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Bradish to the IL Makes Starting Pitching a Puzzle to Solve for the Orioles Once Again

The 2024 MLB season barely started for pitchers and catchers in spring training and the Baltimore Orioles’ Opening Day rotation has already suffered a huge blow. It was announced early on Thursday morning that Kyle Bradish, who finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting a season ago, will begin the year on the injured list after it was discovered he has a sprained right ulnar collateral ligament. He took an injection to help and is determined to continue pitching through it in the early goings of spring. It’s a huge blow to the start of the Orioles’ season as Bradish was slated to be the second starter in the rotation behind Corbin Burnes.

When it rains it pours, the Orioles also made it known that John Means is likely a month behind the rest of the rotation as he has been recovering from the left elbow soreness that kept him off the postseason roster. Opening Day is still a possibility for him, but already there are two large question marks for the starting rotation that the O’s will have to figure out now.

Luckily for them, it’s better for things of this nature to come to light on Day 1 of Spring Training as opposed to the last day. The O’s now have a chance to truly assess their roster construction and what course of action they want to take to fill those potential spots in the interim. Do they stay the course with what they already have, or do they go out and get another arm via free agency or trade?

Should the Orioles stay in-house they could simply plug their rotation with Tyler Wells or Cole Irvin. Wells made 20 starts last season and pitched to a 3.64 ERA. His main issue came from a tendency to give up home runs, but he was able to get plenty of strikeouts and had a nice walk rate last season. He’s been bounced between a starting job and a long-relief job, but he could likely be the front-runner for at least one of the open rotation spots for Opening Day. Irvin on the other hand made 24 appearances last season, with half of them coming as a starter. In total, he tossed 77 1/3 innings with a 4.42 ERA. While he turned out to be an adequate starter for the Orioles, he may be better suited as their long-relief option out of the bullpen.

There are a slew of other prospects in camp that could get a look in the rotation for Opening Day including Chayce McDermott, Cade Povich and Justin Armbruester. Bruce Zimmerman also remains an option after recording a 4.73 ERA in seven relief appearances in 2023.

The Orioles are savvy enough that they could just bide their time until Bradish and/or Means are ready to go, but he nature of elbow injuries have a tendency to linger. Should Bradish try to simply pitch through the sprain, he risks further damage that could end up resulting in the need for Tommy John surgery, thus rendering him incapacitated for the entire 2024 season. Means is just a waiting game for him to ramp up his preparation time so as to not risk aggravating his elbow again as he continues to recover from surgery in the past.

History says that the Orioles will play the waiting game. General manager Mike Elias fully expects both pitchers to make a return and isn’t ready to press the panic button, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t keeping a figure on the pulse of the free agent market.

There are plenty of notable arms still available as Spring Training gets underway. Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery headline the remaining options and while the Orioles would surely benefit from either lefty, their method of operation doesn’t necessarily line up with the contracts that both pitchers are aiming for. The Orioles could surprise everyone by signing of those arms, but my gut tells me they would pivot to a pitcher that could opt for a deal similar to the one Craig Kimbrel signed.

Michael Lorenzen appears to be one of those notable arms who isn’t a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he is someone who could settle for a one-year deal with an option for 2025. It would likely cost the Orioles over $10 million AAV for his services, but it could be a valuable option to start the season and stabilize the rotation with some of the options that they currently have. Another possibility would be to pivot to a veteran arm like Johnny Cueto or even Jake Odorizzi, both of whom are aiming to pitch in 2024. Should they want to aim for a reclamation of some kind, Noah Syndergaard is still looking for a home and a chance to rebound after a difficult 2023 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Guardians, but has a history of dominance.

Another low-cost option that could prove a fruitful look is Chase Anderson. After being waived by the Tampa Bay Rays, Anderson ended up spending the majority of the 2023 season with the Colorado Rockies. While the results weren’t spectacular, Anderson did show some durability and even some glimpses of effectiveness as a starter in the difficult confines of Coors Field. If the Orioles need a cheap arm that can just eat some innings while they wait for Bradish and Means to get 100%, Anderson could be a helpful option.

The point of the matter is that the Orioles have plenty of options and their disposal. When you are considered one of the best teams in the American League, there is bound to be no shortage of suitors. With a new ownership group taking over in the near future and the prospect of generational talents joining the team becoming more evident, the puzzle of the starting rotation should have an easy solution in Baltimore.


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