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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