Elias still in early stages of Orioles' roster construction - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Elias still in early stages of Orioles’ roster construction

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

Last week’s Winter Meetings served to re-emphasize what every Oriole fan should already know. Next season isn’t going to be much different than 2019.

The departures of starting pitcher Dylan Bundy and infielder Jonathan Villar could make 2020 every bit as challenging as the 2019 season, but next year might be more entertaining.

The low point of the 54-108 season came in late June when the Orioles had a 10-game losing streak and dropped 13 of 14.

That skid put them at 22-58, one game shy of the mathematical halfway point. The rest of the season was slightly better, and the Orioles finished 32-50, a pace that would have put them just under 100 losses.

In the second half of the season, the Orioles played largely without Andrew Cashner, their best pitcher in the first half, who was traded July 13 to the Boston Red Sox for two promising 17-year-olds.

They played with power-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander and power pitcher Hunter Harvey down the stretch. The play of centerfielder Austin Hays was a September highlight.

Presumably, Harvey, Hays and Santander will all be healthy for Opening Day. Hays should be the centerfielder, and outfielder/infielder Ryan Mountcastle could add his strong bat to the lineup sometime around June 1. Others will come later on.

There are a handful of positions already set, if additional trades aren’t made. Hays, Santander and Trey Mancini should comprise the starting outfield, although Mancini also should get time at first base. Cedric Mullins, Dwight Smith Jr. and Mason Williams should compete for backup positions, although another outfielder could be added on a minor league contract.

Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns are the catching candidates, and a fourth catcher is likely be added on a minor league contract.

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General manager Mike Elias said last week that even though fans would see catcher and top draft pick Adley Rutschman in spring training, he wouldn’t play for the Orioles in 2020.

Rio Ruiz, who was claimed on waivers during the 2018 Winter Meetings, did a creditable job at third base. Perhaps we’ll see more of Hanser Alberto there, but manager Brandon Hyde said that he was wary of overusing Alberto, who hit nearly .400 against left-handers in 2019.

“I thought I wore out Hanser last year, to be honest with you,” Hyde said last Wednesday. “He played so much. I don’t think he was used to the innings and the at-bats. He hadn’t played like that in a long time.”

Alberto finished with a .305 average in 139 games, but in the last two weeks of the season, he hit just .182. He played both second and third base, and although he has played some shortstop, he didn’t play there at all in 2019.

“I think you’re going to see a guy that’s a little more light on his feet this year,” Hyde said. “There is going to be a possibility of being able to stick him at shortstop, like we did in the spring or like they have done in the past. But I think there is a possibility of that happening. Really all depends on our roster.”

The Orioles have lost Villar, who split time between shortstop and second, and seem determined to start shortstop Richie Martin, who hit .208, in the minor leagues after his Rule 5 year. They’re going to need additional infielders.

They’ve added two utility players — Pat Valaika, who came from Colorado on waivers, and Dilson Herrera, signed to a minor league contract.

José Peraza, who was not offered a contract by Cincinnati, signed with Boston instead of the Orioles. Adeiny Hechevarría, who played for the Mets and Braves last season, continues to be linked to the Orioles. They first considered the shortstop/second baseman in 2017, but traded for Tim Beckham. Other names will surface.

The Orioles did add two pitchers in the Rule 5 draft, both of whom could be considered candidates for the starting rotation — Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker. Bailey hasn’t pitched above Double-A, and Rucker has just four innings of Triple-A experience.

Hyde said that he would like eight starting candidates come February 11 when spring training begins. The Orioles have John Means, Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski, Bailey and Rucker.

Besides sifting through Ty Blach, Tom Eshelman, Luis Ortiz, Chandler Shepherd, who started and were outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk, a few signings, both of the major league and minor league variety, are likely.

The Orioles have some interesting young pitchers coming to spring training for the first time — Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmerman, but all could start the season at Norfolk.

Elias is nearly through tearing down what he inherited. His front office, manager, coaching, scouting and minor league staff are largely new hires.

The hardest part is constructing a roster. Just under a third of the 40-man roster (13) are new to the organization since Elias took over — Alberto, Bailey, Martin, Rucker, Ruiz, Severino, Smith, Valaika, Wojciechowski pitchers Shawn Armstrong, Marcos Diplan, who was claimed on waivers from Detroit last week, Eric Hanhold and Cole Sulser, both waiver claims yet to pitch for the team.

There will be new players added and some players from the old regime will go before Opening Day, but Elias is building the team methodically.

Despite his protestations, fans still care about the win/loss record. Even if the Orioles somehow improve by 10 wins, that’s still 98 losses, an unacceptably high total.

The Orioles have another high draft pick, the second overall, and can exercise the second claim on players put on waivers.

By this time next year, another difficult season will be over, and perhaps by then, the team can begin to be judged by its record.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Orial

    December 16, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Good morning Rich. Again thanks for Saturday’s book list. Next year’s roster and improvement comes down to stabilizing/improving the pitching(thank you Mr. Obvious) but having Hays,Santander,and Harvey from the get go should be positive. Still cringe when I see Mancini’s name in the OF. A lot of development in the minors is positive but it leans heavily in pitching. Other than Mountcastle and a distant Diaz the positional looks kinda lean. Better defense,pitching,and smarter on field play(yes you Villar)could start to turn this around in 2020.

    • Camden Brooks

      December 16, 2019 at 9:09 am

      While the losses will probably be on the huge side again, it will be nice to see a decent number of young players up at the MLB level, and hopefully showing that is where they belong…

    • Birdman

      December 16, 2019 at 10:30 am

      Rich, I think your last sentence identifies a crucial time frame in the Orioles “rebuild” process. We should recognize that Elias inherited a dysfunctional baseball organization in late 2018, and that awful won-lost records were inevitable for 2019 and 2020. However, by 2021, the team will have to start showing substantial progress, which will likely require a willingness on the part of ownership to supplement minor league player development with some significant free agent spending.

      As a practical matter, I don’t believe that the Orioles have another 4-5 years to become competitive. By that time, attendance will have completely cratered, and the franchise will not be economically viable in Baltimore.

      • Orial

        December 16, 2019 at 11:22 am

        Birdman those are exactly my fears. A race against time. The click is ticking.

  2. VegasOriole

    December 16, 2019 at 9:32 am

    Would love to see Hays stick with the team the whole year. Really excited about Akin and Kremer, hope the Orioles can start developing more pitching. Not selecting a pitcher until the seventh round last year bothered me a bit. Maybe because we have lots of good arms(more than the Orioles usually have) or Elias just loves those middle infielders and catchers.

    • Rich Dubroff

      December 16, 2019 at 9:56 am

      Vegas, there were a lot of good young arms in the system from the previous three drafts. There was a dearth of prospects in the organization, particularly middle infielders and catchers, and they felt the draft was a weak one in terms of pitchers. I think this year’s draft will be different.

      Middle infielders, catchers and center fielders are always in demand by other teams, so it makes sense to draft them so the excess can be used as trade pieces.

  3. Bhoffman1

    December 16, 2019 at 11:28 am

    How can two rule 5 guys who never pitched above double A compete for a starting job. That alone is depressing

    • Jbigle1

      December 16, 2019 at 6:27 pm

      It’s not even Christmas yet. The orioles are going to be shopping in the bargain aisle. There’s no chance we go into the season without adding starting pitchers. They won’t be coming off good seasons and they certainly won’t be expensive but they’ll be big leaguers I’d almost be surprised if Cashner isn’t brought back. Losing Bundy and Brooks takes away 2 guys who were going to be rotation arms. They’ll have to be replaced.

  4. BirdsCaps

    December 16, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    While we will see more prospects than in ’19 this year and at least ’21 will likely be miserable to watch. Whenever NYY or BOS have a few off years it takes 3 yrs max for them to reboot. Since the birds are all in on the rebuild, it would be nice to see them throwing money at the rebuild. Whether that would be buying prospects by taking on large salaries or throwing crazy money at international prospects (which looks like they will need to do to get high quality prospects without having a presence in the int market), there needs to be some urgency. Since others have commented that a 5+yr rebuild will completely alienate the fanbase, the ownership needs to step up and spend money on the rebuild to show some sign of good will to the fans.

    • WorldlyView

      December 16, 2019 at 7:48 pm

      You are right–ownership needs to spend some money now on the rebuild effort. But they won’t. In part, they can’t. It will take a few years before good free agents will view signing with the Orioles as their priority choice. Meanwhile, we’re supposed to be patient and believe in the plan.

  5. Borg

    December 17, 2019 at 5:47 am

    I would much rather see Williams in the fourth outfielder role than Joey Rickard or Stevie Wilkerson. Williams has a major league resume and could possibly play himself into the lineup at some point. I confess I don’t see the rationale for starting Martin in the minors. He actually hit pretty well the last half of September, which suggests he might have begun to figure things out. What is it going to show if he goes and hits .300 at Norfolk except to show he can hit minor league pitching better than major league pitching? If the Orioles were possible contenders that might make sense. They are going to lose 100 games again so why not let him learn at the major league level? If he hits .205 again then maybe that horse just won’t race and they can cut ties with him, but the minors doesn’t seem to make sense. And I don’t think Alberto is the answer at short.
    Losing Bundy just saves everyone from another season of still believing he is potentially good. He hasn’t really shown that, and his real role was eating a few innings. So they dumpster dive and find some cheap vet to throw 130 innings before cutting him in July and picking up another. It doesn’t matter in the long run unless those young arms mature as they hope. If they do, the Os will be competitive again. If they don’t the Os will be playing in Vegas or somewhere else by 2025. Let’s hope for the former.

  6. Hallbe62

    December 17, 2019 at 9:48 am

    Forgive me Rich ….but your readers should know the truth (or likely truth) of this Orioles rebuild.

    https://www.camdenchat.com/2019/12/6/20998350/tanking-the-astro-way

    • CalsPals

      December 18, 2019 at 7:43 am

      Great article, looks like we’re currently in the roster deconstruction phase …gonna be a few long winters…go O’s…

  7. loganmillermusic12

    December 17, 2019 at 11:25 am

    I’d just like to voice my support for Elias and this rebuild. While his decisions don’t always seem to make emotional sense to a lot of people, they all make logical sense—which is what I personally like to see.

    Rich, I have a quick question for you. Some of the comment-ers on your site seem to not be on board for a rebuild. Or they just don’t understand it and would prefer the major league club to make moves and patch together something semi-entertaining on the field (even if it means sacrificing the acquisition of minor league prospects). My question is, what are your thoughts on signing a big name free agent starting pitcher at market rate with no intention of keeping him around? For example, let’s say you sign a guy for 5 years 150 million. He plays for us (hopefully well) up until the trade deadline and we trade him for a huge haul of prospects. We’re out 20ish million, but don’t have to pay the remainder of the contract and maybe end up with a couple of top 50 prospects to boot. Now, I’d like to say that I would prefer that we don’t do this and continue the rebuild path we’re currently on. And this would all be a moot point assuming no big name free agent pitcher wants to come to Baltimore at the moment. But I’m curious on your thoughts about how this could possibly satisfy some people clamoring for something a little more entertaining in the short term. Thanks!

    • ClayDal

      December 17, 2019 at 11:41 am

      You said market rate. If the market rate for said hypothetical pitcher is 150mil/5 years, wouldn’t other teams be willing to pay that figure? Teams that aren’t coming off back to back 100 loss seasons. The sad truth is that until the Orioles are competitive again, they won’t attract free agents unless they overpay. Math problem-Gerrit Cole got 324 million from the Yankees, Rendon and Strasburg got 245 apiece from the Nats and Angels. If the Orioles had been willing to pay those salaries how much would they have had to spend. That’s a trick question-the answer is ZERO. None of those players would have come here when they had better alternatives

  8. Beaverrick

    December 22, 2019 at 5:33 am

    Don’t understand limiting Rutschman to no chance to join Majors this year

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