- The Orioles signed former Major League slugger Juan Francisco to a minor league contract, as first reported this morning by Dominican news outlet Z Deportes (Twitter link). Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that Francisco will get an invite to big league Spring Training. The corner infielder, still just 29 years of age, hasn’t played in the bigs since the 2014 season but has always demonstrated good pop. Francisco, though, struggles against left-handed pitching and strikes out in bunches, limiting his upside despite considerable power. In 941 career plate appearances against righties, he’s a .248/.310/.476 hitter, so he could conceivably return to the bigs and fill a bench role.
- The Orioles may be without righty Chris Tillman to start the year, as the veteran starter undertook a PRP injection in his shoulder in December, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com was among those to report (Twitter links). Tillman is said to be about three weeks behind, though he isn’t expected to miss significant time at this point. Still, there’s little chance he’ll be ready to take the ball on Opening Day, which would break a string of three-straight appearances in the first game of the season. It seems there’s no particular reason to worry about Tillman’s outlook for the season, though it’s fair to wonder whether the shoulder issue will gum up any attempts by the team to lock him up to a long-term deal this spring. Tillman is earning $10.05MM this season before hitting the open market.
- As the Orioles began to report to Spring Training in Sarasota, Fla., GM Dan Duquette was asked by the Baltimore media once again today if there’s any chance of a reunion with Matt Wieters now that his market has seemingly been stagnant for so long. Via MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko, Duquette replied that Orioles “made a choice” when they signed Welington Castillo to a two-year, $13MM deal (with a player option/opt-out clause after year one) back in December. Duquette did note that he’s still on the hunt for further pitching depth, even after acquiring young right-hander Gabriel Ynoa from the Mets last Friday.
The Orioles announced this morning that they’ve signed veteran corner infielder Chris Johnson to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. The former Astros/Braves/Marlins is represented by Excel Sports Management.
Johnson, 32, spent the 2016 season with the Marlins after signing to be a platoon partner for left-handed-hitting first baseman Justin Bour. While that seemed like a solid on-paper fit, given the lifetime .314/.350/.436 batting line against lefties which Johnson carried into last season, he experienced some uncharacteristic struggles against southpaws. In 109 plate appearances versus lefties, Johnson hit just .212/.284/.333. His production against right-handers was very similar in 155 PAs, and he wound up posting a career-worst .222/.281/.329 batting line on the season as a whole.
The Braves inked Johnson to a three-year, $23.5MM contract extension on the heels of a BABIP-fueled 2013 breakout — a season that saw Johnson bat .321/.358/.457 (with a .394 average on balls in play). His bat took a significant step back in 2014, however, and he was traded to the Indians in a 2015 exchange of bad contracts. (Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher went to Atlanta in the deal.) Johnson will still earn $9MM this season — the final guaranteed year of that contract — which the Indians are on the hook for. If he makes it to the Orioles’ Major League roster, they’d only owe him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum, which would be subtracted from Cleveland’s obligation to Johnson. As it stands, though, he seems likely to be ticketed for Triple-A Norfolk.
- Extension talks between Chris Tillman and the Orioles have been “nothing serious” thus far, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko reports. The two sides began preliminary talks back in December, though as of mid-January, Tillman said he hadn’t heard any details on negotiations from his agents. Kubatko wouldn’t be surprised if more substantial talks take place during Spring Training, as Tillman can become a free agent after the 2017 season.
- The idea of converting Dariel Alvarez from an outfielder to a pitcher is intriguing to some members of the Orioles organization, and manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t be against it, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. As it stands, the 28-year-old Alvarez could be in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot, per Kubatko. Alvarez slashed a modest .288/.324/.384 with four home runs in 560 Triple-A plate appearances last season, and trying him on the mound would perhaps enable the Orioles to take advantage of his “plus-plus” arm, Kubatko notes.
The Orioles have acquired right-hander Gabriel Ynoa from the Mets in exchange for cash and designated catcher Francisco Pena for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, per a team announcement. The move opens a spot on the Mets’ 40-man roster, which the team still needed to do in order to make the re-signing of Fernando Salas official.
The 23-year-old Ynoa made his MLB debut with the Mets this past season, tossing 18 1/3 innings with a 6.38 ERA. His 17-to-7 K/BB ratio, 49.2 percent ground-ball rate and average fastball velocity of 93.5 mph were all more encouraging numbers than the unsightly ERA in that small sample. In 154 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level this past season, Ynoa posted a 3.97 ERA with 4.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 48.8 percent grounder rate.
Ynoa ranked among the Mets’ top 20 prospects each year from 2012-15, with BA’s most recent report calling him a “control artist” and a potential fourth starter if he can make improvements to his secondary offerings. Also noted, though, was that while Ynoa has a knack for throwing strikes, he doesn’t hit his spot within the zone often enough, so honing his command could also be an area of focus moving forward.
“Our scouts feel he can develop into a Major League starting pitcher by developing a consistent breaking pitch,” said Orioles GM Dan Duquette of the newly acquired Ynoa. “We look forward to his contributions to the Orioles this season and beyond.”
Ynoa will give the Orioles some much-needed rotation depth beyond the quintet of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez. He has a minor league option remaining, which was likely a key factor for the Orioles, as there doesn’t look to be an immediate spot in the rotation for Ynoa, barring a spring injury to one of the previously listed rotation members. The 154 innings that Ynoa threw at Triple-A last season represent his only experience at that level, so it seems likely that he’ll head to Norfolk to open the season for further development. Should things pan out for Ynoa, he’ll be under club control through the 2022 season in Baltimore.
Pena, 27, appeared in 14 games and hit .200/.238/.275 across 43 plate appearances for the Orioles last season. He was expected to compete with Caleb Joseph for the backup catcher role this spring and may still do so if he clears waivers. The defensive-minded backstop was out of minor league options, which undoubtedly played a role in the Orioles’ decision to designate him. In parts of four Triple-A seasons (1188 plate appearances), Pena has displayed good power but struggled to get on base, as evidenced by his .248/.294/.453 batting line. He’s thrown out 32 percent base base thieves in his minor league career and routinely draws considerably above-average framing grades from Baseball Prospectus.
TUESDAY: The Brewers, Reds, Indians, Orioles, Astros and Twins also sent scouts to observe Maness’ workout, according to Goold.
MONDAY: Scouts from at least 16 Major League clubs were on-hand today to watch free agent right-hander Seth Maness work out, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Instagram). Per Goold, the Royals, Cubs and Nationals were all represented at Maness’ audition.
Maness’ showcase is especially intriguing due to the circumstances surrounding his injury. The 28-year-old suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament last summer and underwent surgery in August, but he elected to undergo an experimental “primary repair” surgery that, if successful, could represent a potential alternative to Tommy John surgery. Not every pitcher with a torn UCL can turn to the primary repair procedure as an alternative — the operation is dependent on the location and extent of the ligament tear — but certainly a return to health for Maness in seven and a half months would pique the interest of others with similar diagnoses around the league. (Those who are interested in the matter and missed Goold’s column on Maness last month should absolutely take the time to read through his breakdown of the operation itself and the larger-reaching potential implications of the surgery.)
The 28-year-old Maness was a fixture in the St. Louis bullpen from 2013-16, racking up 237 1/3 innings with a 3.19 ERA, 5.8 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a hefty 59.4 percent ground-ball rate along the way. Last season, however, he logged a 3.41 ERA with career worst K/9 and BB/9 rates of 4.6 and 2.3, respectively. Following the August operation, the Cardinals non-tendered him rather than pay him a projected $1.6MM via arbitration (projection via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz).
As an added bonus for any club that ultimately signs Maness, if he is indeed able to return and pitch at a high level, he’d remain under club control not just for the 2017 season but through the 2019 season. Maness wrapped up the 2016 campaign with three years and 154 days of Major League service time, so he’d be arbitration-eligible in each of the next two winters before hitting free agency in advance of his age-31 season.
- Orioles general manager Dan Duquette informed Kubatko he’s “looking for some more depth” to add to the team’s bullpen, and he’s not going to discriminate based on handedness. Baltimore was eyeing lefty Boone Logan before he agreed to a deal with the Indians last week, Duquette confirmed, but it seems he was well out of the club’s price range. The Orioles would prefer signing someone to a minor league deal, per Kubatko, who notes that one reason they haven’t re-upped free agent right-hander Tommy Hunter is because he’s seeking a major league pact.
- Free agent outfielder Nolan Reimold has spent nearly his entire career with the Orioles since they selected him in the second round of the 2005 draft, but they haven’t shown any interest in re-signing him, according to Kubatko. The right-handed-hitting Reimold, 33, has fared respectably at the plate in his career (.246/.323/.422 in 1,556 trips), though he registered a disappointing .222/.300/.365 line in 227 PAs last season to perhaps conclude his O’s tenure. Behind lefty-swinging corner outfielders Seth Smith and Hyun Soo Kim, the Reimold-less Orioles have a righty-hitting reserve in Joey Rickard, who handled southpaws over a small sample size as a rookie in 2016 (.313/.367/.494 in 90 PAs).
- The Orioles announced that they’ve re-signed infielder Robert Andino to a minor league contract. Baltimore also confirmed its previously reported minors contract with Johnny Giavotella. The 32-year-old Andino will return to Baltimore for his second stint after previously spending the 2009-12 seasons with the Orioles. In 2016, Andino returned to the Majors following a two-year absence from the bigs and picked up seven singles in 24 plate appearances with the Marlins. He spent most of the season in Triple-A New Orleans, hitting .267/.319/.427. Capable of playing shortstop, second base and third base, Andino will likely provide the O’s with some infield depth in the upper minors. While Andino does receive an invite to Major League Spring Training (per Rich Dubroff of PressboxOnline, on Twitter), Ryan Flaherty is in line to be the team’s primary utility option.