BY KEVIN KERNAN
A seismic shift is happening in the AL East. And it is about time.
The young, talented and hungry Orioles, who won the division last season, appear to be playing for keeps over the long haul. They’ve improved as a team because they consistently finished at the bottom or near the bottom of the standings and drafted well under baseball boss Mike Elias.
But that is only step one.
Now the Orioles will soon have ownership that is not afraid to spend money.
After a great regular season followed by a disappointing postseason, these young Orioles needed a lift going into Sarasota and spring training at Ed Smith Stadium and they got one by acquiring former NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes from the Brewers.
Good for the Orioles. Good for the Orioles fans, some of the most devoted fans in baseball.
Competition is what it is all about.
To me, the first real shot of the new AL East war was fired this week when the Orioles traded for the Milwaukee ace, a starting pitcher the Yankees wanted to land. Yes, Yankee fans have heard that before many times and faster than you can say “Clint Frazier’’ the Yankees will say once again they didn’t want to deplete their farm system
It’s a new time, a new game in Baltimore at Camden Yards.
It’s a new time, a new game in Baltimore at Camden Yards.
Jim Palmer pitched 19 years and won 268 games with a 2.86 ERA. He also won World Series games in three different decades as his Oriole teams won three World Series. Palmer won three Cy Young awards.
Again, what a resource.
Cal Ripken Jr played 3,001 games from 1981 to 2001 and also played in 28 postseason games and won one World Series. He was a 19-time All-Star and won two MVPs.
The Baltimore experience of these two superstars is incredible and should be put to good use now that the Orioles are a factor again in the baseball world and seem to have ownership that is willing to spend money and listen to Hall of Famers.
“You have to keep adding to the puzzle,’’ our baseball man said of bringing in former stars like Ripken and Palmer to help offer guidance. “You are a better team now so you are not going to get the overall No. 1 pick every year.’’
And that is a huge change for the Orioles.
Catcher Adley Rutschman was the first pick of the 2019 draft and is a difference maker, a player to build a team around and Mike Elias & Co. made the right choice. Gunner Henderson was a second round pick of the same draft, shortstop Jackson Holliday was the first pick of the 2022 draft and will soon be in Camden Yards. Pitcher Grayson Rodriguez was a first round pick, 11th overall of the 2018 draft by former GM Dan Duquette. The Orioles have had a top five pick in each of the last four drafts. Things will be different now in the draft with last year’s success, but the team must continue to improve.
Can the Orioles win the AL East again? Why not? Adding Burnes is a huge move and already has the Yankees talking.
Reality hit home with that move by the Orioles because Aaron Boone told reporters on Saturday that the Orioles trading for Burnes is a big deal. “That could be a little bit of a problem,’’ Boone admitted.
This 2024 version of Aaron Boone seems a little more rooted in reality than Kumbaya Boone of the recent past.
As last season showed the Yankees have a serious “Orioles problem.’’ Here is a short refresher course.
The Orioles won the most games in the AL, going 101-61. The Rays finished second with 99 wins, then came the Blue Jays with 89 victories, followed by the mediocre Yankees with 82 wins and then the reset Red Sox in dead last in the AL East with 78 Ws.
The Yankees finished a full 19 games behind the Orioles, again, 19 games, and out of the playoffs. That is embarrassing. The Yankees also lost the season series.
Because the Yankees traded for Juan Soto, in Soto’s walk year, they should be getting the good Juan Soto, the Yankees were feeling pretty good about themselves, but the Burnes acquisition drops the Yankees down a peg in a year when the heat is on Brian Cashman and Boone.
Certainly the Yankees will add another starting pitching piece, they have to, but it is not going to be Corbin Burnes. They have added Marcus Stroman, a competitor. Carlos Rodon (6.85 ERA) was a huge disappointment last year.
The Yankees also have not been able to put together the bullpen pieces they desired this off-season but bullpens are so volatile who knows how the bullpen will shake out. The Orioles lost their closer Felix Bautista to Tommy John surgery so they signed Craig Kimbrel, a huge gamble, and he is nothing close to the closer he once was but by adding Burnes, who should go deep into his starts, the Orioles bullpen got better.
Again, who knows what you are going to get with Kimbrel? Especially in a tight game in Yankee Stadium when all the pressure is on Kimbrel.
All in all, it has been an extremely slow off-season because Scott Boras is pushing a lot of buttons, but teams are getting to the point now where they can be defined heading into spring training. That’s why here at The Story we have been waiting for chips to fall into place and the Burnes chip is a big one, a deal Mike Elias has been working on for months. My guess is once the ownership change became obvious, Elias found any way he could to close that deal.
These are no longer the Angelos Orioles. It’s a different game in Charm City. This could be a Charmed team for years to come.
The new Orioles ownership chip is a big one. Getting Cal Ripken Jr. really involved is a big deal. Heck, you have to hope that the Brand New Orioles also bring Billy Ripken into the fold to deal in baseball realities because Billy is as tough as they come.
If all that is the case, then the Orioles are a bit like the World Champion Texas Rangers, who had the good sense to put a baseball man in charge of the team in Chris Young and then Young put the best manager out there, a veteran baseball man in Bruce Bochy, in charge of the team, in other words, real leadership at the top.
Leadership is again moving to the forefront in sports. It works in the NFL and it works in MLB. Bochy is a leader. Andy Reid is a leader. Kyle Shanahan is a leader. Too many teams continue to go the passive route with a front office that is a collaborative effort with the manager instead of someone taking charge. The winning teams take charge.
The Orioles have a solid leader in manager Brandon Hyde. There is some old school toughness to Hyde that I really like. He was a member of Jack McKeon’s Marlins staff way back in 2011 so he learned the ropes from a manager who actually managed. Hyde has paid his dues and it will be interesting to see what he learned from the playoff ousting last year when the Orioles were swept away in the ALDS in three games, being outscored by the Rangers 21-11.
Maybe they just ran into a hot team. Or maybe they were not ready for the spotlight. Maybe it was the type of growing pains a young, talented team must go through to achieve October success.
Postseason baseball is a lot different than regular season baseball. In the last two games the Orioles pitchers surrendered 18 runs to the Rangers, yes, having Corbin Burnes around should make a big difference. The Orioles need to hang around the postseason a little longer than three games and their trademark National Anthem scream by their fans: “Oh!!!! Say Can You See.’’
Ravens fans do the same cheer and those Ravens fans were also hit hard by the loss to the Chiefs. The Orioles got the home field advantage in the postseason but did not make the most of it against the Rangers.
I still believe with such a deep left field wall at Camden Yards that was pushed back for the 2022 season, that is a major issue for the young Orioles hitters. The Blue Jays were the only AL East team to hit fewer home runs at home last season than the Orioles and it was close, 86 by the Orioles at Camden Yards, 85 by the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
The Orioles hit five points less at at home, .250, than on the road, .255. Their ERA at home was 3.81, on the road it was 3.97. With so many young players doing well last year, it will be interesting to see if the Orioles young players stumble a bit this season or if they continue to progress. Teams will not pitch them the same as last year.
“The young pitchers still have to establish themselves,’’ the evaluator said. “And Craig Kimbrel isn’t exactly an end of the game, be all and end all. The Phillies learned that last year, so there is work to be done.’’
Jim Palmer praised the trade for Burnes, noting on X: “Anytime you can get a 29-year-old former Cy Young winner that is a No. 1 starter, for at least a year, you do it. Kudos to Mike Elias for making the trade. Tough to lose DL Hall but replacing relievers easier than acquiring a starter. #brilliant move.’’
Burnes essentially replaces Kyle Gibson.
The Orioles showed last year that the young talent was for real, now they have established they expect to take a step forward in 2024.
Game on, AL East.