It was another quiet winter for the Orioles, who continue to focus on building up their farm and keeping payroll down during a lengthy stretch of lean seasons.
Major League Signings
- Freddy Galvis, SS: $1.5MM
- Total spend: $1.5MM
Trades and Claims
- Traded SS Jose Iglesias to the Angels in exchange for RHPs Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto
- Traded RHP Alex Cobb and cash to the Angels in exchange for 2B/OF Jahmai Jones
- Acquired INFs AJ Graffanino and Greg Cullen from the Braves as a PTBNL from August’s Tommy Milone trade
- Acquired RHP Miguel Padilla from the Astros as a PTBNL from July’s Hector Velazquez trade
- Claimed 2B Yolmer Sanchez off waivers from the White Sox
- Claimed RHP Ashton Goudeau off waivers from the Pirates
- Claimed 1B Chris Shaw off waivers from the Giants (later outrighted to Triple-A)
- Selected RHPs Tyler Wells (Twins) and Mac Sceroler (Reds) in the Rule 5 Draft
Notable Minor League Signings
- Felix Hernandez, Matt Harvey, Wade LeBlanc, Fernando Abad, Tom Eshelman, Nick Ciuffo, Conner Greene, Seth Mejias-Brean
- Jose Iglesias, Alex Cobb, Renato Nunez (non-tendered), Hanser Alberto (non-tendered), Asher Wojciechowski, Dwight Smith Jr., Bryan Holaday
The Orioles kicked off the winter with what appeared to be a rather straightforward decision on a $3.5MM club option for shortstop Jose Iglesias. It was somewhat curious that Baltimore waited until the last minute to formally exercise that option, considering that a $500K buyout made it a net $3MM decision, but the end result to pick up the option came as little surprise after a productive season for Iglesias. General manager Mike Elias said after the fact that the option was never in doubt and called his shortstop a “perfect fit for what we need right now.” Iglesias was traded to the Angels 29 days later.
As has regularly been the case for the O’s, their return included a pair of low-level pitchers. Righty Garrett Stallings has yet to appear in a pro game, though he was a 2019 fifth-rounder who is regarded as a polished arm that could quickly move through the ranks and become a back-of-the-rotation starter. Twenty-year-old righty Jean Pinto has just 12 pro innings under his belt and is further from the big leagues. Baseball America rated Stallings as the organization’s No. 26 prospect earlier this winter.
Absent the “perfect fit” comments from Elias, it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise to see Iglesias on the move. The O’s have been willing to listen on any players as they reshape the organization, after all, and as an affordable veteran with one year remaining on his contract, he was a logical player to market. To the Orioles’ credit, they eventually added a similar player in Freddy Galvis, who’ll fill the same role with an even more modest price tag for the coming season.
That proved to be the Orioles’ lone big league free-agent signing this winter, though it wasn’t the only player acquired to help the 2021 roster. Baltimore plucked 2019 Gold Glove winner Yolmer Sanchez off waivers and figures to give the 28-year-old plenty of run at second base. Paired with Galvis, he should form a strong defensive tandem in the middle infield, although Sanchez could eventually face some competition from the player acquired in the Orioles’ other major offseason transaction.
Few would’ve expected the Orioles to be able to both offload some of the remaining $15MM on Alex Cobb’s four-year deal and do so in a trade that brought a young player of some note back to the organization. But the Orioles managed to do just that, shipping Cobb to the Angels in a trade that saved the O’s about $5MM and brought in one-time top prospect Jahmai Jones.
While the 23-year-old Jones has seen his stock dip since he was on the back end of Top 100 lists at Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, he’s still a near-MLB-ready piece who got his feet wet with a three-game call to the Majors for the Halos last year. The Orioles have said he’ll work mostly at second base, but if Sanchez settles in nicely at that spot, Jones does have a good bit of outfield experience as well.
It was a surprising trade on many levels. The market had plenty of mid- and back-of-the-rotation options available around the same price point as Cobb — many who are more durable than Cobb has been. The Angels clearly saw something they like in Cobb more than comparable, available arms (e.g. Rick Porcello), but the market for the right-hander couldn’t have been too strong. The O’s did well to shed some of that contract and add an intriguing young player, even if he’s in need of a rebound.
That said, it’s also worth pointing out that Cobb is still the team’s second-most expensive player. The $10MM they’re paying him to pitch for the Angels is more than they’re paying everyone other than Chris Davis. The money saved in their two trades and series of non-tenders apparently won’t be put back into the 2021 club, so fans will have to simply hope such moves lead to greater spending down the road.
Baltimore had the opportunity to choose among any number of veteran starting pitchers or relievers, but the Orioles settled on minor league deals with some veteran pitchers in dire need of a rebound. Felix Hernandez and Matt Harvey haven’t been high-end pitchers since 2015, and Harvey in particular has been clobbered in several stops since his days as Citi Field’s Dark Knight. Hernandez, meanwhile, barely cracked 90 mph with his average fastball in his final year with the Mariners. He opted out of the 2020 season after signing a minor league deal with the Braves. Hernandez was able to survive when his once 95-plus velocity dipped to the 93 mph range, but as it’s continued to drop further, his overall effectiveness has waned.
It’s a stretch to expect Hernandez and Harvey to regain their form at this point, yet that duo joins Wade LeBlanc and Tom Eshelman — both back with the club on minor league deals — as the only additions to the rotation competition. The Orioles have plenty of young arms they’d like to take a look at, some of which will get that chance in 2021. Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther, Bruce Zimmerman and Michael Baumann are all on the 40-man roster.
Still, it already feels as though there will be a frequent question of how they’re going to get through a given week of starts. John Means is locked into a rotation spot. The only other starting pitcher on the 40-man roster who has even 30 innings of MLB experience is out-of-options righty Jorge Lopez, who carries a career 6.03 ERA and isn’t even a guarantee to break camp with the team.
There’s something to be said for the pedal-to-the-metal, ultra-aggressive rebuild approach, and perhaps the Orioles will indeed catch lightning in a bottle on Harvey and/or Hernandez. But there’s also something to be said for the value of bringing in some stability to help such an unproven staff, and the Orioles chose not to lock themselves into such a commitment despite myriad options being available over the winter (and even up until the time of this writing). As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes noted while he and I were chatting about this very subject: the Cubs probably wouldn’t have won the 2016 World Series if they hadn’t signed Scott Feldman in Nov. 2012. The Jake Arrieta trade is an extreme example of cashing in on a veteran placeholder, of course, but there’s value in making such additions and not relying too heavily on younger arms who aren’t accustomed to the rigors of a full MLB season’s workload.
Turning to the lineup, the Orioles didn’t add much beyond Galvis, Sanchez and Jones, and many onlookers — particularly Orioles fans — were stunned to see the club non-tender slugger Renato Nunez. The 26-year-old (27 in April) belted 43 homers from 2019-20 while batting .247/.314/.469 in Baltimore.
However, the Nunez decision was also in many ways foreseeable. He doesn’t walk much, has a higher-than-average strikeout rate and brings minimal defensive value to the table. The home runs are obviously nice, but clubs have stopped paying much for skill sets that are heavy in power but light in OBP and defensive value. That Nunez went unclaimed on waivers and ultimately settled for a minor league deal in Detroit only further underscores that market trend. Hanser Alberto found himself in a similar spot due to marginal on-base skills and a lack of power, and he was also cut loose before settling on a non-guaranteed pact in Kansas City.
While some holes in the game for Nunez and Alberto surely contributed to the Orioles moving on, the decisions were also accelerated by the growing number of MLB-ready bats Baltimore can evaluate in the near term. Austin Hays has seemingly put his injuries behind him and earned another chance to be a regular. Anthony Santander may have had a breakout in right field. Ryan Mountcastle debuted in 2020 and raked through 35 games. DJ Stewart showed some three-true-outcomes intrigue. Rio Ruiz hasn’t given much reason for optimism at third base, but prospect Rylan Bannon is more or less ready for a big league look. Chance Sisco will get another opportunity behind the plate, but uber-prospect Adley Rutschman looms in the minors.
Best of all for the 2021 Orioles, they’ll welcome back their clubhouse leader and best all-around hitter. Slugger Trey Mancini took a leave of absence a year ago around this time, disclosing weeks later that he’d been diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. Mancini underwent surgery, endured chemotherapy and battled for several months until thrilling fans throughout the game by announcing that he was in remission. It’s been great to see Mancini get back into a game setting, and it’ll be a truly special moment to see him take the field for the Orioles on Opening Day. They’ll no doubt look forward to welcoming his leadership back to the clubhouse and welcoming the bat that produced a .291/.364/.535 slash in 2019 back to the heart of the lineup. For all the questions surrounding the pitching staff, the Baltimore lineup has its share of intriguing hitters.
All in all, the Orioles’ offseason was something of a mixed bag. Both trades of established big leaguers made sense, and the Cobb deal in particular was well-received around the industry. Galvis is a perfectly sensible stopgap option at shortstop, and they operated around the fringes of the 40-man with some waiver claims and Rule 5 adds. The non-tender decisions, while a surprise to some, were at the very least defensible.
At the same time, the Orioles appear set to trot out a $59.5MM payroll despite the fact that the 20 pitchers on their 40-man roster have combined for a total of 1036 2/3 innings at the Major League level. The top depth options they brought in to supplement the group haven’t been big league contributors for years. The hope is that several young arms will claim long-term spots both in the rotation and the bullpen, but the results along the way could be ugly.
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