What’s happening – While many fans have been fixated on the additions to the starting staff over the last week, the Orioles have now added two veteran major leaguers in the last three days to compete for outfield jobs.
Obviously, the signings of Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman are important, but all offseason the Orioles had searched for left-handed hitting bats, too.
Many had linked the Orioles with Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gonzalez and Jon Jay, but instead, they signed Alex Presley and Colby Rasmus.
Interestingly, the Orioles now have four candidates for outfield jobs who can play all three outfield positions. Besides Presley and Rasmus, they have right-handed hitters Craig Gentry and Joey Rickard.
Gentry, Presley and Rasmus were all signed to minor league contracts while Rickard, a former Rule 5 pick, is on the 40-man roster.
As Adam Jones has aged, the Orioles have looked for outfielders who can play center on occasion to spell Jones; Gentry, Presley, Rasmus and Rickard all have played center in their careers.
The Orioles also have made improving their defense a point of emphasis this spring.
“That was a challenge for us. We want to get better there,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We also want to have better depth to give Adam (Jones) some time. It’s something that was really a challenge for us. I don’t want guys playing because we don’t have somebody else.”
The signings of Gentry, Presley and Rasmus are low-risk because none is guaranteed a major league job.
Adding Presley and Rasmus increases the chances that top prospect Austin Hays begins the season in the minor leagues, especially since the Orioles may carry Anthony Santander for the first 44 days of the season to allow him to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements.
Santander, a switch-hitter, does not play center field.
Jaycob Brugman, the player the Orioles designated for assignment to make room for Tillman on the 40-man roster, is primarily a left-handed hitting center fielder, but the team liked its other choices for center better.
** Tillman threw a bullpen session roughly two hours after his signing was made official Wednesday.
The first report of Tillman’s signing came Monday morning, and it took nearly 48 hours for the deal to be consummated.
“It is a relief. I’ve been stuck inside looking out the windows for the last three days, so it feels good to finally be able to join the team and get out and get my feet under me,” Tillman said.
The contract is worth $3 million guaranteed and could reach $10 million if Tillman eclipses certain innings requirements. According to FanRag Sports, some of the incentive money is deferred, but basically Tillman can earn a $1 million bonus for logging 125 innings and again for 150 innings; a $1.5 million bonus for reaching 175 and 190 innings and an additional $2 million bonus for hitting the 200-inning mark.
** The Orioles, who now have 63 players in camp, will play a four-inning intrasquad game at 12:30 p.m. today at Ed Smith Stadium.
Showalter says that few of his regulars will play in the intrasquad game because the team plays home games Friday and Saturday, and the regulars are likely to play then.
Something to think about – When camp began on Feb. 13, there were many roster spots still uncertain. Nine days later, there is less uncertainty.
Cashner’s and Tillman’s additions mean there is only one starter’s spot vacant. Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette floated Rule 5 draft pick Nestor Cortes’ name as a possibility.
The Orioles would like a left-hander in the starting rotation, and there aren’t many appetizing choices left in the free agent market.
The addition of Presley and Rasmus sharpens the outfield competition.
There are a few openings in the bullpen, and the competition for the backup catcher’s job will be keen.
Duquette mentioned that the team was still in the market for another infielder, and the jockeying for the utility spot will be fascinating to watch.
A name to consider – Cedric Mullins was not invited to spring training list year, but was often added as an extra player for Grapefruit League games.
The 5-foot-8 outfielder was slowed by a hamstring injury last season. He hit .265 with 13 home runs and 37 RBIs at Double-A Bowie.
“It was a very humbling experience, just knowing that I was getting the opportunity regardless of what I was able to put together last year along with the injuries,” Mullins, 23, said of his spring training invitation.
“It’s a great way to show that I’m back, I’m healthy and I’m able to perform.”
Mullins has speed, something lacking in the Orioles’ organization. He stole 30 bases in 2016 at Low-A Delmarva.
What they are saying — “Here’s a contract where Chris can give us the innings and if he pitches well, he can be rewarded and he could go back out on the market. Some people call these a pillow contract. The important thing for the player is you don’t fall asleep on that pillow contract.” — Dan Duquette on Tillman’s contract.