- There’s still very little certainty on the Orioles’ coaching staff, but Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com provides an update on a series of potential (in some cases likely) hires that could filter in as the Baltimore organization sets it staff. Kubatko writes that assistant hitting coach Howie Clark is expected to return in his previous role, while the organization may very well promote at least one staff member from the minor league ranks to help round out manager Brandon Hyde’s staff — specifically, Triple-A field coach Jose Hernandez, a 15-year MLB veteran who has since become a fixture in the O’s system. There’s other chatter in the post regarding how the Orioles may end up filling out their slate of coaches.
- Per a team announcement, catcher Andrew Susac cleared waivers and has been assigned outright to Triple-A Norfolk after being designated for assignment by the Orioles. Set to turn 29 in March, Susac was once one of baseball’s premier catching prospects but has only managed a .221/.283/.373 slash in 300 plate appearances at the MLB level to date. He did hit .256/.405/.456 in a smallish sample of 158 plate appearances in Triple-A last year and has a career .248/.350/.438 line through 927 PAs at that level. He’ll remain on hand in the O’s organization as a depth option.
As they begin to build out a coaching staff, the Orioles appear to be nearing an agreement with Doug Brocail that would make him the team’s next pitching coach. Dan Connolly of The Athletic tweets that Brocail is “in line” to land in Baltimore.
If the sides do indeed put pen to paper, Brocail would take over for Roger McDowell, who departed along with veteran skipper Buck Showalter. The organizational change in Baltimore has been widespread, of course, with GM Mike Elias taking over baseball operations and going on to hire Brandon Hyde as the new manager.
Brocail, 51, was a first-round draft pick who pitched for 15 seasons in the majors, working to a cumulative 4.00 ERA in 880 innings. He just wrapped up a three-year run with the Rangers as their pitching coach. Previously, Brocail had a run of that same length in the same role with the Astros.
In the final installment of our 3 Remaining Needs series, let’s take a look at the division that boasted the best and worst teams of the 2018 season. The AL East perfectly reflects the class warfare plaguing the American League, as the gap between the competitive upper class and, well, the Orioles could not be more stark. Even within the upper crust, however, there is plenty of variance, as the low-payroll Rays have done their best to keep pace with payroll behemoths in Boston and New York. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have taken a step back but are still looking to prepare their roster for an anticipated influx of premium young talent.
- Trade Mychal Givens. It’s a no-brainer for the Orioles to sell off their veteran pieces for prospects, only they don’t have much to sell off. Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner can be shopped, but they’d be salary dumps if they’re moveable at all and they might be better off providing a veteran base for a rotation that should have younger arms auditioning for at least two turns out of every five. The O’s have invested too much in Dylan Bundy over the years to trade him now for pennies on the dollar; better to hang onto the upside. That leaves Givens (10.3 K/9) as the most attractive piece on an otherwise barren roster. Once the major free agent bullpeners are off the market, teams should come calling for a hard-throwing late-inning arm with three seasons of control remaining.
- Sign trade bait for July. With a hugely uncertain roster situation, the Orioles should be willing to take some risks and snap up whatever the market leaves. While they’re not likely to snag any major free agents, even on pillow deals, they should be scouring the bargain bin for vets on one-year deals that could potentially bring something back at the trade deadline. Frankly, the particular position doesn’t matter so much as the value opportunity that’s presented. Needless to say, the same reasoning also supports active waiver-wire scanning, such as the team’s recent claims of Rio Ruiz and Hanser Alberto.
- Boost their international operations. The O’s longstanding aversion to spending on international amateur talent is well-documented. That was beginning to change before the club turned over the reins to new GM Mike Elias, but the org’s initial foray onto the market did not exactly go without a hitch as the club’s top reputed targets (Sandy Gaston and the Mesa brothers) landed elsewhere. That served as a reminder that bringing in top talent — not to mention, unearthing lower-cost gems — involves more than having and spending the available funds.
Boston Red Sox
- Replace/re-sign Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox haven’t done much work to rebuild their bullpen as of yet, but the degree to which they’ll need to is still unknown. With no clear market developing for Kimbrel at this time, a reunion is not at all out of the question. If they don’t bring him back to Boston, they’ll need to do something to bolster a unit currently over-reliant on holdovers Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes.
- Explore upgrades at catcher. Boston somehow managed to win a World Series in a season where its catchers batted a combined .194/.246/.288 in 619 plate appearances. Regardless of the defensive Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon can frame and throw with the best of them, and Blake Swihart (if he ever catches) may yet turn into something if given any semblance of an opportunity, but the catcher position in Boston was an utter black hole on offense last season. It wasn’t quite as bad as having a pitcher hit each time through the order, but it was closer than any AL team should be. That the team hasn’t done anything to this point suggests it may not be at the top of the priority list, but it’s hard to deny that there’s an opportunity to improve. Speaking of backstops …
- Resolve the status of Blake Swihart. The Red Sox need to finally determine if Swihart has any kind of real role with the team. Again, it’s tough to criticize a team that won a World Series in 2018, but even Boston’s most steadfast defenders have to concede that the team didn’t exactly manage its roster all that effectively as pertains to Swihart. Boston wouldn’t put Swihart behind the plate, wouldn’t put him in the field and wouldn’t DH him. Swihart had just 48 plate appearances through May 31 in 2018 despite not spending a single day on the disabled list or in the minors. He had 99 PAs prior to the All-Star break — again, without a DL stint or any time in the minors. He can’t be optioned, and the Sox clearly don’t have a spot for him. It may have worked in 2018, but the Sox were effectively operating with a 24-man roster for a good chunk of 2018. They need more flexibility, and Swihart probably would like a chance to actually play somewhere.
New York Yankees
- Trade Sonny Gray. Once Brian Cashman began the offseason by declaring Gray would be traded, there seemed little room for negotiation. The market for Gray may not fully materialize until all of the top starting arms are off the market, but there doesn’t seem to be much value in bringing him back to New York. There’s no room in the rotation at present, even if there are questions around the age and durability of their top five. Still, the Yanks are not shy about in-season acquisitions and they have depth in Triple A they can rely on. Specifically, Domingo German (5.57 ERA) and Luis Cessa (5.24 ERA) underperformed last season relative to advanced metrics like FIP and xFIP.
- Seriously pursue a premium free agent. No, the Yanks do not need Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The club won 100 games last year and is a threat to do so again (in a highly stratified American League) without making further upgrades. Still, this division — more so than the two other wings of the AL — promises to host a year-long battle. And … well … this is the Yankees we are talking about. What good is it being a financial behemoth if you can’t use your might to elbow out other teams when rare market opportunities come along? We’re not here to say that the Yankees must land one of these two players, or that they simply have to pursue both even if it makes a mess of the team’s roster and financial planning. But it would be odd if the Yanks didn’t at least put in a strong bid for either or both. With the allure of the pinstripes and New York City helping the cause, they just might come away with a bargain.
- Add another relief arm. Whether or not the club makes any other notable roster moves, this seems like an easy way to improve. The bullpen has been a notable strength in the Bronx of late, and that promises to continue. But the deeper the unit is, the more support it can provide to a highly talented but somewhat risky rotation. Limiting the wear and tear on the starting unit will not only max out its results all year long, but give the Yankees the best chance of having a powerful staff when crunch time comes late in the season.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Make another free agent splash. A big name would surely help the club draw some fans to the park, and perhaps help jump start a still-flagging ballpark effort. More importantly, the team can still tap into some funds to improve its chances of sneaking up on the BoSox and Yanks. As things stand, there’s still just under $60MM on the books for 2019. With a number of quality free agents still out there and awaiting a deal, the Rays should be willing to be aggressive in doling out short-term money to get significant pieces. Charlie Morton could deliver great value, and adding Avisail Garcia may be a decent risk, but there’s no reason to stop there.
- Make a run at J.T. Realmuto. Whether or not the free agent market offers another golden opportunity, the Rays should see if they can pull of an intra-state coup by coaxing the Marlins to send their star backstop up the coast. There’s nothing wrong with a Mike Zunino–Michael Perez pairing behind the dish, but Realmuto is the game’s best. The Tampa Bay front office would have flexibility in resolving the preexisting options, particularly since Perez can still be optioned. He’d be a nice depth piece and could perhaps also remain on the roster as part of a three-catcher mix. Alternatively, the Rays could still deal away Zunino.
- Add some veteran bullpen pieces. The Rays’ fascinating bullpen usage has shown no small amount of promise. Part of the strategy, of course, is to lean on a high volume of young pitching. But it’s hard to deny the value of veteran leadership and of established, steady performance. The current Tampa Bay bullpen unit features just one player — Chaz Roe — with more than three years of MLB service time. Allocating some remaining funds to one or more quality free agents would seem to make sense. Old friend Sergio Romo is among the many remaining possibilities.
Toronto Blue Jays
- Prepare for potential spring trades. Entering the winter, it seemed that veteran first baseman Justin Smoak would pop up in the rumor mill with some frequency. We broke down his potential suitors in anticipation of just that, but nothing of note has materialized to this point. There has been more chatter surrounding righty Marcus Stroman, but no indication to date that there’s any momentum toward a deal. Things may be quiet now, but more and more of the offseason business is stretching up to and into Spring Training, when teams will see their rosters in the flesh and injuries will begin to pop up. The Jays should anticipate some late-breaking interest in these players and be ready to pounce on any good opportunities that come up.
- Put the payroll space to work. Neither Smoak nor Stroman need to be moved for purely financial reasons. Indeed, the Jays should also be willing at least to poke around for bargains on the market. The Jays are only projected to have a payroll of roughly $110MM next season right now, well below recent levels of spending. The team has a variety of players who have a decent amount of MLB experience but who have yet to establish themselves fully. It’s fine to give opportunities to players of that kind, but that shouldn’t be allowed to clog things up if there’s a chance to add better talent — even if it costs a bit of money. The Toronto organization could find some opportunities to acquire talent as teams make final payroll decisions, whether that takes the form of snagging unwanted arbitration-year players or taking on an under-water contract that’s packaged with prospects.
- Add to the bullpen. The Jays have little in the way of established arms at the back of the ’pen, and even if they don’t realistically expect to contend, there’s value in having a few stabilizing pieces to prevent a constant churn of DFAs and other various 40-man machinations throughout the course of the season. Scooping up some useful arms on one- or even two-year deals can also always yield a viable summer trade chip. Last year, the club enjoyed some opportunities at the trade deadline due to its arsenal of veteran relievers, and there’s good reason to pursue a similar course again.
Rookie Orioles manager Brandon Hyde’s staff is starting to come together. Hyde will hire Don Long to work as the Orioles’ hitting coach, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. Additionally, the Orioles will tab Arnie Beyeler to coach first base, while Jose Flores – whom the O’s hired in December – is “expected” to serve as their third base coach and infield instructor, per Kubatko.
The 56-year-old Long will succeed Scott Coolbaugh, who was Baltimore’s hitting coach from 2015-18 and is now with the Dodgers organization. A former minor league infielder with the Giants, Long spent the past half-decade as the Reds’ hitting coach, but they replaced him with Turner Ward in November. For what it’s worth, the Reds’ Long-led offense ranked eighth in the majors in walk rate, 17th in wRC+ and 18th in runs in 2018.
In Baltimore, Long will be tasked with helping to improve an offense which wallowed toward the bottom of the league last year. However, considering the rebuilding Orioles are short on talent, it’s unlikely they expect Long’s presence to make a major statistical impact in 2019.
- In a move that flew under MLBTR’s radar, infielder Sean Miller signed a minor league contract with the Orioles in December, per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Miler, a 24-year-old Maryland native, had been with the Twins since they picked him in the 10th round of the 2015 draft. While with the Twins, Miller managed a mere .599 OPS over 1,287 minor league plate appearances, including 34 at the Triple-A level last season.
The deadline for players and teams to exchange arbitration figures passed at 1pm ET yesterday, meaning over the next few hours, there will be a landslide of settlements on one-year deals to avoid an arbitration hearing. We’ll track today’s minor settlements from the American League in this post. Once all of the day’s settlements have filtered in, I’ll organize them by division to make them a bit easier to parse.
It’s worth mentioning that the vast majority of teams have adopted a “file and trial” approach to arbitration, meaning that once arbitration figures are exchanged with a player, negotiations on a one-year deal will cease. The two parties may still discuss a multi-year deal after that point, but the majority of players who exchange figures with their team today will head to an arbitration hearing.
- Yankees 1B Greg Bird will make $1.2 MM next season, per Bob Nightengale on Twitter.
- The controversial Roberto Osuna will make $6.5MM next season, per Feinsand. Teammate Jake Marisnick, who again scuffled in ’18 after a promising 2017, will make $2.2125MM.
- Per Mark Feinsand on Twitter, A’s lefty Sean Manaea $3.15MM in what’s sure to be an injury-marred 2019.
- Hard-throwing reliever Mychal Givens will make $2.15MM, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter), with additional incentives for making the All-Star team or placing in the Top-3 for the Rivera/Hoffman Reliever of the Year Awards, added MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter).
- The Mariners agreed on a $1.95MM deal with outfielder Domingo Santana, per MLB.com’s Greg Johns (via Twitter). Santana is the second and last of the Mariners’ arbitration-eligible players.
- The Angels agreed to contracts with a pair of players yesterday, per Maria Torres of the LA Times (via Twitter). Reliever Hansel Robles signed for $1.4MM. Robles threw 36 1/3 innings of 2.97 ERA baseball after the Angels claimed him off waivers from the Mets in June. Luis Garcia, acquired via trade from the Phillies this winter, signed for $1.675MM.
- The Tigers and reliever Shane Greene settled on $4MM, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (via Twitter).
- The Yankees reached an agreement with Sonny Gray for $7.5MM, per Nightengale. Gray, of course, has been involved trade rumors most of the winter, but for the time being, he stands to play a role in the Yankee pen while providing insurance for the rotation.
- Didi Gregorius has also come to an agreement with the Yankees on a one-year, $11.75MM deal in his final season before free agency, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (Twitter links).
- New Yankee James Paxton signed for $8.575, per Nightengale (via Twitter). Paxton is under contract for the 2020 season as well.
- The Houston Astros came to an agreement with Collin McHugh for $5.8MM, per Nightengale (via Twitter). McHugh could be moving back into the rotation after a stellar season in the pen, either way this will be his final season of arb eligibility before hitting the open market.
- Jonathan Villar comes away with $4.825MM for what will be his first full season in Baltimore, per Nightengale (via Twitter).
The 26-year-old Alberto has minimal MLB experience. He hasn’t hit much in his 192 total plate appearances over the past three seasons. In exactly one thousand total Triple-A plate appearances, however, he carries a solid .309/.330/.438 slash.
Susac, 28, has appeared in the majors in each of the past five seasons. He got off to an excellent start in a brief 2014 debut, at which time he was viewed as an intriguing prospect, but hasn’t had much offensive success in the majors since. Susac did carry a .256/.405/.456 batting line in his 158 plate appearances last year at the highest level of the minors.
The Orioles have agreed to a deal with right-hander Gregory Infante, MLBTR’s Steve Adams has learned (Twitter link). It’s a minor-league arrangement for the Venezuelan hurler, who is repped by Godoy Sports.
Infante, 31, has seen action in each of the past two seasons with the White Sox — his first time in the big leagues since a brief showing way back in 2010. He provided 54 2/3 useful innings in the 2017 campaign, working to a 3.13 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.
Things didn’t go as well in 2018 for Infante, who struggled through nine frames in the majors. He did rack up a strong 51:10 K/BB ratio over fifty innings at Triple-A, though he was also touched for ten long balls and ended with a 4.50 ERA at Charlotte.
There’s opportunity aplenty in the Baltimore bullpen, so this looks to be a nice landing spot for Infante. As things stand, only a few O’s relief jobs seem to be sewn up, with most of the spots likely to be competed in camp this spring.
The Orioles have agreed to a minor league contract with free-agent catcher Carlos Perez, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. He’ll be invited to Major League Spring Training and would earn a $650K base salary upon making the big league roster.
Perez, 28, appeared in 20 games for the Rangers and another eight for the Braves in 2018, hitting a combined .143/.178/.214 in a tiny sample of 75 plate appearances. Perez has never hit much in the Majors, though last year’s struggles were a new low point in terms of his offensive output; he’s a lifetime .215/.257/.319 hitter in 670 PAs — all of which came with the Angels with the exception of last year’s brief stints in Atlanta and Texas.
For all of his offensive deficiencies, Perez is a gifted defender behind the plate. He’s thrown out a terrific 38 percent of attempted base thieves in his MLB career and a similarly strong 36 percent in parts of 11 minor league seasons. He’s also regularly received average or better grades for his framing and pitch blocking abilities, per Baseball Prospectus.
Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns and Andrew Susac are the only catchers on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, and none of that trio has proven himself capable of producing at the game’s top level just yet. While there’s hope that Sisco, long one of the game’s top catching prospects, will take that step forward in the near future, it’s also not a surprise to see Baltimore add some defensive-minded insurance on the cheap, given the uncertainty that permeates the catching corps at present.