Mike Elias celebrates his first anniversary as the Orioles’ top baseball executive this week, when he represents the team at the general managers’ meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Trades will undoubtedly be on Elias’ mind when he meets with his counterparts, starting today.
The only major trade Elias pulled off in his first year was the deal that sent starting pitcher Andrew Cashner to Boston last July for two 17-year-old Dominican Summer League players.
The Orioles have seven players eligible for arbitration, and they must offer those players contracts by December 2.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Elias move quickly this offseason and deal either infielder Jonathan Villar or reliever Mychal Givens, and perhaps both. As Elias acknowledged in his interview last Thursday on 105.7 The Fan, the Orioles are operating within a budget, and that could influence whether players are traded or offered contracts.
Villar, who had a career year in 2019 with 24 home runs and 40 stolen bases, was projected to draw a $10.4 million salary by MLBTradeRumors.com in his last season of eligibility for arbitration. That sounds pricey for the Orioles, and Elias will gauge the market in Scottsdale.
The Orioles could always offer Villar a contract and try to trade him before spring training, but they’re unlikely to get a better deal than by moving him quickly.
Last year, Elias declined to offer contracts to Tim Beckham and Caleb Joseph. This year, besides Givens and Villar, Hanser Alberto, Richard Bleier, Dylan Bundy, Miguel Castro and Trey Mancini are eligible for arbitration.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Elias’ interview was his assertion that the Orioles aren’t looking to trade Mancini, who hit 35 home runs and had 97 RBIs. “We expect him to stay here.”
Elias wasn’t as direct about Mancini before last July’s trade deadline. Keeping Mancini would be a popular move among Oriole fans, who have made him the unofficial face of a rebuilding franchise.
After watching a number of favorite players leave in trades or free agency in 2018 and suffering through 222 losses the last two seasons, the dwindling fan base is eager for something positive.
Former manager Buck Showalter used to tell underperforming players that fans wanted to embrace them, and they should give fans something to cheer about.
Oriole fans have had precious little to cheer about over the last two seasons.
Elias has gone out of his way not to attach a timeline to the team’s improvement, saying that while the win/loss record is disappointing, the team won’t try to artificially accelerate the timeline.
By all accounts, the Orioles had a solid draft in 2019 and picking second in 2020 should provide more top-shelf talent.
There isn’t likely to be any free agent signings of note. None of the top 50 free agents in MLBTradeRumors’ rankings is predicted to fall to the Orioles, but the Orioles are listed as one of a number of teams who could have interest in right-hander Ivan Nova, who’s ranked 48th.
Nova, who tied for the major league lead in starts (34) and led in hits allowed (225), threw 187 innings, more than anyone on the Orioles, but he made more than $9 million last year, and a price close to that isn’t going to appeal to Elias.
Any free agents the Orioles sign are likely to be signed to minor league contracts or inexpensive major league deals. Last offseason, the Orioles signed just one major league free agent, pitcher Nate Karns, who threw just 5 1/3 innings.
Early in the season, they signed another, Dan Straily, who had a 9.82 ERA.
Elias would like to do better this time around. He’ll use his time in Scottsdale to listen to agents, and listen again at next month’s Winter Meetings in San Diego.
The indication that Mancini would likely stay for 2020 was about the most positive thing Elias could say. He’s tried to be transparent about his plans, but even fans who understand the need to rebuild are eager for more to embrace.
Many were disappointed that FanFest was canceled, and the team has yet to announce plans for fan-friendly events to substitute for the annual January event.
Fans watching all those losses can trek to Aberdeen, Delmarva, Frederick or Bowie to look at the Orioles of the future. This year, they’ll see a full season of catcher Adley Rutschman, last year’s top draft choice. They’ll see others who might be teammates of Rutschman’s in Baltimore.
As the offseason gathers speed, fans hope that when spring training begins in three months that Elias’ work in Scottsdale will present them with a more appealing team to watch in 2020.
Question time: This week, I’ll be answering readers’ questions about the Orioles. If you have any questions, and I know you’re not shy, please leave them in the comment boxes or email them to me: [email protected].