Late Friday afternoon, the Orioles made a seemingly minor move, acquiring right-handed reliever Austin Brice on waivers and designating infielder Breyvic Valera for assignment. A day later, Valera was traded to the San Francisco Giants for cash considerations.
Under normal circumstances, it would be seen as just one of many moves the Orioles would make during an offseason. But it’s the first offseason of Mike Elias’ tenure as Orioles general manager, and there is something striking about it.
It’s not that Brice has a 2-4 record and 5.68 ERA in 70 games over the past three seasons with Miami and Cincinnati. Nor that the Orioles claimed him from the Los Angeles Angels, who picked him up on a waiver claim from the Reds barely two months ago. It wasn’t even that Brice was born in Hong Kong and raised in North Carolina, though I am eager to find out the back story.
It was that Elias had no interest in seeing more of Valera. Granted that Elias has seemed to focus on the infield in many of his initial moves, non-tendering Tim Beckham, who has yet to sign elsewhere, and claiming Rio Ruiz on waivers from Atlanta and added a pair of infielders, Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, in the Rule 5 draft.
Jackson was selected by Philadelphia, and the Orioles had to part with some international signing bonus money for him.
Beckham’s move was understandable. If the Orioles offered him a contract, he would have made an estimated $4.3 million, and that was too much for Elias’ budget considering Beckham’s erratic record with the Orioles.
But Valera had played just 12 games for the Orioles, batting .286 with four RBIs. He was a switch-hitter, and most important, he came from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the trade for Manny Machado.
In their two-week July trading spree, the Orioles acquired 15 players from the Dodgers, Yankees, Braves and Brewers. Six of them, Valera, Jonathan Villar, and pitchers Cody Carroll, Luis Ortiz, Evan Phillips and Josh Rogers, played for the Orioles in 2018.
Nine others, catcher Brett Cumberland, infielders Rylan Bannon, Jean Carmona, Juan Carlos Encarnacion, outfielder Yusniel Diaz and pitchers Dean Kremer, Zach Pop, Dillon Tate and Bruce Zimmermann remain in the organization.
Tate was added to the 40-man roster while Diaz and Kremer, who both played for Double-A Bowie, could get a look during spring training once the Orioles begin considering non-roster players to invite.
Obviously, not all 15 players the Orioles acquired are going to play for them, and under Elias, who has no ties to any of them, everyone gets a fresh look.
But there are some other players still remaining on the 40-man roster Elias has inherited who seemed more obvious choices to cut than Valera.
It will take months for even an initial assessment of Elias, but the most sweeping generalization that can be made so far is that he doesn’t care how the player was acquired. He’ll be gone if he doesn’t fit into Elias’ plans for the Orioles.
Take outfielder Anthony Santander. The Orioles suffered through parts of two seasons trying to accommodate their roster because Elias’ predecessor, Dan Duquette, was enamored with Santander’s potential.
Santander was taken in the Rule 5 draft two seasons ago along with another outfielder, Aneury Tavarez. But it was evident that the Orioles had better minor league outfielders than those two.
Tavarez was returned to the Boston Red Sox because Cedric Mullins showed promise in the spring of 2017. While Santander has dealt with injuries and poor performance, Diaz, Mullins Austin Hays and Ryan McKenna have shown more potential.
Elias also inherited Pedro Araujo, one of three Rule 5 draft picks from 2017. Araujo, a right-hander drafted from the Cubs’ organization, showed a lively arm last spring and began the season with the Orioles but was shut down after injuring his elbow in June.
Araujo must remain on the active roster for the first 17 days of the 2019 season to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements. Santander had to stay on the roster for the first 43 days of the 2018 season.
The Orioles began last season with Araujo, Santander and Nestor Cortes, another Rule 5 draft pick on the 25-man roster.
Cortes showed that he was not ready for the major leagues and was returned to the New York Yankees by mid-April. The Orioles also drafted a third player in the Rule 5, pitcher Jose Mesa, but he didn’t make it out of spring training and was returned to the Yankees, too.
While there’s a possibility that the Orioles could begin 2019 with three Rule 5 players, Araujo, Jackson and Martin, if Elias isn’t convinced they’ll help, he won’t be wedded to them in the same way Duquette was.
Breyvic Valera’s experience should be illustrative.