- Orioles center fielder Adam Jones sat down with Bill Ladson of MLB.com for a Q&A in which the two discussed his impending free agency and the possibility of a midseason trade if things don’t go well in Baltimore. Asked what it would take for him to stay in Baltimore, Jones suggests his focus in free agency will be winning in the long term. Baltimore’s offseason signings of Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb to multi-year deals “showed that we are going to make a commitment to pitching,” Jones noted in praising the front office. The longtime O’s cornerstone did note that his family lives on the West Coast, though he emphasized that he wasn’t so much voicing a preference to head west as acknowledging that he has alternatives if things don’t work out in Baltimore. Regarding a potential trade, Jones pointed out that he has 10-and-5 rights which would allow him to the right to refuse any deal and said it’d have to be a decision he made with his wife. Jones adds that he hopes to play until age 40, and he also talks with Ladson about his love for the city of Baltimore, his post-playing plans and the times in which he’s had to deal with racism throughout his career. The conversation is well worth a full read.
- The Orioles have halted Mark Trumbo’s rehab assignment, manager Buck Showalter told reporters, including Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com. While Showalter wouldn’t state that Trumbo had a setback, he did reveal that Trumbo “wasn’t quite comfortable” going full speed in the first game of a rehab stint with Double-A Bowie. The team didn’t provide a new timeline for Trumbo. Pedro Alvarez and Danny Valencia figure to continue platooning at the DH spot in his absence.
Cortes was taken from the Yankees in the 2017 Rule 5 draft. If he clears waivers, he’ll be offered back to the New York organization for a $50K sum, which the Yankees will all but assuredly pay. Regardless, the O’s have opened an additional 40-man spot for the time being.
The 23-year-old Cortes was one of two Rule 5 picks the O’s made back in December and one of three players with Rule 5 restrictions to crack the Opening Day roster. Baltimore also selected Pedro Araujo out of the Cubs organization, and outfielder Anthony Santander still comes with Rule 5 status for the first 44 days of the 2018 season after spending the bulk of the 2017 season on the disabled list.
Cortes appeared in four games for the Orioles and was tagged for four runs on 10 hits and four walks with three strikeouts through 4 2/3 innings of relief. Last year with the Yankees, he logged an impressive 2.06 ERA in 104 total innings between Class-A Advanced, Double-A and Triple-A, while averaging a strikeout per inning and just 2.8 walks per nine frames.
- The Orioles placed outfielder Colby Rasmus on the 10-day DL due to a left hip flexor strain, the team announced prior to today’s game. Right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis was called up from Triple-A to take Rasmus’ spot on the active roster. Rasmus has battled hip problems in the past, and the latest injury apparently was caused several days ago when he was hit in the hip with a cleat. This could account for Rasmus’ slow start to the year, as he has just two hits in his first 23 plate appearances for the O’s. Rasmus’ injury will cost Baltimore one of the few left-handed bats in their lineup; switch-hitter Anthony Santander is now likely to get more playing time in right field against right-handed pitching.
- Brandon Drury has been bothered with migraines and blurred vision since early in Spring Training, the Yankees third baseman told reporters (including the New York Post’s Zach Braziller). Drury was placed on the 10-day DL due to the problem, which led him to be removed from Friday night’s game against the Orioles. This newest issue seems to be the latest manifestation of an ongoing problem for Drury, as he told the team last night that he has been dealing with similar symptoms for the last six years. This came as news to the Yankees, according to GM Brian Cashman — Drury was known to have suffered a migraine while playing for the Diamondbacks in 2016, though an MRI at the time came back clean. Cashman said that Drury will receive “an entire assessment” on Monday: “All I care about is finding out what’s going on. He’s in a great city and we’ll give him the best medical care that New York City has to offer. I can’t say what my level of concern is at this point.”
Faced with questions about his free agent plans next winter, Orioles shortstop Manny Machado mostly declined to offer much insight — and didn’t take the bait when asked about playing in New York. As Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun was among those to report, though, Machado did reiterate that he is only interested in signing as a shortstop, which is certainly notable given that he has just moved back to his accustomed position after lining up at third to this point in his MLB career. His decision to press for a return to short wasn’t about future financial considerations, Machado added. Rather, he says that’s “just where my heart is and has always been.”
- Orioles righty Alex Cobb is now planning to take another outing in extended spring training on Monday, as Meoli further reports. While there had been some suggestion he might be activated at the end of the weekend, it seems Cobb prefers to continue a measured build-up before going at full bore. The Baltimore rotation could use an early season shot in the arm, which is why Cobb was signed in the first place, though clearly there’s little sense in rushing him onto the mound with a long season (and three more seasons under contract) still ahead.
- Alex Cobb is nearing readiness to join the Orioles, Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun writes. It seems likely he’ll take the ball on Monday, though that won’t be finalized until the weekend. Baltimore skipper Buck Showalter said the club is mostly allowing Cobb to drive the process while understandably preferring to “err on the side of caution.” Trusting the veteran hurler but maintaining a conservative approach seems wise given Cobb’s health history and the team’s $57MM investment.
- Orioles fans will certainly also want to check out this lengthy chat between righty Kevin Gausman and the Sun’s Jon Meoli. The talented 27-year-old has not quite turned the corner to being a front-line starter, despite showing hints of it at times. He’s now entering an important season in which he’ll try to bounce back from a messy 2017 showing in advance of his final two arb-eligible campaigns. Likewise, VP of baseball ops Brady Anderson recently joined the podcast of MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. He discussed how his history as a player helped spur his current career, as he began his post-playing involvement in the game by helping his former teammates. Though he’s hardly the only former player with a prominent executive role, Anderson is somewhat unusual in that he still gets down on the field quite a bit.
Ysla had been designated and removed from the Dodgers’ 40-man roster at the end of the 2017 season. Accordingly, the transaction will leave a MLB spot open for the O’s.
Liranzo, meanwhile, had recently been designated for assignment. He will go to the 40-man for Los Angeles, which moved righty Tom Koehler to the 60-day DL to accommodate the acquisition.
Soon turn 26, Ysla has shown his share of promise with intriguing arm strength from the left side. But he has also not yet established that he can command the ball in the upper minors. Last year, he pitched to a 5.28 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 6.1 BB/9 in 58 Double-A innings.
Really, the situation isn’t all the different for Liranzo, though he is more youthful at 23 years of age and obviously held more appeal for the Dodgers. Liranzo, who was generally rated among the twenty or thirty best prospects in the Baltimore system, worked to a 4.85 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 6.0 BB/9 over 65 Double-A frames in 2017.
The Orioles announced that they’ve traded right-hander Stefan Crichton to the Diamondbacks in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. Crichton was one of four right-handers designated for assignment by the Orioles on Opening Day as they created roster space for veterans Colby Rasmus, Danny Valencia, Craig Gentry and Pedro Alvarez.
Crichton, 26, debuted with the Orioles last year, though he tossed just 12 1/3 innings in the Majors. In that brief sample, he yielded 11 runs on a whopping 26 hits and four walks with eight strikeouts and a 46 percent ground-ball rate. The former 23rd-rounder did average better than 94 mph on his heater in the bigs, though, and he logged a strong 3.02 ERA with 9.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 0.38 HR/9 in 47 2/3 Triple-A innings. He has a pair of minor league options remaining, so the D-backs can shuttle him back and forth between Reno and the Majors this year and next, if they wish, without needing to worry about exposing him to waivers.
The Orioles announced that they’ve signed Michael Saunders to a minor league contract. The veteran outfielder, a client of Meister Sports Management, will head to Triple-A Norfolk to open the season. FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweets that Saunders’ deal comes with a $1.5MM base salary in the Majors and up to $3MM of additional incentives.
Saunders, 31, struggled through a nightmarish 2017 season with the Phillies and Blue Jays, hitting a combined .202/.356/.354 with six homers in 234 trips to the plate. That, however, came on the heels of a 2016 All-Star selection — albeit one which came as part of a highly uneven season. Saunders slashed a terrific .298/.372/.551 in the first half with the 2016 Blue Jays before cratering with a .178/.282/.357 slash following the All-Star Game.
When healthy, Saunders has demonstrated an ability to play all three outfield slots as well as average or better power. The speed he once possessed has largely fallen by the wayside in recent years, perhaps not surprisingly in the wake of a 2015 operation to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee — an injury that continued to plague him throughout the 2015 campaign.
At present, Saunders is probably best suited for corner outfield duties, though Colby Rasmus made Baltimore’s Opening Day roster as a left-handed-hitting corner bat with a similar skill set, meaning Saunders will likely have to wait for an opportunity in Baltimore. As Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com observes (Twitter link), Saunders will join a crowded Norfolk outfield mix which already includes lefties Alex Presley, Jaycob Brugman and D.J. Stewart (to say nothing of top outfield prospect Austin Hays, who’ll be receiving everyday at-bats there).
This is the latest entry in MLBTR’s 2017-18 Offseason In Review series. Click here to read the other completed reviews from around the league.
The Orioles saved their biggest spending for a much-needed rotation fix, while relying on some familiar faces and young arms to augment the back end of the roster at a low cost.
Major League Signings
- Alex Cobb, SP: Four years, $57MM ($20MM deferred without interest)
- Andrew Cashner, SP: Two years, $16MM (plus $10MM club option for 2020 that can either vest or become a player option with at least 340 IP over 2018-19)
- Chris Tillman, SP: One year, $3MM
- Michael Kelly, RHP: Major League contract, minimum salary (Kelly has since been designated for assignment)
- Total spend: $76.545MM
Trades And Claims
- Acquired C Andrew Susac from the Brewers for cash or a player to be named later
- Acquired IF Engelb Vielma from the Giants for cash or a player to be named later
- Acquired OF Jaycob Brugman from the Athletics for RP Jake Bray
- Acquired RHP Konner Wade from the Rockies for $500K in international bonus pool money
- Selected RHP Pedro Araujo from the Cubs, and LHP Nestor Cortes Jr. and RHP Jose Mesa Jr. from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft (Mesa has since been returned to the Yankees)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Colby Rasmus, Pedro Alvarez, Danny Valencia, Craig Gentry, Jhan Marinez, Alex Presley, Joely Rodriguez, Ruben Tejada, Josh Edgin, Luis Sardinas, Asher Wojciechowski, Ryan O’Rourke, Jeff Ferrell, Jayson Aquino, Tim Melville, Andrew Faulkner, Perci Garner (note: the Orioles selected the contracts of Rasmus, Alvarez, Valencia, and Gentry, adding $6.1MM in guaranteed salary to the payroll)
- J.J. Hardy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Welington Castillo, Wade Miley, Jeremy Hellickson, Ryan Flaherty, Seth Smith
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Orioles executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette could take Major League Baseball’s offseason as a compliment. Since taking over Baltimore’s front office, Duquette’s signature move has been to wait until late in the offseason to pursue free agents whose markets had stalled or even collapsed, in order to sign the players at a discounted price.
This winter, however, seemingly every team in baseball adopted Duquette’s strategy, leading to an unprecedented chill in free agent activity and leaving O’s fans increasingly agitated about their team’s lack of action. While the Orioles were filling some holes via minor league contracts, the club’s most glaring need was being left unfilled — three spots in the team’s starting rotation.
The first domino fell in mid-February, when Andrew Cashner was signed to a two-year, $16MM deal. Next came a one-year, $3MM reunion with Chris Tillman, the longtime O’s workhorse and former ace whose value cratered after a nightmarish 2017 season. While these two signings addressed the back of the rotation, however, Baltimore still seemed in clear need of a more prominent arm to join with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman as the team’s frontline starters.
The O’s weren’t in particularly strong pursuit of Alex Cobb as recently as early February, though the urgency to address that pitching need continued to build, especially once Lance Lynn joined the Twins on a one-year deal even though the Orioles may have been willing to offer multiple seasons. The time had come for the Orioles to take a plunge to solidify their pitching staff, and the result was bringing Cobb into the fold on the largest pitching contract in franchise history.
Cobb has yet to entirely recapture the form he showed prior to his May 2015 Tommy John surgery, returning from rehab to make five ugly starts in 2016 and then posting a solid-but-unspectacular 3.66 ERA, 6.4 K/9, and 2.91 K/BB rate over 179 1/3 innings for the Rays last season. Cobb did gradually pitch better as the season developed, however, and answered some of the questions about his durability by setting a new personal best for innings. It should be noted that even if Cobb’s 2017 numbers end up representing his new normal, his performance last year still represents an enormous upgrade for the Baltimore rotation. Cobb posted 2.4 fWAR and rWAR last season, putting him almost on par with Bundy (2.7) and Gausman (2.5 fWAR, 2.0 rWAR), and far surpasses the numbers posted by Jimenez, Tillman, Wade Miley, or Jeremy Hellickson.
The signing was an aggressive and somewhat unexpected move from Baltimore, especially given their previous record-high pitching contract (Jimenez’s four-year, $50MM deal) only just came off the books and was a significant bust for the team. Still, it was clearly a risk the Orioles felt comfortable in taking, as since 2018 could be something of a win-now season with so many star players hitting free agency next winter, the four-year length of Cobb’s contract indicates that the O’s still intend to be competitive over the long term.
The shorter-term fixes came in the form of some former Orioles brought back on minor league contracts. Pedro Alvarez, Craig Gentry, and Danny Valencia all returned for another stint in Baltimore, while Colby Rasmus (rumored as an O’s target for a couple of years now) joined both the team and baseball itself, after he put his career on hiatus last summer to spend time with his family and newborn child.
Mark Trumbo’s season-opening DL stint and the Orioles’ desire for Austin Hays to get everyday minor league work resulted in Alvarez, Gentry, Valencia, and Rasmus all having their contracts purchased for Opening Day. Rasmus and Gentry look to form a lefty/righty platoon in right field, with Alvarez and Valencia doing the same at DH, with Valencia also available to back up first and possibly third base.
Cobb’s injury history is surely a concern to the O’s, though barring any further health issues, he should clearly help the rotation. It’s anyone’s guess as to how Tillman can (or will) rebound, though at a cost of just $3MM and with shoulder problems potentially the culprit behind his 2017 struggles, he represents at worst a low-risk option for the fifth starter role. If Tillman’s shoulder is feeling better, he stands out as a major bargain for the Orioles at anything resembling his old form. (Tillman can earn up to $7MM more via incentives, though if he reaches a significant portion of that number, it’ll likely be because he’s pitching well enough to make it money well spent for Baltimore.)
Cashner, however, is more of a concern, with a checkered injury history of his own as well as some fairly questionable numbers last season. His 3.40 ERA over 166 2/3 innings for the Rangers looked great on paper, though advanced metrics (4.61 FIP, 5.30 xFIP, 5.52 SIERA) painted a much more dire picture of Cashner’s performance. Never much of a strikeout pitcher, Cashner posted only a 4.64 K/9 last year, the second-lowest total of any qualified starter in the game. Combine that stat with the lowest swinging-strike rate (6.1%) of any qualified starter, and Cashner’s .266 BABIP and 74% strand rate suddenly look like much larger factors in his 2017 success.
There’s also the fact that Cortes and Castro could be needed in the bullpen, which took a big hit when closer Zach Britton suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon over the offseason. Britton is said to be making good progress and could perhaps even be a bit ahead of schedule if he returns by early June or even late May, but obviously it’s a major setback for a pitcher who was already looking to bounce back from an injury-hampered 2017 season.
Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Mychal Givens will share the late-game duties with Britton out, and the Orioles’ top plan for bullpen reinforcement seems to be Cortes and Pedro Araujo, both selected in the Rule 5 Draft and required to be on Baltimore’s 25-man roster all season if the team wants to keep them in the organization. Cortes and Araujo both have live arms and either one would be an intriguing addition to the bullpen — going with both for a full season is somewhat risky, due to the sheer lack of experience.
The O’s didn’t have many holes around the diamond, and they gained a bit more left-handed hitting depth in the form of Rasmus, Alvarez, and top prospect Chance Sisco. None are everyday options, though Sisco likely will be at some point. Deploying the veterans in pure platoon roles makes sense on paper, though there is a lack of infield depth on the bench, as Valencia isn’t an ideal defensive choice at anything besides first base at this point in his career. Luis Sardinas and Engelb Vielma are on hand as defense-only infield options in the minors and could eventually get the call once Trumbo returns and the O’s have to engage in some roster shuffling.
The infield question stands out since it isn’t clear if Tim Beckham is a reliable everyday option, though the Orioles are now wondering if Beckham can be a starting third baseman as opposed to a starting shortstop. In a much-publicized position switch, Manny Machado is returning to shortstop after spending the bulk of his MLB career as one of baseball’s best defensive third basemen. It’s a move that carries some risk for Baltimore (in an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sense), though Machado’s defense doesn’t appear to have been much affected, and if there is any worry about the position change impacting Machado’s bat, it could be noted that Machado really has nowhere to go but up after a disappointing year at the plate.
Machado hit .259/.310/.471 over 690 PA in 2017, still displaying big power with 33 homers but falling behind in the average and OBP departments — the latter being particularly harmful on a team that struggled as a whole to reach base. With Adam Jones also going through a bit of an off-year by his standards and Davis and Trumbo just having flat-out mediocre seasons, the Orioles’ biggest need may simply be for these lineup cornerstones to get back on track.
There is even more pressure on Machado and Jones for turnaround years since both players will be free agents next offseason. A big contract year could be particularly important for Jones, who turns 33 in June and is entering a free agent market that has become increasingly unfavorable to veteran position players with marginal OBPs over the past two winters. Machado is going to score a huge deal even if he repeats his 2017 numbers, though if he proves that last year was just a fluke, he’ll again be on track for a massive contract that could crack the $300MM barrier.
Whether that next contract could come from the Orioles is beginning to seem increasingly unlikely, as the team and its star shortstop seemed to barely touch base on extension negotiations this winter. Of much more intrigue was the fact that the O’s actively explored trading Machado, opening the floor to offers from any team willing to meet a gigantic asking price. Teams like the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Giants, and Cardinals were all involved in the talks but, ultimately, Machado was still wearing the orange-and-black on Opening Day.
It’s possible that Machado could again be shopped at the trade deadline if Baltimore falls out of the postseason race. Owner Peter Angelos has traditionally been hesitant about unloading stars at midseason, though with his sons taking an increased role in the franchise’s operations — they reportedly pushed for the Cobb signing, for instance — perhaps Angelos could be convinced that dealing free agents like Machado, Jones, Britton, or Brach would be in the team’s best interest for a quick reload to contend in 2019.
Given how some of the veteran hitters struggled last year, it would be rather painfully ironic for the Orioles if they finally overhauled their rotation only to see their lineup fall apart. The O’s took steps to address their pitching weaknesses, but they’re still putting a lot of faith that the core of their lineup can bring them back to their 2012-16 success. The Orioles did shave around $18MM off the payroll from their season-ending $170MM figure, so there is room to spend at the deadline if they decide to be buyers rather than sellers, but it remains to be seen if Baltimore can hang around in the tough AL East long enough to make that decision.
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