The Orioles can begin making concrete plans for the 2021 season after the World Series ends either Tuesday or Wednesday night.
Of course, we don’t know what the 2021 season will be like—if spring training will begin in mid-February or if the season will start on April 1 as scheduled.
There are a number of items on executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias’ to-do list:
Make a decision on Iglesias
The Orioles must decide whether to pick up shortstop José Iglesias’ $3.5 million option for the 2021 season or buy him out for $500,000.
Even though injuries to his quadriceps muscle and wrist limited him to 39 games, Iglesias’ signing was a success. When he played shortstop, the team looked crisper and were 11-11. When Ramón Urias, Pat Valaika and Andrew Velazquez started, they were 14-24. The Orioles’ record when Iglesias was the designated hitter was 3-10.
In a normal offseason, it would be an easy decision to pick up the option (his 2020 contract was for $3 million. However, these are not normal times, and money is tight. If the Orioles don’t pick up the option, they could try to sign Iglesias for a reduced rate or sign another free agent.
Finalize the 40-man roster
The Orioles have 36 players on the 40-man roster. They have four on the 60-day injured list — pitcher Wade LeBlanc, infielder Richie Martin, first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini and pitcher Kohl Stewart, who is on the Covid-19 list. Stewart opted out of the 2020 season on July 31st.
Mancini, who finished his chemotherapy after colon cancer surgery on March 12th, and Martin, who had a broken wrist, will be added to the roster. Stewart, who could provide depth in the starting rotation, might also be added.
LeBlanc will be a free agent, as will catcher Bryan Holaday, and they won’t be added.
The Orioles will need to make room for Rule 5 eligible minor leaguers. A year ago, when the roster was weaker than it is now, pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, outfielder Ryan McKenna and first baseman/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle were added to the roster.
Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, right-handed pitcher Michael Baumann and left-hander Zac Lowther are expected to be added to the roster.
There’s a good chance right-handed reliever Isaac Mattson could be added. Others who could be considered are right-handed reliever Zach Pop, who had Tommy John surgery in May 2019, infielders Rylan Bannon and Mason McCoy and left-handed starter Alexander Wells.
Right-hander Gray Fenter, who has never pitched above Low-A Delmarva, left-hander Brian Gonzalez and right-hander Cody Sedlock, the team’s top pick in 2016, weren’t added to the 40-man roster a year ago and are long shots.
Prepare for arbitration
Again, the economic climate is likely to affect the Orioles’ decisions.
Mancini, second baseman Hanser Alberto, right-handed pitcher Shawn Armstrong, designated hitter Renato Núñez, rightfielder Anthony Santander, catcher Pedro Severino and infielder Pat Valaika are eligible for arbitration.
Mancini and Santander will be kept, and most of the others might be back, too. It’s possible that trades could be arranged just before 40-man rosters have to be set in early December.
Last year, right-handed starter Dylan Bundy and infielder Jonathan Villar were traded ahead of the deadline for tendering a contract.
Alberto is heading into his second year of arbitration eligibility and appears vulnerable. Núñez could be dealt because with the return of Mancini and a glut of young outfielders, his DH spot may be up for grabs.
With reduced revenues, predicting arbitration salaries is particularly dicey this year. There could be a large number of players not tendered contracts around the game.
Select pitching and third base coaches
Doug Brocail, who was the Orioles’ pitching coach in 2019 and 2020, won’t be returning for 2021. Nor will José Flores, who was the Orioles’ third base coach for the past two years.
It’s possible that the Orioles will reduce their eight-man coaching staff to seven for next season.
Chris Holt, the team’s director of pitching, is considered the likely successor to Brocail.
For a third base coach, the Orioles could ask one of their other coaches, Tim Cossins, Fredi González, José Hernandez or Anthony Sanders, to shift roles.
Cossins is the major league field coordinator and catching instructor. González, who does not have the title of bench coach, assists manager Brandon Hyde during games. Hernandez was the assistant hitting coach this year, and Sanders was the first base coach.
Wilkerson returning: As expected, the Orioles signed infielder/outfielder Stevie Wilkerson to a minor league contract.
Wilkerson missed the 2020 season after he broke his left ring finger in the team’s first exhibition game in Philadelphia on July 19. He was later released.
Wilkerson’s signing was first reported by MASNsports.com and confirmed by industry sources.