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2021 Record: 52-110
Last place, AL East
Team ERA: 5.84 (30th in MLB)
Team OPS: .705 (22nd in MLB)
What Went Right
Cedric Mullins, who had to be demoted to Triple-A and later Double-A in 2019, was one of the league’s best players, hitting .291/.360/.518 and turning in the first 30 HR-30 SB season in Orioles history. Ryan Mountcastle shook off an ugly start to finish with 33 homers and 89 RBI, which should get him some AL Rookie of the Year votes. Austin Hays, who took a backseat because of Mullins’ terrific start, finished quite strong and put together a 3 WAR season to lock down an outfield spot next year. That’s a solid offensive core for the Orioles, especially since none will be older than 27 next year.
What Went Wrong
The Orioles’ 5.84 ERA wasn’t just the worst in the league; it was the worst any team has posted since the 1999 Rockies came in at 6.01. And offense was down this year. John Means was pretty good again, but he gave up 30 homers in 146 2/3 innings. Of the 11 pitches to start multiple games for Baltimore, eight finished with ERAs over 6.00. Matt Harvey, who led the team with 28 starts, came in at 6.27. On offense, the biggest disappointment was Anthony Santander. He was exceptional in 37 games before getting hurt in 2020, but he again battled injuries this year and finished at .241/.286/.433 in 110 games.
** When will it be Adley Rutschman time? The first overall pick in the 2019 draft has probably been the team’s best option behind the plate since the summer, but he was never a candidate for a callup. He finished up at .285/.396/.503 with 23 homers in 539 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A this season. One imagines the Orioles will keep him in the minors for the first few weeks of next year, unless something changes in the CBA that alters free agency rules. If there’s nothing to be gained from holding him back initially, then he should start in Opening Day and serve as a top-10 fantasy catcher as a rookie.
** Can Mullins do it again is the other big question here, particularly since he’ll probably be a second-round pick in many leagues next year. Statcast thinks he played somewhat over his head this year; it gave him an xBA of .269 and a xSLG of .442 because of his middling exit velocity. That’s not too bad, though. His strikeout rate is better than average, and he hits the ball in the air a lot while playing half of his games in a ballpark that rewards it. He should also remain an effective basestealer. A collapse doesn’t seem likely.
** Trey Mancini’s return from a cancer was a feel-good story no matter how he performed on the field, but he struggled over the final four months of the season, hitting .243/.312/.387 in his final 95 games. A year ago, the Orioles non-tendered Renato Nunez rather than pay him $3 million. Mancini, who is looking at making around $7 million in arbitration, probably isn’t at risk of that right now, but as a 30-year-old with limited defensive value and a career 114 OPS+, he’d be in C.J. Cron territory if he weren’t so popular with the organization and its fans.
** To no one’s surprise, Maine was the only Orioles pitcher to prove of much use in fantasy leagues this year. Even in the bullpen, no one ended up with more than eight saves. The big hope for next year is that Grayson Rodriguez, arguably the game’s top pitching prospect, shows up in May and excels much like he has in the minors. In truth, even though he’s likely to open up in Triple-A, he’s still probably the Orioles’ top ranked pitcher for 2022 right now. One caveat is that, since he threw just 103 innings this year, he’s going to top out next season at around 130-140 innings, some of which will probably come in the minors.
** He certainly didn’t get the same kind of attention as Akil Baddoo or Garrett Whitlock, but Tyler Wells was another very successful get in last winter’s Rule 5 draft, finishing with a 4.11 ERA and a 65/12 KK/BB ratio in 57 innings out of the pen. He was even closing in September before missing the last week with shoulder inflammation. The Orioles were looking at moving him into the rotation over the summer before his arm woes first came into play. He deserves a shot at the rotation, but health is a question mark and a big part of why the Twins didn’t add him to their 40-man roster after the 2020 season. It might be safer for the Orioles to leave him in the pen and see if he can turn into their long-term closer.
Key Free Agents: Ummm, does Matt Harvey qualify as key?
Team Needs: After completely bailing on four seasons in a row, it’s time for the Orioles to start trying again. However, they’re so far away in the pitching department that it makes little sense to go all in now. Ideally, they’d add a couple of youngish free agent starters, perhaps a surer thing like former Orioles prospect Eduardo Rodriguez or Jon Gray and then more of a flier. They’re surely not going to contend before 2023 -- and even that seems a tad optimistic -- but ceasing to be an embarrassment if a necessary first step on the road back.