With the 2022 World Series in the books, the Orioles have made their first significant move of the offseason by declining their $11 million option for starting pitcher Jordan Lyles, making him a free agent.
Though the 32-year-old right-hander was the popular leader of a young pitching staff and exceeded expectations that came with the $7 million contract he signed last winter, general manager Mike Elias deemed that 2023 salary commitment too rich for a starter whose 4.42 ERA and 1.4 wins above replacement ranked 40th out of 45 qualified pitchers in the majors last season. Baltimore’s incumbent starters beyond John Means — who isn’t likely to return from Tommy John surgery until after the start of the 2023 season — are light on experience and Lyles’ 179 innings and 32 starts led the 2022 club, meaning the pressure is now on Elias to upgrade or at least re-sign the veteran hurler at a cheaper rate.
“The Orioles will remain engaged with Jordan Lyles over the winter and wouldn’t rule out a return,” the team said in a statement, “but at the early juncture of the offseason and the price point, preferred to decline his option.”
Lyles was the richest free-agent signing — a $6 million salary for 2022 with a $1 million buyout — of the Elias era, which began four years ago with a massive rebuilding effort. In other words, until the organization and ownership show a serious commitment to increasing payroll after saving plenty in that department for several years, even justifiable decisions such as declining Lyles’ option will be met with skepticism.
One of baseball’s biggest surprises in 2022 with a remarkable 31-game improvement that kept them in wild-card contention until late September, the Orioles fancy themselves a serious playoff contender moving forward, but adding a frontline starting pitcher via free agency or trade is widely viewed as one of their biggest needs to take the next step in 2023. That perception wasn’t going to change even if Lyles’ option was exercised, but having another established workhorse in the mix wouldn’t be a bad thing to go with the likes of Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, and Tyler Wells and top pitching prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, who are all expected to compete for rotation spots this coming spring.
Lyles now becomes Baltimore’s fourth major league free agent to hit the market, joining second baseman Rougned Odor, catcher Robinson Chirinos, and first baseman Jesus Aguilar.