Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Last year was supposed to be a test-the-waters-with-the-youth season for the Baltimore Orioles.

Instead, the Birds won 101 games and the AL East, securing their first playoff berth since 2016. The season ended with an ALDS sweep at the hands of the eventual World Series champion Texas Rangers, but it became official. The next generation of great Baltimore Orioles baseball had arrived.

The 2024 season is looking all the more exciting for Baltimore too, and they’re bringing former Brewers ace Corbin Burnes for this round. Infielder Gunnar Henderson and switch-hitting catcher Adley Rutschman are both back, and so is future ace Greyson Rodriguez. Outfielder Heston Kjerstand and former No. 1 overall pick Jackson Holliday aren’t far behind either.

Best of all, the notoriously stingy and out-of-touch Angelos family are on the way out. Private equity bigwig David Rubinstein and his group—of which Hall of Famer and Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. is a part—bought the team for $1.725 billion. The new regime should take over by Opening Day.

However, let’s not forget that the Orioles play in MLB’s toughest division. If manager Brandon Hyde wants that crown again, it’ll be an even tougher fight.

Greatest Addition: Corbin Burnes. It’s incredible not only that Baltimore won the Burnes trade sweepstakes, but at how little they gave up for him. Milwaukee’s former ace only cost the Orioles minor leaguers Joey Diaz and DL Hall. Burnes also turned in a 3.39 ERA in 32 starts and made his third-straight All-Star game despite his open displeasure with the Brewers’ front office.

Burnes might just be a one-year rental, but such is the state of the AL East. Baltimore’s pitching staff is very young and without a shutdown ace, even with Rodriguez’s upside. Having a tested ace in Burnes ensures at least one quality start a week.

Greatest Loss: Felix Bautista. Watching Bautista develop into an intimidating closer was a highlight of Baltimore’s season. The big righty notched 33 saves in 56 games, giving opposing hitters fits with his sinking, biting splitter. Bautista was also an All-Star and turned in a 1.48 ERA with 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9).

Unfortunately for Baltimore, Bautista injured his elbow late in the season and had Tommy John surgery in October. Adding the veteran Craig Kimbrel on a one-year deal wasn’t a bad move, but he’s 35. One year without Bautista could be the difference between a division crown or Wild Card for the Baltimore Orioles.

Greatest Strength: Baltimore Core. Developing a strong farm system and utilizing its talent is critical in competing for a World Series. Baltimore clearly got the message and rode one of the most exciting young groups all the way to the playoffs last year. And like we said in the beginning, there’s only more on the way.

Rutschman already looks like a more durable version of former Balitmore backstop Matt Wieters. Switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander could slug 30 home runs in his contract year. Henderson smashed 28 of his own last year en route to being named Rookie of the Year.

It won’t be long before Kjerstad and Holliday are regulars in the lineup. The Baltimore Orioles’ farm system truly is bursting with talent. If the new owners are willing to hand long-term contracts to the established guys now, all the better.

Greatest Weakness: Bullpen. Kimbrel is a good Band-Aid solution while Bautista recovers, but Baltimore’s bullpen still looks thin. The relief corps ranked fifth in baseball with a 3.55 ERA last year, tough to repeat with Bautista on the shelf. Yennier Cano is a fine setup man, but he and Kimbrel can’t do it alone.

Who else do the Orioles have besides Dillon Tate, who missed last year with an elbow injury? The rest of Baltimore’s relievers aren’t bad, but they are streaky. A team in the AL East can only afford so much of that, especially with the playoffs on their minds.

Will the Baltimore Orioles soar to the top of the AL East again? It was great seeing a group of young players not only win so many games last season, but have fun doing it. Sadly, while the Orioles are certainly in the playoff picture, it’s probably not as repeat AL East champs. Last year was very much an overachievement while the Yankees and Blue Jays fell way short of expectations, but those are stories for another day.

But that doesn’t mean Baltimore was one-and-done, far from it. Burnes is a literal game-changer and could even boost the rest of the rotation. Barring the lineup regressing more than expected, lock the Baltimore Orioles in for the top AL Wild Card spot.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.