SAN DIEGO—The Winter Meetings ended without the Orioles making any more moves. They traded infielder Jonathan Villar and starting pitcher Dylan Bundy last week, but this one was dominated by big free-agent signings.
World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg re-signed with the Washington Nationals and then saw his teammate, outstanding third baseman Anthony Rendon, leave the Nationals to join Mike Trout with the Los Angeles Angels. Another exceptional pitcher, Gerrit Cole, left the Astros for the New York Yankees.
The Angels also sent shortstop Zack Cozart and his $12.67 million salary and last June’s first-round draft choice, infielder Will Wilson, to San Francisco for a player to be named later and cash considerations.
That kind of move, taking on a costly veteran for a year while getting a prized prospect, is probably out of the Orioles’ budgetary plans for now.
The Orioles spent their time in San Diego meeting with agents for middle infielders, meeting personally with pitchers and preparing for the Rule 5 draft.
General manager Mike Elias said the Orioles were “talking about the opportunity that we have … people know we’re a young club, a rebuilding club. We do have a large avenue for innings and rotation jobs, and that’s attractive. There are some positives there if you’re a free agent, looking for a one-year deal.”
Elias said that he didn’t expect to complete a trade or sign a free agent during the meetings.
For the second straight year, the Orioles claimed a player on waivers early in the Winter Meetings. In 2018, it was third baseman Rio Ruiz, who had a successful season and will return next season. This year, it was reliever Marcos Díplan, who has yet to pitch above Double-A.
Elias will have to bid on tertiary starters to fill a rotation and reach the eight candidates manager Brandon Hyde thinks he needs for spring training competition.
“The guys that people feel are reliable starters, they’re commanding good price tags,” Elias said. “We’re seeing records set at the top of the market. That tells you some things, too. When you’re looking for opportunities at the back end of that market, it’s difficult. It’s not a market that provides a lot of excess.”
There haven’t been any names attached to the Orioles as they pursue starters and middle infielders they can afford. Some will sign major league contracts and others will settle for minor league deals.
Last offseason, pitcher Nate Karns, who pitched just four games, was the only major league free agent signed. It’s likely there will be more than one major league deal signed.
“It’s definitely on the table for both the infield jobs and the starting rotation candidacy jobs,” Elias said. “If that’s something we need to do to get the guy that we like, we’re prepared to do it. I bet that when we’re done we’ll have a mix of major and minor league contracts as part of signings for candidates for these competitions.”
Orioles search for catching depth: Elias has said he’d like another catcher in addition to Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns.
Elias doesn’t think that having overall No. 1 pick Adley Rutschman in the organization will cool free-agent catcher’s interest in coming to the Orioles.
“Not for this year. I think everyone knows he’s not going to advance through all four minor league levels this year,” Elias said “The fourth catcher … we’re a great opportunity because we’re a team where there’s a lot of motion between Triple-A and the big leagues, and we don’t have catchers on big contracts.
“It’s a great opportunity for backup catchers. The problem that we’re having is it’s a thin, competitive catching market, and it’s moving really quickly, and there’s a lot of teams looking for catching, and there aren’t a ton of free-agent catchers this year. That’s tricky.”
Counting on Severino, Sisco: Manager Brandon Hyde said that he expects improvement from Severino and Sisco.
“Sevy is another guy that really improved his defense over the course of the year,” Hyde said. “He was always a catch first, throw, bat second guy, and swung the bat well for us, especially against left-handed pitching.
“I like the raw power. Sevy is really strong. I felt like he was coming into his own offensively. He played more this year than he has in the past, and is still kind of learning the big league game a little bit. Tough to do as a young player behind the plate without a ton of at-bats.
“I thought he improved defensively over the course of the year, and he had a nice year offensively. He’s got some big power. He’s got power to right-center. He’s got bat-to-ball skills. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing Sevy in spring training.”
Sisco spent the last four months of the season with the Orioles.
“When he got to us he was really swinging the bat well, and for me it was more of a confidence issue,” Hyde said. “I think he got in a little bit of a funk and had a hard time getting out of it. I was happy with how he caught.
“I thought he really improved from spring training to the last game of the year defensively, and I think there’s still a lot of room to grow defensively, but I know he’s putting it upon himself this offseason to go to a facility and work on swing thoughts that we had as well as his body and a lot of other things.
“There were a lot of conversations at the end of the year about things he could do this winter to improve and come into spring training, and I know [catching instructor Tim Cossins] is going to go see him and sounds like he’s doing that.”
Checking on character: Elias wouldn’t get specific when asked if the Orioles would pass on free-agent shortstop Addison Russell,
Russell was suspended for 40 games at the end of the 2018 season and at the beginning of 2019 for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy.
“I think we always look at that in any case,” Elias said. “We’re looking at case-by-case aspects of our players’ background and reputations and makeup and we would, generally speaking, weigh that into the evaluation. That said, I do think there are certain degrees of background issues that can and would rule out players for us, in any market.”