As expected, it has been another fairly quiet offseason in Baltimore to this point. The Orioles have made a pair of low-cost big league deals, signing infielder Rougned Odor for the league minimum salary and agreeing to terms on a $7MM guarantee with starter Jordan Lyles. (The Lyles deal was agreed to in the waning hours before the lockout and wasn’t made official prior to the transactions freeze, but it’s expected to be finalized whenever the lockout ends).
The O’s are entering year four of what has been a massive rebuild. The big league roster is still a ways worse than the rest of those in the loaded American League East, and it never seemed likely Baltimore would make a major splash this winter. That said, there’s plenty of room for general manager Mike Elias and his staff to continue to make smaller additions in the Odor/Lyles mold — both to make the team more respectable and perhaps stumble upon a midseason trade chip if things break well.
Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes that Baltimore is likely to add at least one reliever to the big league club whenever transactions are again permitted. That could take the form of a free agent signee or the selection of a bullpen arm in the big league portion of the Rule 5 draft, which is expected to take place after the lockout.
There’s not a ton of sense for the rebuilding Orioles in signing a big-name closer like Kenley Jansen, yet the free agent market still offers plenty of lower-cost middle relief or reclamation candidates who may be of interest. It’s fairly common to see teams also take fliers on relievers in the Rule 5 draft. Baltimore added two bullpen arms — Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells — in last year’s Rule 5. Sceroler didn’t stick with the O’s, but Wells looks likely to have a spot in the 2022 ’pen after tossing 57 innings of 4.11 ERA ball with a strong 29% strikeout rate as a rookie.
In addition to the search for bullpen help, Kubatko suggests the O’s are likely to continue to pursue catching depth. The O’s don’t have a single backstop on their 40-man roster. Top prospect Adley Rutschman figures to be in the majors relatively early next season, and he’d no doubt get the lion’s share of playing time whenever the organization brings him up. Yet the O’s will at least need somebody to back up Rutschman, and it’s possible they start their top farmhand in Triple-A (perhaps past the threshold for the 23-year-old to accrue a full year of MLB service).
If Rutschman returns to the Orioles’ top affiliate in Norfolk to open the season, they’ll need to select two other backstops to the big league roster. They’ve already signed Jacob Nottingham and Anthony Bemboom to minor league deals, and Kubatko writes that they’re hoping to add another backstop to the high levels of the system, either via minors pact or the Rule 5. Players who didn’t finish the season on a 40-man roster or MLB injured list are permitted to sign non-roster deals during the lockout, so it’s possible the Orioles bolster their catching depth even prior to the signing of a new CBA.
Even as they add around the margins, the Orioles seem open to offers on virtually anyone on the roster. Reports from earlier in the offseason indicated the O’s were willing to take calls on both star center fielder Cedric Mullins and top starter John Means, and Kubatko writes there’s still a “slim possibility” they move first baseman/DH Trey Mancini. Rich Dubroff of Baltimore Baseball wrote last week that there’s not yet been any progress on a potential extension for Mancini, who’s entering his final year of arbitration control.
It’s an inopportune time for the Orioles to make a deal involving Mancini, though. The 29-year-old (30 in March) missed all of 2020 battling colon cancer. His return to the field this past season was heartwarming, and his advancement to the final round of the Home Run Derby made for one of the sport’s best stories. Trading Mancini would be a tough blow to a significant portion of the organization and fanbase.
He’s also simply a difficult player for rival clubs to value. Mancini played in 147 games and tallied 616 plate appearances, impressive durability considering what’d he had to endure the year prior. His .255/.326/.432 slash line was a rather significant step back from 2019’s .291/.364/.535 mark though. It’s certainly understandable his production might suffer in the wake of a battle with cancer, and Mancini’s shown himself capable of putting up far better numbers in the past. It’s arguable the O’s may be better suited holding onto him into 2022 in the hope that he bounces back to peak form over the first few months. That’d allow the front office more time to determine whether to pursue a long-term deal or attempt to move Mancini in advance of next summer’s trade deadline.