Getty Images

The Baltimore Orioles were one of the biggest surprises of the 2023 season, arriving a year earlier than expected to win 101 games and their first division title since 2014. The good vibes didn't last for long once October got underway. Rather, the Orioles were swept out of the playoffs by the eventual World Series champion Texas Rangers.

The Orioles didn't follow up their breakout season with the most eventful winter. There were two massive developments, however: the first being the trade that saw them acquire ace Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers; the second was the pending purchase of the franchise by billionaire and Baltimore native David Rubenstein. 

With all that in mind, let's preview the 2024 Orioles by examining three pressing questions.

Win total projection, odds

  • 2023 record: 101-61 (first place in AL East)
  • 2024 SportsLine win total over/under: 89.5
  • World Series odds (via Sportsline): +1500 

Projected lineup

  1. SS Gunnar Henderson
  2. C Adley Rutschman
  3. RF Anthony Santander
  4. LF Austin Hays
  5. 1B Ryan O'Hearn
  6. DH Ryan Mountcastle
  7. CF Cedric Mullins
  8. 2B Jackson Holliday
  9. 3B Jordan Westburg

The outstanding question here is whether or not Holliday, CBS Sports' No. 1 prospect, will be part of Baltimore's Opening Day lineup -- thereby completing the Orioles' trio of No. 1 prospects alongside Henderson and Rutschman. Otherwise, the Orioles returned nine of their top 10 plate appearance recipients from last season. (The exception, Adam Frazier, left through free agency.)

Projected rotation

  1. RHP Corbin Burnes
  2. RHP Grayson Rodriguez
  3. RHP Dean Kremer
  4. LHP Cole Irvin
  5. RHP Tyler Wells

The Orioles made one addition to their rotation this winter, but it was a massive one in the form of Burnes, who ranks fourth among starters in ERA+ since the 2020 season. On the negative side of the ledger, Baltimore will open the season without Kyle Bradish and John Means, both of whom have been dealing with elbow issues.

Projected bullpen

Speaking of elbow issues, closer Félix Bautista will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Orioles signed the veteran Kimbrel to serve as his replacement. Otherwise, this is the same group as last year. 

Will Holliday break camp with MLB team?

Let's face it, this is the unavoidable topic right now when it comes to these Orioles. 

Top executive Mike Elias said over the winter that he felt that Holliday beginning the year in the majors was a "very strong possibility." That said, December words don't always equal March decisions -- and besides, the O's have a mixed history in this respect.

Back in 2022, Baltimore didn't push the button on Rutschman until late May. Henderson debuted even later than that on account of not being as far along his developmental arc. Both were on the 2023 Opening Day roster, but that was after they had performed at a high level during their previous exposure. (And, in Rutschman's case, it was a lot of exposure.) It would've been weird to omit, either.

If you're hopeful to see Holliday on Opening Day 2024, the best parallel might be Rodriguez. He too was part of last year's game one roster, and that was without any previous big-league experience. We will note that Rodriguez would have debuted down the stretch in 2022 if not for injury, which might have changed the decision-making calculus. Of course, the new rules that reward teams with draft picks based on top prospect performance might also influence the Orioles toward rostering Holliday.

You might wonder: what's the argument against rostering Holliday out of the gate? The best we can come up with is that he's a 20-year-old with 18 games of experience in Triple-A. In most cases, that would warrant additional seasoning. Add in the Orioles' stacked depth chart, and they would be able to get by if they determine Holliday needs another month or two of Triple-A experience before he gets the call.

This is, again, where that Rodriguez parallel could come in handy. He didn't take well to the majors immediately. The Orioles had to demote him after his 10th start. He had an airplane ERA (7.35) because he kept giving up home runs (13 in 45 innings). Rodriguez spent close to two months on the farm. He returned in late July and was the dominant force everyone expected him to be in the first place, posting a 2.58 ERA in 13 starts. That goes to show development isn't always linear -- sometimes players have to take their lumps, go back to the drawing board, and then return to get it right.

Perhaps that's the best argument for rolling with Holliday. If he scuffles and his performance proves he needs more time in the minors, fine. But what if he does what he's done since he was drafted and overachieves in a way not thought possible for a No. 1 pick? Well, then the Orioles' chances of winning the division -- and fetching some extra draft picks -- are all the better.

Will injury luck hold?

Player health is often the great unknown in public analysis. It's a pivotal piece of the puzzle, one that shapes the standings year in and year out. We can't, with any degree of accuracy, tell you who will or will not get hurt. What we can do is note that, with some exceptions, the teams that are healthiest (or unhealthiest) one season tend to see their performance regress to the mean in that area the next season.

That would be bad news for these Orioles, who were one of five teams last season to finish the year with fewer than 1,000 days missed due to injury, according to Spotrac. You can try to reason with these things. You can theorize that the Orioles' youth helped them stay healthier, but they ranked eighth in weighted batter age -- and besides, the Houston Astros were even healthier and they ranked as the fourth-oldest lineup. You can suggest that the Orioles' use of bleeding edge equipment gives them a leg up in this department. Maybe -- they had the second fewest missed days in 2022 as well -- but something seems amiss so far this spring.

Three key members of the pitching staff -- Bautista, Bradish, and Means -- are already down, and it's barely March. 

Maybe those absences prove to be the worst of it for these Orioles. But if we had to, we would guess that they're going to finish closer to the league-average number of days missed this year. All you can do is hope that they don't suffer the kind of injuries to the kind of players that can shift a season on their own.

If there is one silver lining to our above prediction, it's that these Orioles have an absurd amount of position player depth. With the exception of Rutschman, their reaction to the loss of any other regular would be to call up another top prospect. That's an unusual, incredible position to be in. The same luxury doesn't apply as neatly to the pitching side of things. Still, the Orioles do have several arms of note nearing their arrival dates, including Cade Povich, Chayce McDermott, and Justin Armbruester.

What would make for a successful season?

The short answer that concerns itself only with on-field happenings is repeating as division champions and perhaps even winning the pennant (if not the World Series, too). The long answer that concerns itself with the off-field component is all that and making a real effort to ensure Baltimore hosts a championship parade. 

What does that mean, exactly? It can take several forms. Maybe it's extending Burnes beyond his walk year, or maybe it's locking in parts of the core -- Rutschman, Henderson, and Holliday in particular -- to long-term deals. Either way, it would show that the Rubenstein ownership group is more willing to throw around some coin in pursuit of that elusive championship victory than the Angelos family was in recent years. And mind you, this is a franchise that hasn't ranked higher than 27th in Opening Day payroll since 2018, and that has no guaranteed money on the books after the 2025 campaign. There's a lot -- a lot -- of financial flexibility to dance with.

We would also like to see the front office consolidate some of its impressive prospect depth to make a splash at the deadline. Taken together, those thoughts indicate that a true belief in this group's potential -- with all the usual acts that come with that belief -- is the only thing separating the Orioles from remaining the toast of the AL.