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Five Orioles with Much to Prove in 2019

Dylan Bundy throws in Sarasota.

Entering the first full year of the Baltimore Orioles’ rebuild, all the fans keep talking about is how the Orioles are going to have a few terrible seasons in order to become great. But what some aren’t discussing is the individual aspect of how it’s going to come together.

Several players need to improve upon their respective prior performances to be a part of not only an expedited rebuild, but to be an asset for a good team going forward – whether that be with the future-contending Orioles or to be a valuable trade acquisition for an immediate contender.

The 10 players below have much to prove to the O’s and/or other ball clubs in 2019. I’ve excluded prospects from this list primarily because, well… they’re prospects. They obviously have a lot left to prove.

 

Dylan Bundy

Dylan Bundy jogs in Spring Training.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Dylan Bundy, the once-elite prospect, has now had three full seasons at the big-league level, and has shown glimpses of why he was once ranked the second-best prospect in all of baseball, via MLB Pipeline.

After posting a 4.02 ERA in his first major-league season in 2016, then a respectable 4.24 ERA in his first full starter workload year in 2017, many looked for the young right-hander to take a step forward in 2018.

Bundy started last season strong, recording a 1.42 ERA and 11.37 K/9 over his first five starts. This raised some eyebrows, showing promise in the then-25-year old. However, he lost his groove and became very vulnerable on the mound, finishing the season with a 5.45 ERA and a 2.15 HR/9, which was the worst among qualified major-league pitchers in 2018 (next highest was 1.67 HR/9 by Mike Fiers).

Bundy needs to, at worst, bounce back to his 2017 self this upcoming season. Although he pitches in one of the most well-known hitters’ parks in the big leagues, he needs to keep the ball in the park and show why he was once the best pitching prospect in baseball. With three years left of team control, he needs to provide a reason why the Orioles should consider either shopping him for a quality return, or look at the right-hander as an extension candidate to keep him in the club’s future contending plans.

Bold Prediction: Bundy has the first sub-4.00 ERA of career. The Orioles shop him midseason but end up holding onto him for at least the remainder of 2019.

 

Alex Cobb

Alex Cobb of the Orioles pitches.

In trying to keep their “window” open in 2018, the Orioles signed Alex Cobb to a four-year, $57 million contract during spring training.

He pitched to a 4.90 ERA in his first season in Baltimore, but that doesn’t tell the story of his season. By signing so late, Cobb wasn’t able to go through with a regular spring training heading into the season, which could have impacted his ability to settle in early on.

In the veteran right-hander’s first 16 starts of 2018, he sported an abysmal 6.67 ERA. He turned a corner, though, posting a 2.59 ERA over his final 12 outings.

In 2019, Cobb should look to have a healthy, successful bounce-back campaign, helped by a full spring training to get prepared for the season. If he can prove that his struggles last season were due to the lack of spring preparation, he could become a valuable trade asset for the O’s, despite his contract. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported earlier this offseason that the Orioles have gotten calls on both Cobb and Bundy.

Bold Prediction: Cobb will be a solid innings eater but nothing much more than that. The Orioles will move him at the deadline by either eating salary or taking a low return to get his salary off the books.

 

Chris Davis

Chris Davis trots around the bases.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Should I post the numbers? I shouldn’t.

But I will.

.168/.243/.296 slash line, 16 home runs, -3.1 fWAR.

Yikes.

A couple weekends ago at O’s FanFest, Chris Davis opened up about his embarrassing season, and acknowledged that he needs to do whatever it takes to turn it around, including relying on any analytical advice provided to him by the new staff in place. You can read what he had to say here.

Obviously, the once-feared slugger is probably hoping to return to his dominant 2013 or 2015 self. But, in reality, I’d say returning to a .300-plus on-base percentage, 30-plus homer season should really be seen as a successful bounce-back season.

Bold Prediction: Davis loses everyday starter status, but still plays multiple days a week. His numbers fall somewhere between his 2014 season (.196/.300/.404, 26 HRs) and 2017 season (.215/.309/.423, 26 HRs).

 

Mychal Givens

Mychal Givens pitches.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

At no point in his career has right-handed side-armer Mychal Givens been a below-average reliever. He posted his career-worst 3.99 ERA and 9.27 K/9 in 2018, yet managed to post a career-best 1.7 fWAR. This could be in part due to a 3.07 FIP and 0.47 HR/9.

In 2019, Givens needs to prove that he can now be much more than just a reliable reliever. With Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Darren O’Day all out of the picture, it’s possible that Givens could be handed closing duties on Opening Day.

Even if he’s not named the closer – or if the O’s opt against naming one closer – Givens still figures to be relied on heavily in high-leverage situations. He needs to take advantage of these opportunities and make the best of them. His name came up plenty in rumors leading up to last year’s non-waiver trade deadline, and he could resurface as a highly-coveted reliever on the trade market if he proves to be a dominant presence on the mound late in ball games.

Bold Prediction: Givens has the best season of his career in his first year as closer, and the O’s trade him in July for a package of prospects.

 

Trey Mancini

Trey Mancini watches the ball after making contact.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Fans and scouts had different opinions on Trey Mancini when he got called up to the big leagues. He wasn’t a highly-ranked prospect coming up through the Orioles farm system, but he did produce at the minor-league levels, so it was intriguing to see how he’d do when he got his call to the bigs in late 2016. In five games, he hit three homers, raising many eyebrows.

Then, after fighting for an Opening Day roster spot, he rewarded the O’s decision by slashing .293/.338/.488 with 24 home runs in 2017, earning third place for American League Rookie of the Year honors, behind Andrew Benintendi and Aaron Judge, who received second and first place, respectively.

Many expected good things from Mancini in 2018, his second full season. He hit 24 homers again, although he recorded just a .242/.299/.416 batting line. It is worth noting that he batted .216/.292/.363 in the first half, but had a second half that featured a .276/.307/.484 slash line.

In 2019, Mancini needs to return to at least close to his 2017 ways. He’s a below-average defender in the outfield and belongs at first base, but he’ll need to hit enough to be able to keep his spot.

Entering just his third full year in the big leagues, the soon-to-be 27-year old has spoken about becoming an early veteran and leader in the clubhouse. This is great to see, but he’ll need to put up better numbers in 2019 than he did last season if he wants to become and remain a leader in Baltimore.

Bold Prediction: Mancini struggles early on and sees a decrease in playing time, but gets it together enough to start frequently in the second half. He finishes with a slash line of around .255/.310/.430 with 20-to-23 homers.

 

Click here for five more Orioles with plenty to prove in 2019.

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Age-27 Rule is a Baseball Myth

Chris Davis trots around the bases.

For a long time, it was said that baseball players reach their prime at the age of 27. It has, of course, been debunked as a myth – there is no rule that can ever state when an individual athlete reaches his or her peak age in sports. Besides, there is the new peak age for athletes in every generation, considering the ever newer and more efficient training techniques and nutrition regimens becoming increasingly widespread. This might be the reason why the peak performance of athletes in various sports has shifted toward an older age.

In baseball, there is something called the “Age-27” rule, stating that “a hitter tends to break out in his age-27 season.” This myth was largely based on an essay by baseball analyst and statistician Bill James, where he concluded that baseball players tend to offer their teams their peak performance around the age of 27. He recommended that, if a peak period has to be assigned to players, it should be the one between the ages of 25 and 29. Ultimately, James himself abandoned his method of assessing the performance of players this way, realizing that his methods failed to take into account players whose performance was deemed below major-league performance who stopped playing.

Author J. C. Bradbury, author of “The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed”, has found another method of analyzing the performance of baseball hitters and pitchers, one that seems closer to reality, taking into account many factors James seemed to overlook in his essay. His results put the peak performance for both hitters and pitchers around the age of 29 – on average, that is. When it comes to specific tasks, like hitting, pitching, walking, and such, the ages of peak performance differ. “Hitters peak in batting and slugging average at 28 while continuing to improve in their home-run hitting and walking abilities until 30 and 32, respectively,” he wrote. “Pitcher strikeout ability peaks around 24, while walk prevention peaks nine years later. Again, veteran know-how appears to be playing a role in improving performance to compensate for diminishing physical skills.”

Even the averages Bradbury found seem not to apply to some of the players still active today. Bartolo Colón, a pitcher for the Texas Rangers (MLB), is still very much active at the age of 45, well after his statistical prime. Koji Uehara, who made his MLB debut with the Orioles in 2009, is still active at the Tokyo-based professional baseball team Yomiuri Giants at the age of 43. And Ichiro Suzuki, another Japanese professional outfielder who made his MLB debut in 2001, has just signed a one-year contract with the Seattle Mariners this March – at the age of 44.

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Did You Know These Celebrities are O’s Fans?

Photo by Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil / CC BY 3.0 BR

We like celebrities. We love Orioles fans. These are two fine groups of people who usually have nothing in common. So, it’s something special when famous celebs and Orioles fans overlap as one and the same.

Get it? We’re talking about well-known showbiz types and athletes who happen to have exquisite baseball tastes of the Baltimore variety.

And we especially love seeing famous fans repping the team when they step out in O’s swag. It might be Edward Norton plugging healthy veggie juice on Twitter, Michael Phelps making a splash at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, or even cartoon Ice Cube. Yes, he’s straight outta Compton, but we would welcome him with open arms in “Charm City”.

Here’s a look at a few of our favorite double agents—celebs with O’s fever.

Billy Bob Thornton

The versatile writer, director, and actor was a huge Brooks Robinson fan in his youth, ergo his foray into O’s fandom. Rumor has it that a glove autographed by Robinson sits next to Thornton’s Oscar trophy at home—not a bad combo. Thornton excelled at baseball as a young man and once tried out for the Kansas City Royals.

Photo by David Shankbone / CC BY 3.0

Edward Norton

The Fight Club and Grand Budapest Hotel actor is a local boy. Norton hails from nearby Columbia where his grandfather, James Rouse, was a noted developer of the Howard County suburbs. He’s been known to attend O’s games from time-to-time when he visits the old stomping grounds. Norton once took to Twitter and expressed his desire for Cal Ripken to revive the franchise as manager and GM. We can’t say we necessarily disagree.

Michael Phelps

The record-setting Olympic gold medallist ranks up there with Poe and Ripken in the echelon of Charm City heroes. It’s no surprise, then, that Phelps roots for the hometown team. He made a guest appearance for batting practice at the O’s spring training in 2013. The Flying Fish memorably laughed on the medal podium after winning gold in the 200-meter butterfly event at the 2016 Olympic games when friends chanted  “OOOOOO” during the National Anthem, as is customary at Camden Yards.

Pat Sajak

The timeless Wheel of Fortune host first visited Camden Yards in 1991 before completion of the stadium. He was given a tour of the stadium’s construction site and still has a picture of his hard-hat-wearing self standing at the then-future site of home plate. It’s a fond memory for Sajak, who occasionally returns to games at Camden Yards and reflects back on that early tour.

Photo by ceedub13 / CC BY 2.0

Joan Jett

Best known for the 1982 rebel-rousing hit “I Love Rock n’ Roll”, Joan Jett has been one of hard rock’s leading ladies for over 40 years. She’s also a diehard fan who caught O’s fever while attending games with her dad as a child. She’s even been part of some historic O’s moments; Jett sang the national anthem the day Ripken tied Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-games-played streak, and she was a guest of honor the night Ripken owned the record.

James Ellsworth

WWE superstar Ellsworth is another Charm City native who pulls for the O’s through thick and thin. In 2018 he took batting practice with the team at Camden Yards and even signed a few autographs for the opposing Yankees. You may catch Ellsworth at the ballpark sitting in the centerfield bleachers beneath the scoreboard, which is his favorite place to take in a game, thanks to the full-field view.

Derek Waters

The hilarious host of Comedy Central’s Drunk History has been a fan since his childhood growing up in Lutherville. He proudly sports O’s hats during public appearances and appeared on the MLB Network in 2015 to discuss his profound love for the team.

Keep your eyes peeled the next time you take in a game at Camden Yards. You never know whom you might see in the stands washing down their Chesapeake fries with a Natty Boh. It could be one of our very own O’s loving celebs!

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20 Former O’s Remain on Free Agent Market

Adam Jones sunglasses.

Although the offseason has been mostly quiet around Major League Baseball, a few familiar names have found homes via free agency this winter, like Tim Beckham with the Seattle Mariners, Zach Britton with the New York Yankees, and Brad Brach with the Chicago Cubs, to name a few.

However, there are plenty of former O’s still without jobs for 2019.

It’s very possible that none of these 20 players will reappear in Baltimore, but it’s certainly interesting to look into, especially since some could fill needs around here. So, let’s look into the possibilities.

Here I’ve broken it down by position, with players listed in order of how many games they played in their previous stints in Baltimore.

There’s a decent chance that Mike Elias will continue to add veteran arms on minor-league deals for depth purposes and that he’ll roll with young guns heading into the season.

However, if he’s looking to add a free-agent starter or reliever for cheap in order to not only take stress off the younger pitchers, but to serve as a mentor and hopefully pitch well enough to become a decent midseason trade chip, there are a few from this list who could make sense.

The ones I’m going to go ahead and scratch off the list are Jeremy Hellickson, Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman. For the majority of these four, underwhelming results in an Orioles uniform could be unattractive for both the club and the pitcher to reconnect going forward. Wade Miley could fit this description as well, seeing as how he started having success again once leaving Baltimore, so he may not be looking to return. However, I could see Elias expressing some interest here.

This leaves Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Bud Norris, and Jim Johnson as the other possible candidates.

Jackson has now pitched for 13 teams in his major-league career. He had three unappealing outings out of the bullpen in 2017 for the O’s, but he got back on track as a starter with the Oakland Athletics in 2018, posting a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts. He might find better opportunities elsewhere, but if all else fails, a return to the now analytically-equipped Orioles for a cheap price tag wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Hammel spent 2012 as the O’s ace and 2013 as an at-best back-end starter. He later had three successful seasons combined with the Athletics and Cubs. However, the following two years featured disappointing results for the right-hander in Kansas City. After the Royals declined his 2019 option, I doubt many, if any, competitive clubs are going to be giving him a call to offer a major-league job. He should be looked at as a low-risk move who could eat innings, or at worst, be on a cheap enough salary that’s easy to cut if he doesn’t bounce back.

Norris had a decent beginning to his Orioles career after he was dealt from the Houston Astros in 2013. He posted a 4.80 ERA for the O’s in 2013, but had arguably the best season of his career in 2014 with a 3.65 ERA over 28 starts. His 2015 season may have been his worst, and that’s what ended his tenure in Baltimore. However, his transition to the bullpen has been good for prolonging his career, as he’s posted a 3.91 ERA and 10.60 K/9 over the last two seasons. If the O’s want a veteran in the bullpen, he’s not a bad option to look into.

Lastly, Johnson was once known as a very good Orioles closer in 2012 and a decent one in 2013. Since the O’s traded Johnson prior to the 2014 season, though, his numbers have been fairly inconsistent. His strikeout rate has increased, but his once-great groundball rate has declined to just good. Coming off a 3.84 ERA season with the Angels, he’s worth a look to be a cheap-salary veteran in the bullpen.

To be frank, I don’t think any of these three will be back with the O’s in 2019, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it did happen.

Nick Hundley was with the Orioles for the majority of the 2014 season after Matt Wieters was put on the shelf for the season. He split time with Caleb Joseph and did so efficiently. Since then, he has been very serviceable as a part-time backstop, most recently with the San Francisco Giants. I think he’ll find a similar role elsewhere in 2019, and I think he doesn’t fit the exact defensive profile the O’s are looking for in a veteran catcher.

Joseph, in my opinion, is the most-likely to return of the three, as he is also the most probable to ink a minor-league deal. He’s been worth 0.4 fWAR over the past two seasons combined, but he’s also the best defensive catcher of this group, providing some veteran presence for Austin Wynns and Chance Sisco.

Wieters has had a couple disappointing seasons with the Washington Nationals, but he may be looking to try and start somewhere in 2019. I’m not sure he’s an everyday starter anymore, but he’s probably looking for a place to bounce back. If the O’s are focusing on the development of Wynns and Sisco, Wieters probably isn’t a match in Baltimore.

Well we know Manny Machado is long gone, that’s for sure. The Orioles have a long list of first basemen or DH types, so Danny Valencia and Mark Reynolds would just make the logjam even bigger.

Ryan Flaherty seems like the most likely to return of the four, but only on a minor-league deal. The O’s may be able to use some depth, but I think they’d rather look at Rule V additions Richie Martin and Drew Jackson on the big-league club.

Finally, this is a section that provides all legitimate possibilities for the Orioles.

Orioles fans may not want Jose Bautista, and he may not be the greatest of fits, but it could be a decent deal for both sides if he comes on a one-year deal. Elias is looking for a veteran outfielder to fill a hole while the prospects develop, and I’m not sure the O’s are sold on Renato Nunez and Rio Ruiz holding down third base, where Bautista has major-league experience. Bautista could rotate around from left field, right field, and third base while trying to put on a showcase for contending clubs to look to trade for him at the non-waiver trade deadline.

Gerardo Parra looked like an exciting acquisition for the O’s in 2015 – well, at least I was optimistic about it – but he turned out to be a dud. Since then, he’s played three seasons in Colorado, putting up a .283/.320/.407 slash line. He may be the kind of fit that could either start every day for a rebuilding club or be a perfect bench outfielder once the prospects break into the big leagues.

Craig Gentry may be the least likely to return of the four, simply because he’s basically what the Orioles already have in Joey Rickard. If he’s fine with returning on a minor-league deal, I don’t have an issue, but I’d imagine both sides are looking for a better fit.

And lastly, the favorite: Adam Jones.

It may be surprising to some that Jones is still looking for a home. But with a free-agent market looking ever so slow with Machado and Bryce Harper still waiting to sign somewhere, Jones may have to wait even longer to find a home.

It’s tough to get a read on how likely on unlikely it is that Jones could return. If the O’s are indeed searching for a veteran outfielder, he definitely wouldn’t hurt the club. He’s been the undeniable leader in Baltimore for years, and he can be a good mentor for the young outfielders. He may hold out for a contender as well as everyday playing time, but this could be a way for him to mostly start throughout the first half of the season, and eventually be traded to a contender at midseason. But then again, the O’s interest in him could shift in either direction on how likely it is that Jones would waive his no-trade clause, because a rebuilding club could certainly look to deal the veterans in July.

How likely is it for any of these 20 to come back to Baltimore? Probably not that likely, but from a prediction standpoint, here are my top-five most likely to return to Baltimore:

  1. OF Jones
  2. OF Parra
  3. RHP Johnson
  4. C Joseph
  5. RHP Norris

Who would you like to see back in Baltimore in 2019 for the rebuilding O’s?

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Couldn’t the O’s Simultaneously Rebuild AND Compete?

sunset view of oriole park at camden yards

As the beautiful sounds of baseball near their return I find myself in a glass case of emotion in regard to the 2019 Baltimore Orioles (and beyond). On the one hand, they have done a phenomenal job this offseason changing their course. It seems that each one of their personnel hires from Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal, to Brandon Hyde and his coaching staff have received great praise both nationally and here in Baltimore.

From the perspective of a fan I’m really excited to see what this group can do to rebuild this thing from the ground up. That’s the positive spin.

The other side of this coin has me dreading the next three seasons and the 300 losses that will come along with them. The Orioles have made it clear (with their lack of activity) that they have zero interest in being competitive in 2019.

Is it wrong to understand the need for a rebuild yet still want to not watch a team lose 110 games? I don’t think so.

 

Lose at All Costs

Like a pair of Rayban Wayfarers and a craft beer, tanking is all the rage right now in Major League Baseball. Per Spotrac, the average MLB payroll for 2019 is $118,755, 719.

Guess how many teams are below the league average? Go ahead and guess, I’ll wait…

Twenty-one. 21 teams are currently slated to spend below the league average in 2019.

In fact, 15 of those 21 teams have a payroll below $100 million. The Orioles rank 28th with a projected payroll around $61 million. The Rays come in at a cool $35 million, a ghastly $167 million behind the Boston Red Sox (that amount is equal to the Los Angels Angels’ Payroll).

With this type of payroll disparity and over 2/3 of the league spending below “average,” it’s clear that losing has become the new winning.

 

MLB is Happy

Rob Manfred

The love of the tank has been a dream scenario for Major League Baseball. With 2/3 of the league mailing it in, the perennial big spenders/markets have been free to do as they wish – Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs. Their success = big money, and MLB enjoyed their 16th consecutive year of record-breaking revenue, as they eclipsed $10.3 billion in 2018.

The winners here are obvious, as owners, and in turn the league, have never been richer. The losers are equally obvious, as the fans and free agents are left to suffer.

From my vantage point, the best solution to this is a salary cap/floor. The players union has always been opposed to this idea as it would obviously limit the ability for teams to spend, but we’ve reached that point naturally. With 2/3 of the league tanking, there simply aren’t enough funds available for the remaining nine teams to pay these free agents what they’re looking for. It is not acceptable to have a $167 million gap between the lowest and highest team payrolls.

That’s a laughable model.

For reference, the gap between the lowest and highest payrolls in the NFL for 2018 was about $70million.

 

Why not sign Free Agents?

Back to the Orioles.

Why not sign some veterans to make the 2019 season more palatable? This roster as currently constructed is awful (horrendous, disgusting, pitiful), and I don’t understand the rationale for playing these guys just for the sake of filling out the lineup.

Nick Markakis just signed for $4 million. Nelson Cruz, $14.3 million. Jonathan Schoop, $7.5 million. Troy Tulowitski, a gentleman’s $550,000.

Now granted, none of those guys may have wanted to come here, but for argument’s sake, signing those players, all of whom signed one-year deals, would fill major deficiencies for 2019. Furthermore, it would have moved the Orioles to a payroll number around $87 million, jumping them up to 22nd in MLB (by no means outrageous even during a rebuild).

What would those guys have done for the W/L record? I don’t know, but I know they would have put some butts in the seats at the Yard, and I’d much rather watch Nick Markakis in RF over Joey Rickard, or see Nelson Cruz in the on deck circle over Mark Trumbo. These guys would serve as nothing more than a bridge to the future, and who knows, maybe throw us a bone of excitement.

But hey, if you’re the type of fan that enjoys the Steve Wilkersons and Rio Ruizs of the world, 2019 is for you!

 

Orioles are Different Now

But Joe, things are different with the Angelos sons.”

I hope and pray that this turns out to be true, and I love the moves and commitments they’ve seemingly allowed Mike Elias to make. My pessimistic side however would caution that it’s easy to talk funding for international scouting and analytics when your payroll is the lowest it’s been since 2004, and about $80 million lower than last year’s figure.

But Billy Joel is coming, the Orioles have never allowed a concert like this before!!!

With attendance at an all-time low in 2018, someone has to bring people down to Eutaw Street, and I’m not sure 600 AB’s from Renato Nunez is going to get the job done.

Rebuilds aren’t glamorous, I get that. But can’t there be a better way then another off-season of “Chris Davis is working hard” articles (shout out MASN) and an Opening Day lineup that looks like this?

I’d like to think so.

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Thursday Thoughts: Mike Mussina Get His Hall of Fame Nod

mike mussina pitches for the orioles.

Congrats to The Moose

In his sixth year of eligibility, former Orioles ace Mike Mussina is finally headed to Cooperstown. “Moose” was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this week with 76.7% of the vote (needing 75%). He’ll be joined in this year’s class by Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez and Roy Halladay, who will go in posthumously after tragically passing away late in 2017. Fellow former Orioles Lee Smith and Harold Baines will also be enshrined this summer in upstate New York after being selected in December by the Today’s Game Era Committee.

I didn’t think Mussina’s election to the Hall would hit me the way it did. I watched on MLB Network on Tuesday and was overjoyed when his name was announced. It was surprising to me that I felt the chills on my arms that are normally only produced by big moments in the most important of games. Mussina’s election is a big deal, not just for him, but for Orioles fans. There is a wide array of O’s fans who are like me, elated to see Mussina go in and be revered as one of baseball’s best. But there are just as many, if not more, who couldn’t care less. There are even those Orioles fans who were rooting against Mussina’s chances to get into the Hall because of his decision to leave as a free agent after a decade in Baltimore and join the Yankees. These fans are kind of nuts. They make it seem like Mussina betrayed the Orioles in some fashion. These are many of the same fans who were happy to see Manny Machado get traded last summer because they somehow felt betrayed by him.

The truth is, Mussina didn’t betray the Orioles. He took a better contract in New York just like any other player would’ve.

There’s also a great debate going on over which logo, if any, will go on Mussina’s cap for his Hall of Fame plaque. This also doesn’t really matter. The 50-year-old has been quoted as saying he couldn’t choose, but the Hall very well may do it for him. They could also allow his cap to go logo-less. Regardless, Mussina spent 10 seasons as an Oriole, and was a great one. He was the second-best pitcher in team history, behind only Jim Palmer. No one is going to take that away from him. It doesn’t matter what a logo on a cap on a plaque in a building in upstate New York says. The Hall of Fame is a wonderful place that I encourage everyone to visit at least once, but it’s also just a building. It’s a museum, more than anything.

Mussina’s legacy won’t reside in that building on that plaque. It will reside in record books, highlights and memories of him actually pitching. There are plenty of players we think of with different teams. Mussina was definitely a Yankee, but he was also an Oriole. Frank Robinson played 10 seasons for the Reds and only six for the O’s, but is in the Hall with a bird on his cap. I know that Mussina played for the Orioles because I saw it happen. I don’t need his cap to tell me that.

The real conversation over the coming weeks and months will be what the Orioles do to honor Mussina’s induction this summer. Each of the Orioles in the Hall of Fame have a statue in “Legends Park.” Does Mussina get the same treatment? Is he an Orioles “legend” and what even constitutes that? According to Baseball Reference’s WAR, Mussina is the fifth-best Oriole of all-time. That’s well ahead of Frank Robinson, who they have 11th. But that’s also because Robinson, again, only played six years in Baltimore. Mussina was without question the team’s ace for a decade. He was their go-to guy in the rotation in an era where offense was booming. I think Mussina should get a statue. Maybe it won’t happen this summer, but he’s a Hall of Famer an is indeed one of the best players to ever put on the Orioles jersey.

The team should honor him as such.

 

O’s Biggest “Acquisition?” Billy Joel.

Few other things have happened since the last time I wrote in this space. New O’s manager Brandon Hyde finalized his coaching staff this week. That’s something. Manny Machado still hasn’t signed a contract with a team. Neither has Adam Jones, for that matter. Pitchers and catchers report in less than three weeks.

The biggest thing that has happened in my mind’s eye in the last month with the Orioles, actually has to do with Billy Joel. The “Piano Man” will play the first-ever concert at Camden Yards this summer, and it’s a bigger deal than you think. When the move was announced earlier this month, it was announced by the Orioles, Live Nation and “Orioles Entertainment.” That’s something new and exciting.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards has hosted the Pope, but never a concert. To me, this signals changes within the Warehouse that are all positive. The fact that the organization would stretch itself to finally find other ways to gain revenue is an important thing. Things are changing within the leadership and even the ownership of the Orioles. After the way things have been run, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Rather than sit and bore you with a bunch of puns created out of Billy Joel songs, I’ll simply tell you that these types of events and changes are something Orioles fans have been hoping to see, for “The Longest Time” (okay, I couldn’t resist).

 

FanFest

Finally, I hope some fans are able to get out to FanFest this weekend at the convention center. It’s always a sure sign that winter is quickly heading into spring and that baseball is near. Many of the names that will be in attendance won’t be familiar, but that’s also going to be the case throughout the season.

This weekend really marks the start of this new era of Orioles baseball. It’s a chance to get out and shake some hands and hear from the new regime. Before we know it, the sound of a ball hitting a mitt will be here.

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Can Anything Help the 2019 Orioles?

partial view of brick building and entrance to camden yards

Baltimore finished the season laying on the floor of the AL East. The 2018 season was close to as bad as it gets; less than 50 wins.

But the bright side about all of this bad, is there is no where to go but up! Top betting websites such as 5Dimes don’t expect the Os to even be near contention for playing in the Fall Classic. But, with some trades and big moves they can pick themselves up from the bottom of the dredges and wipe the mud off.

What We Already Know … Or Do We?

Manny Machado. People are already wondering if the Orioles will go after Manny again this winter. The long and short of it is no. It’s almost annoying at this point. All you see is Harper, Machado, Harper Machado.

The Baltimore Orioles acquired tons of arms when they first unloaded Machado, but it didn’t do them any good in the short term. The O’s were dead last in 2018 in Earned Runs Against, allowing 5.09 runs per game. On offense, they put up 3.81 runs per game, good for way, way back at No. 27. Maybe it’s time to unload the remaining ‘talent’ and just start over. For all of that money being spent on Davis and Trumbo, neither was even good enough to be in the top 100 in the league in hits. Trumbo, the DH I might add, had 86 hits—granted his season was shortened by injury. Meanwhile, Chris Davis batted .168 … 79 hits in 470 at-bats.

Davis is a real brick at this point. He’s due 92 million through 2022. At this point, he is a weight against the budget that the Orioles don’t need. But in order to trade him away, who would be willing to risk that kind of dent into their salary cap for a guy who bats well below .200? Mark Trumbo is due 13.5 million dollars so we can only hope that he breaks out and starts hitting the ball consistently. Then there is Trey Mancini to consider. If there is one thing everyone agrees on, it’s that he absolutely does not belong in the outfield. He will never hit his potential playing occasionally. He needs to be put in as a fulltime DH or first baseman. The DH first base situation with Davis, Trumbo, and Mancini is a tough one.

Free Agents

Major free agents include Adam Jones and Caleb Joseph. Jones is one of the few guys who actually hit well. He put up 163 hits in 580 at-bats with a .313 OPS. But with the state of things in Camden Yards, do the Orioles just let him go and focus on trying to get a pitching staff that can limit runs as much as possible during their ‘not going to rebuild but compete’ process? Right now, they desperately need help in the starting pitching rotation. We could see them go after Jaime Garcia or Jeremy Hellickson … or both.

The Orioles just let shortstop Tim Beckham go as a non-tender (he was signed by Seattle) and catcher Caleb Joseph is up on the free agent block as well. Could the O’s try to bring him back, as they just assigned Andrew Susac to the Norfolk Tides and given the fact that Joseph finished the season strong, batting .286 over his last 15 games?

Is There a Fix?

We are not sure what the Orioles can do to stop the bleeding at this point. It might do them some good to just dump all their talent and focus on building a solid starting pitcher corps. We’ll see what kind of approach Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde take this offseason.

Anything would be better than a 47-win season.

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O’s Odds and Ends on a Snowy Monday

As we O’s fans in and around Baltimore dig out from our first snowfall of the winter, the sights and sounds surrounding Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Opening Day seem forever away. Let’s check out some Birdland odds and ends to try to pass the time, shall we?

 

O’s to Hire Long as Hitting Coach

According to Roch Kubatko, the Birds are set to hire Don Long as their new hitting coach. Long, 56, has held the same role in Cincinnati for the past five seasons.

The hire inspired this quite hilarious tweet from Ryan Wormeli:

Long replaces Scott Coolbaugh, with whom many O’s fans had grown tired over the past few seasons, fairly or not. It’s a chicken-or-egg situation – did the Birds’ all-or-nothing approach at the plate come as a result of their personnel, or were the players instructed to go that way regardless of their innate talents?

Regardless, don’t expect any miracles from Long in 2019. If Amazing.bet were giving odds on where the O’s might finish in runs scored, a safe bet would probably be in the bottom third of the league.

 

Villar, Bundy, Givens Avoid Arbitration

Jonathan Villar, Dylan Bundy, and Michael Givens all avoided arbitration, signing deals for the 2019 season last week.

Villar was a pleasant surprise after coming over for Jonathan Schoop from Milwaukee. He hit .258/.336/.392 with eight home runs in 54 games. He was a breath of fresh air on the bases, swiping 21 bags in 24 attempts, a number that would usually represent a season’s worth of steals during the post-Brian Roberts Buck Showalter era.

Bundy was disappointing after a promising start, finishing with a 5.45 ERA in 31 starts, with his 16 losses tied for the most in the AL. He tossed a couple gems, including a complete game two-hitter against the White Sox on May 24 and an eight-inning, 0 R, three-hit performance against Boston on June 11. He also had some ridiculous clunkers though, none more memorable than his outing against the Royals on May 8, when he faced just seven batters, with four of them homering and every single one scoring.

The hope here is that Mike Elias’ staff can reset Bundy and squeeze the most out of him, as they did with so many pitchers, young and veteran, in Houston.

Happy shoveling, O’s fans.

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Expect to See Many Faces on the Mound this Season

Dylan Bundy winds up in a spring training game.

The Baltimore Orioles have had over 25 pitchers throw at least one pitch off the mound in seven of ththe past ten seasons.

In 2018? 30 pitchers used. Yes, the list includes Jace Peterson and Danny Valencia.

That is definitely a high number of pitchers to have taken the mound in just one season, but there’s reason to believe the Orioles will top even that number in 2019.

With castoffs Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Darren O’Day no longer wearing black and orange, there are jobs to be had in Brandon Hyde’s starting rotation and bullpen staff, and not many of the spots are currently locked down.

I’m here to present to you a list of – wait for it – 32 pitchers in the O’s organization who could be options to pitch for the Birds in 2019. Does it mean they all will? Probably not. But there are cases to be made for each player.

I’ll run down my locks – barring injury or trade – for permanent roster spots, then prospects, other 40-man roster options, and the non-40-man roster options. For prospects, I will provide their MLB Pipeline organizational ranking from the end of the 2018 season. Also, at the end, I have seven extra pitchers who are long shots, but may shock people and make the jump.

 

LOCKS (5)

RHP Dylan Bundy

Although he’s coming off a down year in 2018, Bundy is undoubtably going to be in the Orioles rotation to start the year, and could even be getting the ball on Opening Day in the Bronx.

RHP Alex Cobb

He signed a four-year, $57 million contract with the O’s this past spring. He had an abysmal first half of the season, but he posted a 2.59 ERA in his last 12 starts. He’s another option to get the ball on Opening Day.

RHP Andrew Cashner

Cashner, like Cobb, signed a multi-year deal with the Orioles last spring. His two-year, $16 million contract is reasonable and considering the other options available, there’s no possible explanation why the veteran right-hander shouldn’t be in the middle of the rotation to start the season. He, Bundy, and Cobb could all become trade chips in July if they perform well enough.

RHP Mychal Givens

A valuable reliever who was gaining interest last summer nearing the non-waiver trade deadline. Unless Hyde decides against using a designated closer, Givens will likely be the pitcher to fill the role. If he puts up a successful first half as the Orioles ace reliever, he could be wearing a new uniform in late July.

LHP Tanner Scott

The 24-year-old’s 5.40 ERA in 2018 doesn’t show it, but Scott does have electric stuff. The command needs to be sharper going forward, but a left-hander that can reach back for triple digits on his fastball and pair it with a nasty slider is something that can be fun to watch. With a 12.83 K/9 and 3.40 FIP in 2018, I’m looking forward to his progression in 2019.

Hunter Harvey throws as Darren O'Day watches.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

 

PROSPECTS (15)

RHP Dillon Tate (No. 6)

Tate, 24, came as the headlining piece of the package the New York Yankees sent the Orioles in return for Britton. He posted a 3.38 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Trenton before the trade, but afterward struggled in Double-A Bowie with a 5.75 ERA in seven starts. Once ranked 46th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 in 2015, it’s still yet to be determined whether he’ll stick as a starter or move to the bullpen, but Tate should be pitching in Camden Yards at some point this season.

RHP Luis Ortiz (No. 7)

Ortiz was the head prospect sent from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Jonathan Schoop last July. The young right-hander also used to be regarded as a Top 100 prospect (86th in 2015, 52nd in 2016, and 70th in 2017). Pitching to a 3.71 ERA in Double-A Biloxi prior to the trade, the Orioles instantly promoted Ortiz in the Triple-A Norfolk after acquiring him, where he recorded a 3.69 ERA in six starts. He could be competing for a rotation spot this spring.

RHP Hunter Harvey (No. 8)

Seems like he’s been on Orioles prospects lists forever now. The now 24-year old ranked 31st and 60th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 lists in 2014 and 2015, respectively. But multiple injuries have held back the former first-round pick, the most recent being this past June with a shoulder injury – which apparently happened in a game in which he wasn’t even pitching . Despite his injury history, his talent still provides upside. If he has a healthy 2019, I’d expect to see him pitching in an O’s uniform at some point in the season.

LHP Keegan Akin (No. 11)

The 23-year-old southpaw had quite an impressive 2018 campaign, recording a 3.27 ERA and 9.28 K/9 over 25 starts in Double-A Bowie. I’m curious to see if MLB Pipeline will give him a boost in the Orioles 2019 prospect rankings from the 11-spot he was given at the end of 2018. Barring any setbacks in development, Akin should get his shot in the bigs in 2019.

RHP Dean Kremer (No. 16)

Kremer is another prospect arm who I think should be ranked higher on the O’s list heading into the new season. The 23-year old was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade. He started 16 games in High A in the Dodgers organization, pitching to a 3.30 ERA and 12.99 K/9. He then got promoted to Double-A Tulsa for one start before the trade, throwing seven shutout innings. The Orioles kept Kremer at the Double-A level after the trade, and he rewarded them for the move, posting a 2.58 ERA and 10.52 K/9 in eight starts for Bowie.

RHP Cody Carroll (No. 17)

Carroll got his cup of coffee with the O’s after being dealt to Baltimore from the Yankees in the Britton trade. He posted a 2.72 ERA in 37 Triple-A relief appearances, but got rocked around to 9.00 ERA in 15 big-league games. He still has potential, with a high-90s fastball and two off-speed pitches, so he figures to be in competition for a bullpen spot this spring.

RHP Branden Kline (No. 25)

He’s 27 now, so I wouldn’t really consider him a prospect. But since he’s on Pipeline’s list, I’ll allow it. Kline battled injuries in his times as a starter in the Orioles minors, and didn’t pitch at all in the 2016 or 2017 seasons. The O’s moved him to the bullpen, where he had a healthy 2018, posting a 1.64 ERA and 9.80 K/9 over a combined 65 2/3 innings in High-A Frederick (20 2/3 innings) and Bowie (45 innings). The O’s just added Kline to the 40-man roster earlier this offseason.

RHP Zach Pop (No. 26)

The 22-year-old reliever was a part of the return for Machado, and he has a great baseball name for a pitcher who works in the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball. Pop recorded a 2.53 ERA in 14 games with Bowie after being acquired.

RHP Evan Phillips (NR)

Part of the Gausman and O’Day deal, Phillips had a great year for Triple-A Gwinnett, pitching to a 1.99 ERA and 13.06 K/9 in 31 relief stints. His first taste of the big leagues was not so great though: 18.56 ERA, 8.44 K/9, and 10.13 BB/9 in 5 1/3 innings with the Orioles.

LHP Bruce Zimmermann (NR)

Also part of the Gausman/O’Day trade, the 23-year-old lefty posted a 5.06 ERA in five Bowie starts following the trade. Long-relief and spot-start duty could be in his future.

LHP John Means (NR)

The Orioles gave Means one relief appearance in the bigs late in 2018 after he had a solid showing in Triple-A Norfolk, recording a 3.48 ERA in 111 1/3 innings. Not expected to be a major contributor, but his solid Triple-A performance should earn him a right to at least be in competition for a spot in the bullpen or rotation this spring.

LHP Josh Rogers (NR)

Rogers posted an impressive 2.08 ERA in Norfolk after being traded away by the Yankees, so the Orioles gave him a shot with three major-league starts late last season. He pitches to contact and doesn’t miss many bats, so he’d be better suited to a team with good defense and a big ball park.

LHP Luis Gonzalez (NR)

The 26-year-old reliever got a promotion to Norfolk after posting a 2.17 ERA and 11.43 K/9 in 45 2/3 relief innings in Bowie. If he has some more minor-league success in 2019, he could be considered for a call up to the major-league bullpen.

LHP D.J. Snelten (NR)

Snelten was previously ranked in the San Francisco Giants’ Top 30 at the end of 2017 season. He probably won’t have much of a shot in spring training, but a good showing in Norfolk this year could earn him a middle relief or LOOGY job with the O’s at some point.

RHP Jay Flaa (NR)

The last prospect I’ll mention, the 26-year-old reliever posted a 2.77 ERA and 9.28 K/9 in 65 innings for Bowie in 2018.

Richard Bleier of the Orioles pitches.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

 

40-MAN ROSTER OPTIONS

RHP Pedro Araujo

Now it’s time for pitchers with names you probably recognize. Araujo was a Rule V selection for the Orioles in 2018. After having no more than two innings experience above the High-A level, he pitched in 20 games with a 7.71 ERA, but an intriguing 9.32 K/9 in his rookie MLB season. After spending most the season on the disabled list, he still needs 17 days on the Orioles roster to lose his Rule V status, allowing him to be optioned to the minors. The O’s should carry him for the first 17 days and then send him to either Double-A or Triple-A. He has potential but he may not be ready just yet.

LHP Richard Bleier

He doesn’t miss bats, but his career 63.3-percent groundball rate has helped him put up a 1.97 ERA in his three-year career over 119 innings. He had surgery in June to repair a lat tear, but general manager Mike Elias expects him to be ready for Opening Day.

RHP Austin Brice

Brice was ranked the Cincinnati Reds’ 23rd-best prospect at the end of 2016. He has pitched well in the minors but has yet to replicate that success at the major-league level. He has a four-pitch mix with a mid-90s fastball that could play well in relief. The O’s claimed Brice off waivers from Cincinnati earlier this month.

RHP Miguel Castro

Entering his third year with the O’s, fifth in the big leagues, and he’s still just 24 years old. He’s been valuable, posting a 3.77 ERA in 152 2/3 innings over 102 games (100 in relief). With a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a pretty good slider, I’m sure the O’s hope Castro can strike out more batters in 2019, as he recorded just 5.94 K/9 in 2018.

LHP Paul Fry

The 26-year-old southpaw reliever is coming off a strong rookie campaign, in which he appeared in 35 games, while recording a 3.35 ERA, 8.60 K/9, and 57.7-percent groundball rate. Former general manager Dan Duquette may have struck gold with acquiring Fry in 2017, and Elias may get the benefits of it.

LHP Donnie Hart

Hart was a valuable LOOGY for the O’s in 2016, his rookie season. He hasn’t done much since, however. He’ll be in competition for a spot in spring training, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t make the Opening Day squad.

RHP David Hess

Hess pitched to a 4.88 ERA in his rookie season over 21 games (19 starts). He did, however, record a 3.05 ERA over his final eight starts of the season, which could put him in consideration for the fourth or fifth rotation spot to start 2019.

RHP Yefry Ramirez

Ramirez also had his rookie year in 2018, but supplied not-so-intriguing results. Coming off a 5.92 ERA, it’s probably an uphill battle for Ramirez to make the club following spring training.

RHP Mike Wright Jr.

With a career 5.75 ERA and last year being not much different (5.55 ERA in 48 games), Wright is probably a DFA candidate. But some tweaking from this new staff and a strong showing in Sarasota could help his case.

RHP Jimmy Yacabonis

After being strictly a reliever throughout his years in the minors, the O’s toyed with Yacabonis being a starter in 2018, but never committed to it. Elias and Brandon Hyde should figure out the best role and stick to it. Personally, I think Yacabonis would make a solid two-pitch short reliever with his running fastball and nasty slider.

 

NON-ROSTER/POSSIBLE INVITES TO SPRING TRAINING

RHP Gregory Infante

2017 was the first time Infante pitched at the major-league level since his first cup of coffee in 2010. He had a great year, recording a 3.13 ERA over 54 2/3 innings in relief. In 2018, though, he threw just nine innings and posted an 8.00 ERA. Orioles Hangout prospect writer Luke Siler noted Infante’s velocity was down in 2018 due to shoulder inflammation. If the 31-year-old right-hander is healthy, a return to his 2017 numbers would be welcomed.

LHP Sean Gilmartin

Gilmartin posted a 3.00 ERA in 27 relief innings over 12 games for the Orioles this past season. After the season, though, the O’s outrighted the left-hander off the 40-man roster. After being granted his release, the O’s signed Gilmartin to a minor-league contract shortly after.

 

OTHER NOTABLES

RHP Gabriel Ynoa, RHP Matt Wotherspoon, RHP Josh Lucas, RHP Taylor Grover, RHP Lucas Long, RHP Jordan Kipper, RHP Cody Sedlock.

If you’ve made it to the end of this 32 – well, 39 – pitcher list, I appreciate your attention and I apologize for wasting your time.

Will all these players in the O’s organization pitch for the club in 2019? No, I highly doubt it. Also, expect to see the Orioles add more depth arms who could also be in consideration for some time on the bump this season. All of the names I mentioned may not make it, but I have a feeling the number – between 32 and 39 – of pitchers should be about right.

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The Warehouse Podcast: New Year, New Orioles?

warehouse-pod-logo

The new year brings with it the feeling of a fresh start. The slate is wiped clean. Anything is possible. You can lose those pesky 20 pounds. You will read a new book every week. The juice cleanse you planned to start in 2004 is finally happening.

For the Orioles, those “resolutions” started in earnest back in November with the hiring of Mike Elias as the general manager. Flipping the calendar from 2018 to 2019 shouldn’t change much on that front other than the fact that every new day brings the organization one step closer to completing their rebuild.

Even still, it feels good to rip away the final month of 2018 and throw it in the trash, where it can never hurt us again. Let’s just pretend Chris Davis can still hit a baseball or dream that the Manny Machado trade situation during the All-Star break wasn’t a fiasco.

If you’re late to the resolution train, I have one for you. Podcasts are pretty great. You should listen to more of them. And don’t you know, I happen to host one right here on Eutaw Street Report. It’s called The Warehouse. You can listen to the latest episode right up there, or subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or anywhere else you can find podcasts.

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Hyde Adds Two to O’s Coaching Staff

Jose Flores of the Phillies.

In what has been a rather quiet offseason for the Baltimore Orioles, for many reasons, new manager Brandon Hyde has begun building his coaching staff for 2019 and beyond.

For his first two hires, the first-year Orioles manager recruited a couple of his old colleagues. Philadelphia Phillies first base coach Jose Flores is leaving his position to join Hyde’s staff in Baltimore, according to Joe Trezza of MLB.com. Also, per Patrick Mooney of The Athletic Chicago, Chicago Cubs minor-league field and catching coordinator Tim Cossins is departing from Chicago to come to the Orioles.

Flores was in Chicago with Hyde from 2012 through 2017, where he served as the Cubs minor-league infield coordinator. He left Chicago after the 2017 season to join the Phillies coaching staff, where he was the first-base coach, infield instructor, and baserunning instructor in Philadelphia for 2018.

With Flores in the fold now, this may have shut the door on a possible return of third-base coach and infield instructor Bobby Dickerson.

Cossins, according to Dan Connolly of The Athletic, is known as a “catching guru.” Also, in Connolly’s tweet, he notes that Cossins’ exact title has not been assigned yet, although he’ll handle the duties of catching and strategy. It’ll be interesting to see the impact he can potentially have on current Orioles catchers, the obvious candidate being former top prospect Chance Sisco.

Once these hires become official, the O’s will have two of the seven coaching positions filled. Trezza notes that the club’s search is expected to carry on into 2019, and they will continue to target coaches with backgrounds in player development.

There are two names to keep an eye on going forward, as the Orioles have offered minor-league pitching coordinator John Wasdin the job as the bullpen coach, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com.

Wasdin’s role within the organization was soon going to change after executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias hired Chris Holt from the Houston Astros organization to oversee pitching in the minor leagues. If Wasdin accepts the O’s offer, we will know exactly how his role will be changing.

Kubatko also includes that former Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey is available. With the two current coaching hires having former ties to the new O’s skipper, Kubatko says Hickey “figures to be a consideration for Hyde.”

There are several spots still vacant on the Orioles coaching staff, and Hyde has reached out to every coach from the Orioles 2018 staff. Kubatko writes that Dickerson, John Russell, Roger McDowell, and Wayne Kirby haven’t found new jobs yet.

Dickerson and Russell may be the two least likely to return, due to the fact that Flores and Cossins are probably their direct replacements with specialties in infield and catching, respectively. McDowell may be unlikely as well, especially if Wasdin and Hickey are strong considerations to join the staff for 2019.

Now this is pure speculation. But of the coaches from the 2018 staff, it looks like the best bet to return on Hyde’s staff in 2019 is fan-favorite coach Wayne Kirby. There haven’t been any reported candidates to be in charge of outfield instruction. I’m not saying I think it’s going to happen. But, if Hyde is open to having anybody from the 2018 staff return in 2019, Kirby looks the most probable.

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Should O’s Pursue Troy Tulowitzki?

Troy Tulowitzki throws the ball.

Free-agent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who hasn’t played in a Major League Baseball game since July 2017, held a workout that 11 teams attended, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports. In the report, Brown wrote the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, and San Francisco Giants were the teams in attendance.

The Toronto Blue Jays released the 34-year-old shortstop after he sat out the 2018 season because he was recovering from surgery on bone spurs in both of his heels. The Blue Jays still owe Tulowitzki $38 million over the next two seasons, so he can be had on a league-minimum salary by another club.

Do you want to see Tulowitzki in Baltimore in 2019? If so, there are a couple questions that need to be answered before we can see him in an O’s uniform:

 

  1. How would Tulowitzki be a fit for the Orioles?
  2. Why would Tulowitzki sign with the Orioles instead of one of the other 10 teams that attended his workout?

Let’s start by addressing the first question, which is probably the easiest to answer of the two.

The Orioles are in the market for a middle infielder, and are likely looking for the cheap place-holder types, as opposed to the expensive, Manny Machado types. I opined on a few free-agent candidates earlier this offseason, but that was also before the Jays announced the release of the shortstop they’ve had since July 2015.

The Orioles have no up-and-coming shortstops that Tulowitzki would be blocking in any way. After the club non-tendered Tim Beckham, they’ve been looking to fill either of the middle infield positions, with Jonathan Villar taking over whichever is in the club’s best interest.

Yes, the O’s came away with Richie Martin and Drew Jackson after the Rule V Draft, but it’s possible that neither of them could be an answer as an everyday guy. Or, at least, you can’t assume that one of them will.

What a healthy Tulowitzki gives you, if the price tag is right, is a good defensive shortstop with a potentially above-average bat that can hold down shortstop either for an entire season, or just a half-season if he becomes a coveted trade target prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.

Now, how are the O’s a fit for Tulo?

The Orioles have an opening at shortstop, and it’s likely that Tulowitzki would like to return to being a healthy, starting shortstop in the big leagues once again.

You may think that his first priority would be to join one of the contending teams that attended his workout. That may be true, and it may be what happens, but that’s probably not his best opportunity to return to an everyday-shortstop role, if that’s what he would like.

The Yankees, Phillies, and White Sox are pursuing Machado at the moment. I don’t think a good message to any of those three fanbases would be to sign an injury-prone Tulowitzki to a cheap deal after missing out on Machado. I will be very surprised if any of the contending teams sign Tulowitzki with the plan that he will be an everyday player from the get-go. He would likely be a backup or depth option on those clubs.

So, again, why the Birds?

The Orioles have one of the more hitter-friendly ball parks in all of Major League Baseball. He can come to Baltimore, have the best opportunity to start every day and put up above-average offensive numbers once again. However, nobody is expecting him to return to his Colorado Rockies form. I think everyone is aware that those days – and, that ball park – are well behind him.

Returning as an above-average defender at shortstop everyday and an at-least league-average bat could make Tulowitzki an interesting trade-chip in July, which could place him on a World Series contender for the second-half of 2019. Or, even if he doesn’t get traded and he plays a full, healthy season in Baltimore, he could be rewarded with another contract elsewhere next offseason.

In his time in Toronto, Tulowitzki was worth 4.3 fWAR over 238 games. He recorded +16 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) at shortstop and slashed .250/.313/.414 with 36 homers.

If he can return to anything near that production in 2019, I believe he could be well-coveted by contending teams looking to acquire an infielder in July.

Tulowitzki, at a cheap price, is a good fit to plug up the hole at shortstop for the Birds in 2019. And the opportunity to showcase a healthy season in a hitter’s ball park in order to get traded to a contender midseason is a reason why Tulowitzki should see the upside to playing for a rebuilding Orioles team.

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Knee-Jerk Reactions: O’s Hire Brandon Hyde as Manager

Brandon Hyde of the Cubs.

The Orioles have hired their new manager. Brandon Hyde, most recently the Chicago Cubs’ bench coach, will take the reins in 2019. ESR staff react to the news here…

Derek Arnold

I won’t pretend to know a thing about Brandon Hyde. This hire has a much different feel, obviously, than did the hiring of Buck Showalter. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing – it just is. The Showalter hire was exactly the type that was needed at the time: an established, successful, big-name manager to take over and try to reverse a decade-plus of losing baseball.

This hire, similarly, is just what this club needs: someone who’s been around not only a winning organization, but an organization that’s embraced the new ways of thinking about baseball. A manager who will speak the same language as Mike Elias and the entire new front office of the Baltimore Orioles.

The Elias-Hyde era has begun. I’m excited to watch these two get to work.

Andrew Stetka

Like when the Orioles hired Mike Elias, I’m not going to be pretend to be a Brandon Hyde expert. Everything I’ve read about the guy sounds positive. It seems like he is capable and knowledgeable about analytics and player development. All of that sounds swell. But truthfully, it wouldn’t have mattered much to me who the Orioles hired to be the skipper. The O’s are going to be bad for a while, and Hyde is going to wear those losses on his record. He’s a glorified sacrificial lamb who’s main job is guiding a bunch of young players through a rebuild. I would be surprised if he’s still the manager once the Birds start winning again, but crazier things have happened. I wish him luck and hope he “likes our guys” because he has a tough act to follow.”

Phil Backert

The Orioles continue to hire from successful organizations as they start their rebuild. Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2011 so he has been a part of a rebuild himself and he was a coach on the major league team when Chicago won the World Series in 2016. The biggest attraction for Hyde is his success in player development and as a manager in the minor leagues as he will need to reach back to that while dealing with a young roster over the next couple of seasons.

Joe DiBasilio

By all accounts the Os made another solid (non-player) signing. I know very little about Mr. Hyde, but it will be tough to gauge his effectiveness as manager as he likely oversees 300 losses in the next three seasons. I hope it works out and in five years from now we view the 2018-2019 off-season as the one that brought the Os out of the darkness. God speed Brandon.

Dillon Atkinson

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias noted the most important factor in his managerial search was finding the right candidate with the “ability to lead and connect with players.” If he believes Hyde is the best candidate to fit that description, then I’m on board with the hiring.

I won’t act like I’ve been following Hyde throughout his career, so I can’t say I know for sure how this will work out. However, it’s encouraging to see his extensive background in professional baseball. He was a hitting coach in the then-Florida Marlins minor leagues for two seasons, then managed in the Marlins minors an additional five years from 2005-through-2009. After that, he spent 2010 and 2011 as a bench coach in the majors with the Marlins. From there, he became the Chicago Cubs director of player development for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, before being assigned to bench coach in 2014. Once Joe Maddon was hired to become the Cubs manager in 2015, Maddon kept Hyde on his staff as the team’s first-base coach for three years. Then, Maddon switched him back to bench coach for 2018 when Dave Martinez left the position to take the vacant managerial position with the Washington Nationals.

Just from looking at the variety of positions and roles Hyde has worked under in both the minors and major leagues, I do feel optimistic about this hire by Elias and the Orioles. I think a positive tidbit to keep in mind is that when Maddon was hired by the Cubs to start in 2015, everyone knew he was going to be bringing in bench coach Martinez, who was with Maddon in Tampa Bay. Instead of simply doing a direct replacement of Martinez for Hyde, Maddon made room and adjusted Hyde’s role to keep him on staff for all four years he’s been in Chicago.

Jonathan French

Mike Elias has made his second major personnel move in his rebuild of the Baltimore Orioles with the hiring of Brandon Hyde as the new manager. At first thought, it would have seemed this hire would be non-consequential for the future of the franchise due the immediate amount of losing that will occur; however, with Hyde’s credentials it would seem that he is the manager of both the present and future.

Hyde has a strong pedigree of managing and coaching in the minor and minor leagues with his last position being the bench coach under Joe Maddon of the Cubs. Unlike Buck Showalter, Hyde has a reputation for using analytics for his managing decisions and he is also a good communicator with players. He was a relatively hot commodity this offseason with the Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays interviewing him for their vacancies. The Orioles were fortunate he did not get any of those positions, as he was arguably the best fit out of a little-known field of candidates.

It was a bit strange the way the story broke, but then again it wouldn’t be a major Orioles transaction without a hiccup. The mini-fiasco which included Elias denying a story that was literally being broke behind him by MLB Network, showed Elias has a bit of a learning curve when it comes to addressing rumors with the media.

However, that is all in the past as the Orioles have officially hired Hyde and the next era of Orioles baseball continues to take shape. Now the question is who will be part of the coaching staff? The Orioles were fortunate that there weren’t a lot of managerial openings this offseason, but many coaches have been already signed to contracts with other organizations. Former minor league pitching coordinator, John Wasdin has been rumored to be on the staff in some capacity, but Hyde and Elias will have a lot of work to do quickly to try to ensure that the best coaching staff possible is on the field and in the dugout on Opening Day.

Paul Valle

So far, the Orioles have made all the right moves. The hiring of Brandon Hyde to be the field manager is more evidence of that. Hyde has a history of managerial success at the minor league level, having managed at four different levels in the Marlins organization, culminating with the 2009 Southern League Championship with the Jacksonville Suns.

This is important because Hyde will have a huge part in developing the next wave of young talent to step for on the field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Combine that with the tutelage he has received as a first base and bench coach for Joe Maddon with the Chicago Cubs the last few seasons, and the Orioles got the right guy for the job. Every young, rebuilding team needs a leader. Brandon Hyde is just that. And while he may not be around to see the fruits of his labor when the Orioles return to prominence (terms of the contract have not been disclosed as of Friday night), you can be sure that his finger prints will be all over the success of the ball club moving forward.

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O’s Leave Winter Meetings with Two New Infielders

The Baltimore Orioles haven’t been expected to make too much noise in the first offseason of the club’s rebuild under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, especially when there’s still a vacancy at manager (although it sounds like that search could be coming to an end very soon). Once the club officially announces the hiring of their new manager, they will be able to get on with the rest of their offseason plan, which will surely involve the new skipper’s input.

However, with the annual Winter Meetings coming to an end, the O’s did leave with two new infielders, both being acquired via the Rule V Draft.

With the first overall selection, Baltimore selected Oakland Athletics’ shortstop prospect Richie Martin. The Orioles declined to make a selection in the second round of the draft, but the club acquired infielder Drew Jackson from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for international bonus slot money. Jackson was a first-round Rule V selection by Philadelphia from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Martin, who turns 24 on December 22, is a former first-round draft pick by the A’s in 2015. He grades as a well-above average defensive shortstop, which should be a nice benefit to Orioles pitchers if he’s starting at shortstop on Opening Day. However, there are questions about whether or not he’ll produce enough offensively.

In 2015, Martin slashed .237/.353/.342 in 51 games at Low-A Vermont. He got promoted to High-A Stockton in 2016, where he posted just a .230/.322/.312 line in 86 games. In 27 games at Stockton in 2017, he progressed to a .266/.330/.383 slash line, which helped him get promoted to Double-A Midland, where he batted a disappointing .224/.306/.315 over 86 contests. He finally had the offensive season he needed in 2018, however, as he slashed .300/.368/.439 in 118 games at Midland.

There’s no telling what type of offensive production we can expect from Martin with the Orioles in 2019, if he even does stay with the club. I’m sure they hope, at worst, he can stick as a plus-defender utility infielder at the big-league level, with the best-case scenario being that they strike gold with a starting shortstop for the future. For the time being, Martin is now ranked as the O’s 13th-best prospect, via MLB Pipeline.

Jackson, like Martin, came out of the 2015 draft, although he was taken in the fifth round by the Seattle Mariners. The 25-year-old is athletic in the middle infield spots and is speedy on the base paths, as he has stolen 106 bases out of 133 attempts. Most recently, in 2018, he stole 22 of 29 at Double-A Tulsa.

Similar to Martin’s resume, there are questions over whether or not Jackson can produce at the plate. However, he put together his best professional season in 2018, slashing .251/.356/.447 with 15 home runs at Tulsa. Adam McInturff of 2080 Baseball credited his sudden progression at the plate to “an increased focus on lift and power, as Jackson’s home run totals spiked accordingly with a jump in aerial contact.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Elias and company roll with the same approach to see what Jackson can do in a second year with this adjustment. The athletic infielder is now ranked 24th on the Orioles top prospects list on MLB Pipeline, one spot behind outfielder D.J. Stewart.

Martin and Jackson may be in direct competition with one another for a spot in spring training, or there may be room for both or neither of them on the Opening Day roster. Nobody truly knows until the Orioles land in Sarasota for camp. One thing we do know, however, is that the club needed to address the vacancy in the middle infield one way or another this season. With a rebuilding organization, as opposed to a competitive team, this may very well be the way Elias addresses the hole.

All we can do now is wait and see if he adds to the middle infield mix via trade or free agency later this offseason.

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O’s Claim Ruiz, Lose Meisinger to St. Louis

Rio Ruiz swings his bat.

The Baltimore Orioles have announced that the St. Louis Cardinals have claimed right-handed pitcher Ryan Meisinger off waivers. In addition, the O’s have claimed third baseman Rio Ruiz off waivers from the Atlanta Braves.

Meisinger was an 11th round selection by the Orioles during the 2015 MLB Draft. He worked his way through each affiliate as a successful reliever in the minors. Prior to making his major-league debut in 2018, he recorded a 2.28 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings at Triple-A Norfolk. In 21 innings with the Orioles in 2018, the 24-year-old right-hander pitched to a 6.43 ERA.

Ruiz, 24, is a left-handed hitter who was originally drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros. Current Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was with the Astros as the director of scouting during this draft, so there’s a connection.

Ruiz performed well in the 283 games he played in Houston’s minors, although he never made it above High-A over the two and a half seasons. In 2015, the Astros traded Ruiz as part of the package to Atlanta to acquire Evan Gattis. MLB Pipeline ranked Ruiz 12th on the Braves top-prospect list in 2015, and he was also labeled the third-best position player in Atlanta’s minors, behind just Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies. Ruiz’s scouting report from MLB Pipeline read as follows:

“Ruiz was a well-regarded prospect coming out of high school in 2012 and he began his career sharing the left side of the infield in the Astros organization with Carlos Correa, the first overall pick in that year’s Draft. That duo was broken up in January when the Astros included Ruiz in the package they sent to the Braves in the Evan Gattis trade.

After struggling at the outset of his professional career, Ruiz made a mechanical adjustment to his swing that has led to much better production. He has demonstrated good on-base skills and does a good job of using the whole field to hit. His power largely translated to doubles to doubles in the low levels of the Minor Leagues, but as he physically matures he should start driving more balls over the fence.

Though Ruiz still has room for improvement defensively, he has the look of a future everyday third baseman in the Major Leagues.”

After a disappointing 2015 campaign, his first year in the Braves system, he dropped in ranking to 17th on MLB Pipeline’s Braves prospect list in 2016. He rebounded, however, slashing .271/.355/.400 with 10 homers in Triple-A Gwinnett in 2016. He was rewarded with a five-game cup of coffee in the majors.

In 2017, the following year, Ruiz slashed just .193/.283/.307 in 53 games with the Braves, and also batted .247/.322/.446 in 103 games with Gwinnett. This past season, he was mostly with Gwinnett again, where he posted a .269/.322/.390 line over 130 games, while also getting just 15 plate appearances with Atlanta.

My guess is Elias has hope that he can help turn Ruiz back into the player he thought he’d be getting when he drafted him. If he can, the Orioles may view him as competition for Renato Nunez during spring training for the everyday third base job. Otherwise, this is an infielder depth pick up with some familiarity to Elias.

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Orioles’ Winter Meetings To-Do List

The annual Major League Baseball winter meetings have begun, although the hot stove got heated up unusually early this offseason. With executives and agents around the league meeting up for the week in Las Vegas, we may be seeing it cranked up another notch.

Baseball fans are intrigued to see where high-priced free-agent stars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, as well as whether or not Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto or Cleveland Indians pitchers Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber find new homes via trade.

However, these aren’t topics that will intrigue Baltimore Orioles fans as much as they wonder what types of moves to expect from new Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Elias.

These moves may not come to finalization during the time of the Winter Meetings, but Elias could lay the foundation of potential transactions while he’s there. If you’re curious about what the Orioles to-do list could be while at the Winter Meetings – or for the remainder of the offseason, for that matter – here are a few possibilities.

 

Hire a New Manager

Well, this one was a no-brainer.

The Orioles have interviewed many candidates for the vacant managerial position, but five of the names shared – via Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic – are Chicago Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde, Washington Nationals bench coach Chip Hale, Arizona Diamondbacks vice president of player development Mike Bell, Colorado Rockies bench coach Mike Redmond, and Kansas City Royals catching and quality-control coach Pedro Grifol.

The newest O’s beat writer, Joe Trezza of MLB.com, offered additional candidate possibilities: Joe Espada, Carlos Beltran, Raul Ibanez, Hensley Meulens, Joe Girardi, Manny Acta, Jeff Banister, Bob Geren, John Gibbons, Fredi Gonzalez, and Mike Bordick. This seems like just pure speculation, but certainly a few names to keep in mind nonetheless.

Elias noted when he was hired that he’d rather take his time to hire the right manager for the position than rush to end up with the wrong one. Thus, it’ll be interesting to see if the club leaves Nevada with a new skipper for the 2019 or not.

 

Acquire a Middle Infielder

After non-tendering Tim Beckham, the O’s have a hole opened up at either shortstop or second base, depending on where they choose to play Jonathan Villar in 2019.

Even while in a rebuild, you still need to have some level of activity in the free-agent market to fill some vacancies. I believe it is also important to have a defensively-competent infield to back up a young, learning pitching staff during the rebuild.

Earlier this offseason, I opined on some potential free-agent candidates for the O’s to sign to fill the empty middle infield spot. It’s possible that Baltimore is last on their preferred destinations, but I’d open Jose Iglesias or Freddy Galvis with open arms.

 

Kick the Tires on Trading More Veterans

There has been speculation on whether or not the Orioles could trade away top chips Dylan Bundy or Mychal Givens this offseason. However, after the disappointing seasons they just put up, the O’s may not get close to what they want in return. These two right-handers seem like in-season trade deadline candidates if the club does decide to pursue the route of entertaining them in discussions.

However, there are some veterans on the roster that Elias and company could look to trade away this offseason: Mark Trumbo, Andrew Cashner, and/or Alex Cobb.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Elias will try anything he can to dump off Trumbo and his $11 million salary for 2019. I would assume the preference would be to get Trey Mancini out of the outfield and back to his natural position at first base. Chris Davis and his mega contract aren’t going anywhere, so the only option is to find a way to get Trumbo off the roster somehow.

Andrew Cashner pitches.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Cashner performed at the level of a back-end starter for the O’s in 2018, to put it nicely, posting a 5.29 ERA in 28 starts. It’s not pretty, but he’s a serviceable number four-or-five starter if you get him out of the American League East. He’s making $8 million in 2019, and has a $10 million vesting option for 2020 if he throws 340 innings between 2018 and 2019. He had 153 innings last season, so he’ll need to throw 187 this year if he wants that option vested. Teams looking for a decent back-end starter shouldn’t have a problem acquiring him off the O’s hands.

Cobb is a different story. Baltimore signed the right-hander to a four-year, $57 million contract during spring training of 2018. He pitched to a 4.90 ERA in 28 starts, but this may have been due to not having a regular spring training schedule to get started on, as he signed very late. In his first 16 starts of the season, Cobb recorded a 6.67 ERA over 86 1/3 innings pitched. In his final 12 starts of the year, he had a 2.59 ERA over 66 innings. With a remaining contract over three years for $43 million, Orioles may have a tough time dealing Cobb this winter. The better option may be to put him on the trade block next summer if he’s performing well to start 2019. But if the right offer comes this offseason, they shouldn’t hesitate to deal him.

 

Rule 5 Draft

You all thought that was just a Dan Duquette thing, huh?

Well, with the first overall pick in this year’s Rule 5 Draft, I’d assume the Orioles will be making at least one selection.

There are a couple middle infield options for the Birds if they decide to go that route, with Oakland Athletics shortstop Richie Martin and Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Kean Wong.

Martin, 23, is a former top-four A’s prospect – via MLB Pipeline – and is an excellent defender at short. The main concern has been his hitting, although in his second season in Double A, he batted .300/.368/.439 with six homers in 118 games in 2018.

St. Louis Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong is the brother of Rays minor-league second baseman, Kean. Kolten ripped the Rays late this past season for their handling of his brother and not giving him a chance. Kean slashed .282/.345/.406 with nine homers in 116 games in Triple-A Durham in 2018. So his brother might have a point. Kean could get his shot with another club, if not the Orioles, via the Rule 5 Draft.

If the Orioles decide to look at outfielders, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com likes Diamondbacks prospect Marcus Wilson and San Francisco Giants prospect Sandro Fabian. Wilson and Fabian are ranked seventh and eighth in their respective systems via MLB Pipeline prospect rankings.

If you’re looking for a pitcher, a couple options could be Minnesota Twins southpaw Tyler Jay or Chicago Cubs right-hander Trevor Clifton.

Jay, 24, was the Twins sixth-overall draft pick in the first round of the 2015 draft. In 2016, MLB Pipeline ranked Jay the number-one prospect in the Twins system, and 36th overall in the game. However, expectations have fallen and the dreams of him being a starting pitcher are behind him, as his mid-90s fastball and three off-speed pitches are now coming out of the left hand of a reliever.

Clifton, 23, is currently ranked 17th in the Cubs farm system, after being ranked 9th just a year ago. He regressed in 2017, but bounced back nicely in 2018, sporting a 3.43 ERA over 126 innings combined at the Double-A and Triple-A level.

It’s entirely possible the Orioles select a prospect that isn’t any of these six who I mentioned. We’ll have to wait and see who they select, if they do select anyone, on Thursday, December 13th at 9 a.m. Eastern Time.

We’ve seen the Orioles have both successful and unsuccessful Rule 5 picks in the past. The event has shown it isn’t a complete waste of time. Very well-known players in recent history have come out of the Rule 5 Draft becoming huge success stories, including Odubel Herrera, Justin Bour, Hector Rondon, Marwin Gonzalez, Darren O’Day, Joakim Soria, Dan Uggla, Josh Hamilton, Shane Victorino, and even two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

It’s a decent possibility that you won’t hear much noise from the Orioles at the Winter Meetings this week – aside from the Rule 5 Draft. And if that’s the case, that’s okay. The rebuilding squad may not need to make noise, really as the club begins the multiple-year process. If you don’t see or hear much on the Orioles front, don’t assume that Elias is twiddling his thumbs. He’ll have plenty to do, both out in he open and behind the scenes.

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How Will O’s Distribute Time Behind the Dish in ’19?

Chance Sisco in the batter's box..

Not too often in recent years have the Baltimore Orioles had a clearly known starting catcher on the roster. In the last five seasons, the Orioles have had had the same catcher behind the dish for 100 or more games just once: Matt Wieters in 2016.

I guess you could call the other four years a catcher-by-committee system for the O’s.

— In 2014, when Wieters was shut down early in the season and required Tommy John surgery, time behind the plate was split up with 77, 45, and 18 starts between then-rookie Caleb Joseph, Nick Hundley, and Steve Clevenger, respectively.

— In 2015, Wieters was still recovering from surgery early on in the year, limiting him to 55 games at catcher after returning in June. Joseph started 93 games, along with with eight starts from Ryan Lavarnway and six starts from Clevenger.

— 2016 was Wieters’ first full season back in as the starting backstop, and also his last year as an Oriole. He started 111 games, with Joseph handling 40 starts, and Francisco Pena taking care of 11.

— In 2017, Wieters signed with the Washington Nationals and the Orioles replaced him by signing Welington Castillo – who ended up starting 86 games – to pair with Joseph, who started 69. Pena also mixed in three starts and then-rookie Chance Sisco started four times.

— And lastly, this past season, Joseph led the workload of four catchers, with 79 starts behind the dish. Sisco started 43 games, rookie Austin Wynns started 33, and veteran Andrew Susac started seven times.

With 358 starts, 380 games, and 3,161.1 innings, Joseph was the most-used catcher for the Orioles from 2013 through 2018, and he didn’t even break into the majors until May of 2014. However, in recent news, the Orioles decided to non-tender Joseph to make him a free agent. His Orioles tenure featured a .224/.271/.353 slash line with 31 homers in 402 games – not quite what many wanted from him as a hitter. Defensively, he did record +37 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), which is the seventh-most by any catcher – with at least 3,000 innings at catcher – from 2014 through 2018. The catchers above him are Mike Zunino (+40), Russell Martin (+40), Yasmani Grandal (+44), Tyler Flowers (+45), Martin Maldonado (+47), and Buster Posey (+60).

With just three catchers – Wynns, Sisco, and Susac – on the 40-man roster now, the Orioles will look to add a veteran catcher via trade or free agency, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Kubatko also notes that there’s still a possibility Joseph could sign back with the Orioles, but the 32-year-old backstop “is drawing interest from a handful of teams.” I’d think a contending team with a clear starter could give Joseph a nice offer to be the backup.

So, who will carry the bulk of the time behind the plate for the Orioles in 2019? There’s no clear answer, but my best guess is that there will be competition in spring training to see who gets the two catcher spots on the Opening Day roster.

Austin Wynns behind the dish.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Of the three currently on the 40-man roster, Wynns performed the best in 2018 when given his chance. The 27-year-old rookie slashed .255/.287/.382 with four homers in 42 games. In his short stint with the club, he was about average defensively. He’s fine with blocking pitches in the dirt and throwing runners out, but his below average pitch framing could be holding his defensive value back a tad, as is the -4 DRS he recorded. Wynns hasn’t been known as a top-or-mid-tier prospect in the Orioles system at any point, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can keep his solid production up in 2019, or if it was just some luck in a late rookie year.

Sisco, 23, has quite the opposite resume – but opposite 2018 season. The left-handed hitting catcher has been a top-10 prospect in the Orioles system since he was drafted in the second round out of high school in 2013. In 2017, the year he first got called up to the big leagues, Sisco was ranked 45th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospect list. He’s mostly been scouted as an offense-first catcher who still had work to do defensively.

Yet after four seasons of hitting minor-league pitching very well from 2013 through 2017, his bat cooled off in the majors big time in 2018, costing him a spot on the major-league roster. In 63 games with the Orioles, Sisco slashed just .181/.288/.269 with a strikeout rate of 35.9 percent. He’ll need to get back on track offensively, as well as continue to improve his game behind the plate, to build himself a strong case to get consistent reps at catcher with the Orioles in 2019. With the recent title of a top prospect, my guess is that the club will give Sisco every opportunity to earn a starting position in spring training.

Susac, 28, has spent multiple seasons as a depth catcher for the San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Brewers prior to joining the Orioles organization in 2018. He has a career .221/.283/.373 slash line in just 300 career plate appearances, and Kubatko believes Susac will be on the list of players the Orioles will designate for assignment sometime this offseason. If that happens, it’s possible no team will claim him and he can stay in the organization as minor-league depth, but I’d be surprised if he starts any more than 10 games for the O’s in 2019.

If the Orioles do decide to add a veteran catcher to the club, I believe they’d be looking for a defensive-minded veteran who, as a back up or platoon option, will work with Wynns and Sisco on their games defensively.

According to MLBTradeRumors, the following catchers are free agents: Joseph, Hundley, Wieters, Drew Butera, A.J. Ellis, Yasmani Grandal, Chris Herrmann, Jose Lobaton, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, Devin Mesoraco, James McCann, Wilson Ramos, Rene Rivera, and Stephen Vogt.

What could really help is if the Orioles bring in a catcher who is a decent or above-average pitch framer, to not only help the young pitching staff, but to also work with the two young backstops.

Among the free-agent options who would be a suitable backup catcher and are rated well as pitch framers, per Baseball Prospectus, this limits the list down to Maldonado, Rivera, and Herrmann. Maldonado is very well-known as an above-average defender and has started over 100 games behind the dish in each of the past two seasons. Unless Mike Elias wishes to have a veteran starter instead of a veteran backup, I doubt Maldonado will be coming to Baltimore.

This leaves us with Herrmann and Rivera.

Herrmann, 31, has spent his career being a very average backup player who is serviceable at catcher, first base, and in the outfield. He has 1,269.2 major-league innings as a catcher, 27 as a first baseman, and 532.2 as an outfielder. He isn’t the most ideal option for the Orioles, but he would be cheap and would give the club the option to carry him on the roster as well as both Wynns and Sisco, since Herrman can be used as a back up option at multiple positions.

Rivera, 35, is a career-long backup catcher who has never started 100-plus games in one season as a catcher, and he also has +26 DRS since he broke into the big leagues in 2004. As a veteran who is an above-average defender and probably isn’t looking to start anywhere, Rivera is a pretty good option for the Orioles to look into.

If I’m the one making the decisions, Rivera is the first catcher I’m on the phone with. If he signs to a deal, have him break camp as the back up catcher to Wynns or Sisco – whichever wins the job out of spring training

Which catcher would you like to see the Orioles add, if any at all? Do you think the Orioles will stick to one catcher as the starter for the year, or will they roll with a catcher-by-committee, as I named it earlier?

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A Look at Potential Free Agent Outfield Targets

Adam Jones looks at his bat.

submitted by Ryan Hoak

The hiring of Mike Elias, now two weeks past, has brought Orioles fans’ attention to the free agent market. Now the Orioles front office can focus on possible trades or free-agent signings, alongside hiring a new manager. This administration under Elias is aware they are not building a competitive 2019 Orioles team, but that doesn’t mean they can’t plug holes in the current roster.

The biggest hole in the outfield on the current Orioles roster is right field. With the likely departure of beloved Oriole Adam Jones, there isn’t a clear Opening Day right fielder. There are the sub-par plugins like Joey Rickard, Anthony Santander and Mark Trumbo, who either lack the desired offensive capabilities, or in Trumbo’s case, are pure liabilities in the field. DJ Stewart got a run-out in September of last year, and although he showed signs of offensive power, he may need some more time at Norfolk to refine his contact skills before becoming an everyday right fielder.

[Related: What Will Orioles do with Glut of Young Outfielders?]

Trey Mancini is locked in at left field for the next season with Chris Davis holding down the fort at first base for the time being. Cedric Mullins will most likely be the opening day starter in center field. His offense went downhill after his hot start in 2018, but his stellar defense and record in the minors in 2018 will give him a spot on the team. Right field is the only outfield position that absolutely needs an immediate fix from outside the organization.

Free agency is where the Orioles can and should fill the outfield hole, and that’s why I have singled out a couple of possible outfield targets for the Elias-led Orioles. These targets are all veteran players that would offer great leadership to the plethora of younger players. Defense and leadership are the top priorities on my list for the top outfield free-agents for the Orioles.

Here are some targets, in no particular order.

 

Curtis Granderson

Curtis Granderson is well known, thanks to his high power numbers and successful tenure with the Yankees and Mets. By the start of the 2019 season, Granderson will be 38 years old, having played with the Tigers, Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Blue Jays and Brewers. Considering he has been in the league since 2004, few players have more experience than Granderson (cue the Bartolo jokes). This experience can aid younger players like Mullins and Stewart in on- and off-field manners. He was just awarded MLBPA Man of the Year honors for a record third time this past week, for his incredible performance in both areas.

In 119 games last year between the Blue Jays and Brewers, Granderson slashed .242/.351/.431 with 13 home runs. A 13-home-run season isn’t impressive of course, but Granderson previously had four straight seasons of more than 20 dingers. I’d expect him to hit about 20 homers in Baltimore, which would be a great boost from right field. Also, his on-base capabilities and still somewhat decent speed can provide a lead-off option if Mullins is struggling. It’s important to mention he is a lefty, which is needed in this righty-heavy lineup. In the field Granderson is still at least an average right fielder with tips to share with the younger players.

Granderson has become a reliable rental, and will most likely sign a one-year deal for around three or four million dollars. He is a cheap rental who would provide an offensive spark and a recognizable face.

 

Jon Jay

Since 2010, Jon Jay has been a capable hitter with elite defensive tools. The now 33-year-old lefty would provide a much needed pure contact hitter of the kind who hasn’t been seen in Baltimore since the 2016 version of Hyun Soo Kim.

Last season Jay played for two teams, the Royals and Diamondbacks, where he put together a decent campaign. He slashed .268/.330/.347 between the two teams, but those stats don’t tell the whole story. He started the year in Kansas City where he hit .307, and then was rewarded with a trade to a contender. It did not go well in Arizona, where he hit a measly .235. Over his nine-year career he has compiled a .285 average, so Jay’s tenure with the Diamondbacks was most likely an anomaly.

Jay is an elite defender in all outfield positions, playing in center, left and right last year. In right field last season, Jay had a fielding percentage of 1.000 and a DRS of +6. A major league team in the beginning of a rebuild can’t afford to give away games because of bad defense, and Jay would bolster the outfield defense tremendously.

Great defense, decent speed, pure contact and a veteran presence are exactly what the Orioles need for this upcoming season. If the Orioles can get that for around $3 million or so, then they should absolutely pick him up. Jay signed for $3 million last year, and his price tag would most likely be in the same ballpark for 2019.

 

Carlos Gonzalez

Another veteran, Gonzalez (33) is a popular figure amongst fans and teammates. He has been with the Rockies since 2009 and has been an incredibly productive player with the bat in his hand. He is another lefty, who just like the others would help create some balance in an almost exclusively righty lineup.

Last season Gonzalez slashed .276/.329/.467 with 16 homers, a very respectable line. He is a career .287 hitter which makes him an all-around good batter in terms of contact and power.

The only blemish on his offense is his home/road splits, which are quite drastic. He has played his whole career with the Rockies (except 85 games with the A’s), who play in Coors Field where the ball, of course, flies. His career home stat line is .323/.381/.592 with 142 home runs, while on the road he only slashes .251/.307/.420 with 89 dingers. Camden Yards has the short right-field porch which is like heaven for lefties, so this split alone shouldn’t chase the Orioles away from signing CarGo.

[Related: A Look at Potential Free Agent Infield Targets]

CarGo is now an average to slightly below average right fielder, with a -6 DRS in 2018, but can still make the necessary plays and can hold the fort down for a season. Gonzalez brought a certain flair to the Rockies clubhouse, and he would do the same in the Orioles clubhouse. If this next team isn’t going to compete, why not have some fun with it? Especially for just $5 million or so – which is what I expect him to get in the offseason, considering that was his salary last year.

 

Adam Jones

No introduction is needed for this Oriole legend, a future Oriole Hall of Famer and the face of the franchise. Jones had a very productive 2018 season, slashing .281/.313/.419 with 15 home runs. His power numbers are not what they are used to be, but he still hits for a good average and is a scary middle-of the-lineup hitter. Everyone knows his offensive capabilities even in his older age (33).

Last season Adam made the transition from center to right to accommodate Mullins. Just like in center, Adam is not the best right fielder, as he had -6 DRS in just 33 games. He is a sub-par defender but like CarGo, isn’t nearly the liability Trumbo would be.

The obvious reasons to sign Jones are the leadership qualities and what he means to Orioles fans. Adam is the leader of the clubhouse and a great role model. Jones was once a prospect and had to go through exactly what Mullins is currently going through. He can also teach these players that off-field actions mean just as much as on-field ones. He has a tremendous presence in the community; his annual Stay Hungry Tailgate raised over $125,000 just last week. He means a great deal to the Baltimore community and has become the face of the franchise over the last decade because of this. He has held this team together for over a decade and not having Jonesy in an Orioles uniform would be heartbreaking.

The problem is that the Orioles and Jones’ terms to sign would not likely match up at all. Jones has said he wants to win a ring but that won’t happen on any Oriole teams in the foreseeable future. Also, Jonesy most likely does not want a one-year deal, but that is exactly what Elias would be looking for. If Jones were to sign on for more than one year he would only block young players like Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz, Stewart and Ryan McKenna. A multi-year deal would go against everything a rebuilding team would do, so a deal between the two parties is unlikely.

All four options would be great pickups for the Orioles on one-year deals, as they fit the needs of a rebuilding team. All offer leadership, some offensive capabilities, and sturdiness in the field and aren’t going to break the bank.

There are other options out there, but Birdland should be happy if one of these players is signed to be the Opening Day right fielder for the 2019 Baltimore Orioles.

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How Will O’s Utilize Plethora of Young Outfielders?

Cedric Mullins in the batter's box.

One bittersweet topic that has surfaced in Baltimore over the past few months is the upcoming departure of Adam Jones. Some fans may view it as just bitter, with no sweet mixture, as the long-time face of the franchise has been holding down center field in Baltimore from the start of 2008 until August 10 of this past season, when he agreed to slide to right field to pave the way for rookie Cedric Mullins.

Assuming Jones will not be returning to Baltimore on a new contract this offseason, his 11-year tenure featured a .279/.319/.459 slash line with 263 long balls, five All-Star appearances, four Gold Glove awards, and one Silver Slugger award.

With one door closing, however, opens up many more.

As mentioned above, Jones moved to right field to help start Mullins’ career in center field. Unless new general manager Mike Elias or whomever he chooses to hire to manage the Orioles in 2019 decides otherwise, it’s safe to assume Mullins will be starting in center on Opening Day.

Who will be starting on each side of the 24-year-old, though?

There are five in-house options to play alongside Mullins for consistent time at some point in 2019. Let’s take a look at each.

Trey Mancini gets ready to field.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

 

Trey Mancini

I’d imagine there is a goal to find a way to move Trey Mancini from left field to either first base or designated hitter. With Chris Davis’ huge contract on the books through 2022, the only way to make this happen is to take Mark Trumbo out of the equation.

So, unless the Orioles can trade away Trumbo to another team this offseason, Mancini is very likely going to be in left field again to start the new season. In 1,500.2 innings over two seasons in left field, he has recorded -13 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and has a -13.1 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), which is certainly much less than ideal.

It’s looking likely that he’ll be trotting out in left field to start the year, but I’d be surprised if he’s still out there after the non-waiver trade deadline.

D.J. Stewart positioned in the outfield.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

 

D.J. Stewart

Like Mullins, D.J. Stewart hit the big stage as a rookie for the Orioles in 2018. The 25-year-old left-handed hitter was a first-round draft pick by the organization in 2015. However, scouting reports haven’t bought into him being first-round material, as he is currently 22nd in the club’s prospect rankings, via MLB Pipeline.

In limited chances, Stewart impressed, slashing .250/.340/.550 with three home runs over just 47 plate appearances. Despite concern over his stocky size in the outfield, the six-foot, 230-lb. rookie showed decent athleticism, swiping two bases and playing adequate defense in the corner-outfield spots.

If the Orioles do find a way to deal Trumbo this offseason and move Mancini out of the outfield, this would make things a lot easier for Stewart to grab a starting outfield gig out of camp. But until that happens, I’d assume he’ll be in competition for the right field job during Spring Training.

Joey Rickard throws.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

 

Joey Rickard

There are probably four different possibilities for Joey Rickard’s role with the 2019 Orioles: starting right fielder, platoon in right field with Stewart, bench outfielder, or no spot on the roster at all.

How could Rickard start in right field, you’re probably asking. My guess would be that the only time this happens is in the beginning of the season. With a below-average defender in Mancini in left field, and Mullins about to start his first full-year in the big leagues in center, the Orioles may opt to start a better defensive outfielder in right field to help Mullins out. Over the past two seasons, Rickard has recorded +9 DRS and a +5.1 UZR in right. If you’re looking for defensive help alongside Mullins, Rickard may be your guy.

He could also platoon with Stewart right out of the gate. In order to help ensure better defense, but still get Stewart reps, Rickard could simply be a late-game defensive replacement while also getting the starts in right against southpaws. In his three-year career, Rickard has shown to be a pretty good hitter against lefties, slashing .284/.328/.439, as opposed to his .231/.280/.336 career line against right-handers.

The likely role here, in my opinion, is serving as a reserve outfielder. He would be used as a late-in-game defensive replacement and/or pinch runner, as well as getting a start here and there to rest the starters. I believe that with this current roster, the reserve role is one at which Rickard would perform well.

The only option remaining would be if the club chooses not to carry Rickard at all. This would surprise me, but I guess it’s possible if the organization looks to add another defensive-minded outfielder in free agency.

Austin Hays follows through on his swing.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

 

Austin Hays

This has been a crazy roller coaster ride for Austin Hays. In his first professional season in 2017, Hays killed High-A pitching, batting .328/.364/.592 through 64 games. He was then promoted to Double-A Bowie, where he played another 64 games, slashing .330/.367/.594. This earned him a call-up to Baltimore, where he played 20 games and sported a .217/.238/.317 line while getting his feet wet in the majors. After his impressive first full year of professional ball, he was ranked the Orioles number one prospect and the 23rd-best prospect in the game by MLB Pipeline.

However, Hays had a 2018 campaign to forget. In just 66 games in Double-A Bowie in an injury-plagued season, Hays batted .242/.271/.432. He has fallen off MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list entirely, and has dropped to the Orioles’ fourth-best prospect.

The Orioles hope he can have a healthy 2019 and return to the level at which he played in in 2017. If he can do that, he may be an impact starter at the big-league level. If he fails to come close to replicating his 2017 production, he may have a platoon or reserve outfielder label attached to his name going forward.

Yusniel Diaz follows through on his swing.

 

Yusniel Diaz

This is the guy everyone wants to get a look at. Yusniel Diaz, the prize of the package sent from the Los Angeles Dodgers in return for shortstop Manny Machado in July, is ranked the organization’s number-one prospect and 52nd-overall in the game, per MLB Pipeline.

After slashing .314/.428/.477 in Double-A Tulsa to start the year, the 22-year-old outfielder got off to a rocky start in Bowie, batting .239/.329/.403 in 38 games to close out the year. However, you can make the case that this can be chalked up to taking time to settle in with a new organization. He batted an uninspiring .182/.297/.273 in his first 16 games in Bowie, but turned it around with a .278/.352/.494 line with four homers in his final 22 games of the year.

I would be surprised if Diaz breaks camp with the big-league club for Opening Day. But with a little more seasoning in the minors, it’s possible that he could be the starting right fielder for the O’s not only for the majority of this upcoming season, but also many years to come.

It may not be much of an issue on Opening Day, but the Orioles could have a very crowded outfield in the middle of the season. Like I’ve said previously, keeping Trumbo around complicates the matter. Being able to move Mancini out of the outfield means having four outfielders – Mullins, Stewart, Hays, and Diaz – for three spots, as opposed to those four having to find time in just two spots.

This is very much a good problem for the club to potentially have on their hands, however. Stewart, Hays, and Diaz are still prospects, and Mullins still has much to prove. There’s no saying all four are going to pan out the way everyone hopes them to, so having this plethora creates a pretty good situation for the O’s.

I guess I can’t let this post come to an end without a prediction, so here’s my thinking of what could happen:

— Opening Day: Mancini in left, Mullins in center, and a Stewart/Rickard platoon in right.

— End of season: Stewart and Hays splitting time in left, Mullins and Hays splitting time in center, and Diaz full-time starter in right field. Trumbo traded at the non-waiver trade deadline to move Mancini out of the outfield.

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Potential FA Infield Prospects for Rebuilding O’s

Freddy Galvis throws on the run.

In the days since the Orioles finally got their front office situation sorted out – by hiring the grand-slam choice of former Astros assistant GM Mike Elias – the offseason chatter has returned to the more mundane, run-of-the-mill topics familiar to every offseason: who will be non-tendered, which free agents should the team target, etc.

Speaking of non-tender candidates, one name keeps popping up here in Birdland: Tim Beckham.

I have no inside information on this situation – but with some more analytical heads up top making the decisions, I don’t think the club will be retaining the 28-year-old infielder, who struggled both offensively and defensively in 2018.

Questions have also surfaced about the future position of Jonathan Villar, and whether he’ll be the second baseman or the shortstop going forward. He has shown to be a better defender at the second rather than short, but the club’s decision at this point is anybody’s guess.

With my assumption that Beckham will be departing and assuming the Orioles still are undecided on the status of Villar, I have five free-agent infielders in mind who I think the club should pursue: three shortstops, two second basemen.

You should begin to see a trend on which I want to focus. And, sorry in advance, Orioles fans – none of these are Manny Machado. And none are likely to move the betting predictions and odds very much at all when it comes to the O’s winning anything of substance.

My five choices are listed alphabetically by last name, not by any order of preference. At the end, I’ll even throw in a bonus sixth option, but that player would only intriguing if another specific transaction happens this offseason.

Let’s get started.

 

Freddy Galvis, SS

Freddy Galvis, 29, has proven to be a very durable shortstop over the past four seasons, playing in over 150 games in each year since the start of 2015. He has two-consecutive 162-game seasons entering 2019, the former with the Philadelphia Phillies and the latter with the San Diego Padres.

The switch-hitter isn’t known for his abilities at the plate, with a slash line of .246/.290/.374 in his career and .248/.299/.380 in 2018. But what makes him an interesting candidate is his talent on the defensive side, as he recorded +7 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) with the Padres this past season. That ranks as the eighth-best mark among qualified shortstops, fifth-best among National League shortstops.

For comparison, in their times at shortstop with the Orioles in 2018, Machado had -18 DRS and Beckham recorded -3 DRS. Yes, Machado’s defensive stats at shortstop showed to be much better with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I’ll just tip my cap to the Dodgers staff for helping make adjustments to better his game. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tip my cap to this new Orioles staff in some time down the road.

Keep in mind those defensive numbers Orioles shortstops posted in 2018 while I bring up these next options.

Adeiny Hecavarria throws as a Ray.

 

Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

Adeiny Hechavarria bounced around in 2018, starting with the Tampa Bay Rays before being dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates then to the New York Yankees. This wasn’t to say Hechavarria didn’t present value last season – quite the opposite. He was a decent infield option that multiple teams coveted during the waiver-trade period in August.

Like Galvis, and multiple others on this list, Hechavarria isn’t an offensive threat by any means, posting a .247/.279/.345 line in 2018. The value that he brings forth is defensively, as he recorded +3 DRS this past season, bringing his career total to +22 at shortstop. Like most of the options on this list, he’s not one of the flashy names on the free-agent market that will pop out at you. But that’s the reality you have to swallow when you’re a fan of a rebuilding team. You’re likely not going to see the stars play for your team.

So instead, the Orioles can look to bring in a good defensive shortstop like Hechavarria to improve the defense behind young pitchers during the rebuild.

Jose Iglesias prepares to field a ground ball.

 

Jose Iglesias, SS

Jose Iglesias will probably be the most expensive of the SS options on my list.

The 28-year-old shortstop slashed .269/.310/.389 in 2018, with +1 DRS and +8.2 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), which ranked fourth-best among all qualified shortstops. Iglesias is coming off his best overall season in the big leagues, in which he totaled 2.5 fWAR.

Iglesias is a shortstop that multiple contenders may take a look at on a multi-year deal. But if he slips through the cracks and teams look elsewhere, the Orioles should be jumping on the opportunity to sign him.

Ian Kinsler of the Red Sox celebrates.

 

Ian Kinsler, 2B

The Orioles are reportedly “monitoring the market” for Ian Kinsler, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

Kinsler, 36, got to enjoy a World Series championship with the Boston Red Sox this past year, after being dealt by the Los Angeles Angels earlier this summer. The veteran second baseman isn’t the same hitter that he used to be, as he slashed .240/.301/.380 with an 87 wRC+ in 2018. He still has a little bit of pop left in his bat, as he hit 22 home runs in 2017 and 14 in 2018.

No matter how much his hitting skills have declined, however, his defense is still among the best in the game at second base, as he recorded +10 DRS and +9.4 UZR in 2018, both good for second-most among all qualified second basemen in the game.

It’s possible that the veteran Kinsler could be coveted by a contender this offseason, but it’s also possible that he could be skipped over with some younger, pricier, more-intriguing infielders on the open market. There’s also a chance that a contender may view Kinsler as a utility option.

If he’d rather start, Camden Yards could be a good park to try to have a bounce-back year in offensively, while providing Orioles young pitchers with some defensive help.

D.J. LeMahieu prepares to field.

 

D.J. LeMahieu, 2B

Now this one may be the most unlikely of the five I’ve listed, but it’s still a possibility.

Remember when I wrote above that Kinsler had the second-most DRS and UZR among qualified second basemen in 2018? Well, the only guy above him was D.J. LeMahieu, who posted +18 DRS and +11 UZR in 2018, making his total through 7,460 innings at second base in his career +67 and +26.5, respectively.

LeMahieu has always been a plus defender for the Colorado Rockies, but his bat finally broke out in 2016, when he slashed .348/.416/.495 with a 130 wRC+. His slash line dipped to .310/.374/.409 in 2017, and then again in 2018 to .276/.321/.428.

Now that’s a respectable line, especially for one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball. But what may push potential suitors away is how much they believe in the “Coors Effect.” In his career, he has a home batting line of .330/.387/.448, compared to .264/.311/.362 on the road. This may not push interested teams away entirely, but it would sway them to not offer as big of a contract as LeMahieu is probably hoping for this season.

The Dodgers, Washington Nationals, and Minnesota Twins have all had “at least preliminary talks with reps” for LeMahieu, according to Morosi. It’ll be interesting to see what the market is for the 30-year-old second baseman. If he doesn’t like the offers, and teams start looking elsewhere, Baltimore could be a short-term option for him to try to bounce back – especially away from Coors Field – to try to score a bigger deal for himself in the future.

These could be big ifs, however, and not something I’m necessarily banking on.

Jose Bautista and Rougned Odor fight.

 

Bonus Option: Jose Bautista, corner infield/outfield

I bet I caught you off guard with this one.

Remember when I said this possibility would only be an option if another specific transaction would happen first? What I’m talking about here is trading Mark Trumbo. The Orioles already have Chris Davis locked into the huge contract, and he isn’t going anywhere. My assumption is the designated hitter role will belong to Trumbo, which means the Orioles will have Trey Mancini trotting back out to left field on Opening Day again.

If the club wants to prepare for the young crowd of outfielders who have come in to Baltimore and those who are on the horizon – Cedric Mullins, D.J. Stewart, Austin Hays, and Yusniel Diaz – then getting Mancini out of the outfield and into a first baseman or designated hitter role may be a priority. Finding a way to trade Trumbo could free up a spot for this to happen.

I think I may know what you’re thinking now – what would Jose Bautista offer this club that Trumbo doesn’t?

The answers are: flexibility, and a defined role that isn’t hurting the club.

We know that Bautista has most of his experience as a corner outfielder, but he also has over 100 innings-experience at first base in the majors, as well as 3,233.2 innings at third base. 139.1 of those innings played at third base came in 2018 when he logged time with the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies. He’s not an above-average defender at third by any means, but he’s serviceable.

I think Renato Nunez has earned the right to start Opening Day at third base, as he slashed .275/.336/.445 with seven homers in 60 games with the Orioles in 2018. But what Bautista could offer is a corner utility that would play just a few times a week, whether it be filling in at third base, first base, left field, right field, or as an occasional designated hitter. He slashed .203/.348/.378 with 13 homers in just 399 plate appearances in 2018, so you could probably get him cheap on a low-risk, high-reward deal. And if the deal makes out well, he may be a decent trade candidate in the summer.

In the end, Bautista may not even be an option to think about if the O’s don’t find a way to deal Trumbo away this winter.

Looking at the five initial candidates I picked out above, one common factor plays with all five: defense. With a rebuilding franchise, better defense – especially up the middle – could be a big help to young pitchers looking to progress at the major-league level.

There aren’t going to be any high-priced players that are coming to Baltimore in this first full-year of the rebuild process, so you might as well look to see which free agents could help your up-and-coming players and pitchers out the most.

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