superb right-hander, with New York reportedly among the front-runners.

The Orioles won 12 more games than Toronto and 19 more than the Yankees in 2023, but that will be difficult to repeat in 2024 — especially if either adds Yamamoto to their rotation. The Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are among the National League clubs interested in Yamamoto, and Orioles fans should prefer he play on the West Coast in the Senior Circuit than on the East Coast in the Junior Circuit.

Jackson Holliday to make opening day roster

An MLB debut is always a special moment for the player, but it can sometimes be anticlimactic.

In 2023, six Orioles made their MLB debuts. The only one that came with the player starting the game at Camden Yards was Jordan Westburg in late June. Westburg wasn’t the flashiest prospect in the system, but the excitement from fans was palpable — evidenced by the “Westy” chants that broke out when he stepped to the plate.

Of course, not every debut can be that way. Rodriguez, Joey Ortiz and Colton Cowser made theirs on the road because the team needed them in those moments. Heston Kjerstad’s was in a pinch-hit opportunity at Camden Yards after his September call-up.

But if it were up to the fans, Holiday’s MLB debut would be a celebration the way Rutschman’s was in May 2022. It would just be a cherry on top for it to come March 28 in front of a packed house at Oriole Park.

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