The end of the World Series marks the beginning of the offseason and our monthly mailbag. Questions are edited for style and brevity.
Question: Can you explain how the arbitration process works? If the O’s non-tendered any one of their arbitration-eligible players, can they re-sign that player, since he is a free agent? Did Hanser Alberto make more money than Yolmer Sanchez in 2020? What are the projections for arbitration awards associated with a shortened season? Can the O’s hold discussions with players/agents before the deadline for arbitration decision? From Phil770 at BaltimoreBaseball.com
Answer: Phil, if the club and player can’t come to an agreement on a 2021 contract before the mid-January deadline, they exchange figures. After a hearing, an arbitrator chooses one of those figures. If they non-tender a player, they can re-sign him.
Alberto made $1.65 million. Sanchez was non-tendered by the Chicago White Sox and signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants. Generally, minor league contracts have relatively low guarantees if the player makes the team and are incentive-laden. Since Sanchez was injured and didn’t play for the Giants and had just 16 at-bats for the White Sox, it’s safe to say that Alberto made more than Sanchez this year. MLBTradeRumors.com recently made estimates on what players could make in arbitration for a full and partial season. The Orioles and agents can make deals at any time for arbitration-eligible players.
Q: What are the Orioles looking for in the free-agent market? From @Michael JBenelli
A: Michael, assuming Yolmer Sánchez and José Iglesias are the second base and shortstop combination, I think the Orioles will look for an upgrade at third base, perhaps another utility infielder and inexpensive starting pitching options. I wouldn’t expect them to spend much money on any of these acquisitions, but if the market is flooded with free agents, they may be able to wait and get some good values.
Q: With a number of third basemen becoming good first basemen, have the O’s tried Mancini at third base? It would add a power bat to the position and help with the glut at DH/1B. From: Russ Vriezen via email
A: Trey Mancini hasn’t been tried at third base, Russ, and I don’t expect him to be. I’m looking for Mancini to have a big comeback season at first base.
Q: Regarding the search for a third baseman, is Ryan Mountcastle being considered? He played there some in the minors and seems like he would be a much better hitter than any of the other options at that position. The outfield seems like a position of strength from both a quantity and quality outlook and moving him to the infield would give us a lot of bat at the corner positions. From: Scott Scheer via email
A: Scott, Mountcastle did play third in the minor leagues, but the Orioles like him better as a first baseman or left ielder. He played an adequate left field, and I think he’s relaxed and confident there, and think they’ll find a third baseman elsewhere.
Q: I know you would be disappointed if you didn’t get at least 1 Chris Davis question. With spots on the 40 man roster at a premium, why not drop him from the 40-man roster. They have to pay him either way and they can still invite him to spring training. Is there any downside to taking him off the 40-man roster. From: Greg Fuchs via email
A: Greg, I don’t know if I would be disappointed, but I would be surprised if I didn’t get a Chris Davis question.
It doesn’t make sense to drop Davis from the 40-man roster. If they cut ties with him now, they’d have to pay him for the entire 2021 and 2022 season. If the ’21 season is shortened, they would have to pay him for only the part of the season that was played—as was the case this year—if they waited to make a move.
Q: Chris Davis is under contract for two more seasons before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Rather than rehash this bad contract talk, can you shed some light on what you expect to happen to his playing time if he continues on this path of almost no production? They can’t keep continuing to place him on the injured list, or can they? From: Matt Dattilio via email
A: Matt, in order for a player to be placed on the injured list, he must be injured. A club can’t stash a player on the IL to avoid making a move. If a player recovers from injury, he can’t be kept on the IL indefinitely. Davis’ knee problems were real and not manufactured by the team to get him off the roster.
Q: What has to happen in order to maintain or dispose of all of the new rules that commissioner Rob Manfred put in place this past season — universal DH, three-batter minimum, runner on second in extra innings, etc.? I’m not sure how you feel about them, but I’m not a fan of any of them. Is there anything baseball can do to get back to a happy medium between analytics and the way the game used to be played? I’m just curious as to what your thoughts are on all of these changes to the game. From: Dave Hersl via email
A: Dave, The three-batter minimum was a rule put in before the pandemic. Unlike the universal DH, runner on second in extra innings and seven-inning doubleheaders, it is a rule that is slated to continue in 2021.
I didn’t think it helped speed up the game, and I didn’t enjoy seeing seven Dodgers pitchers work nine innings in Game 6.
The Players Association and Manfred must agree on any rules changes, and they did because they wanted to play 60 games as quickly and safely as they could in 2020.
The universal DH may not be in play in 2021, but it’s likely to be in force in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will start for the 2022 season.
I was uncertain about the runner-on-second rule until I watched it a few times, and I like it. The rule puts extra strategy in the game, and I’m tired of seeing players try to end extra-inning games with a swing of the bat. But I’m not sure if we’ll see it again next year. The seven-inning doubleheaders were a one-off. Teams like the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees aren’t going to voluntarily give up paid single games, so I’m afraid those awful day/night doubleheaders will return in 2021.
Q: We’ve talked a lot, Rich about the bottom of the roster. What about the top? Who would you pick as the top 12 O’s, regardless of position? From: Will Miranda from BaltimoreBaseball.com
A: All right, Will, how about, in no particular order, José Iglesias, Yolmer Sanchez, Trey Mancini, Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, John Means, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Tanner Scott, Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate?
I’m not including any players not on the 40-man roster yet.
Q: When do you think catcher Adley Rutschman will make his debut with the team? From: Baltimore Castaway via email
A: Michael, I think that Rutschman was set back by the lack of a minor league season in 2020. There is huge uncertainty about a 2021 minor league season, too.
Even though the Orioles had him train with the major league team for a few weeks last spring, brought him to the alternate site at Bowie and had him in the recently concluded Instructional League in Sarasota, that’s still no substitute for competition.
Rutschman has played only 37 minor league games and probably needs a full season in the minors leagues. While Mike Elias would love to see him with the Orioles as soon as possible, he’s not one to rush prospects, so the guess here is you won’t see him until 2022.
Q: Is it just me, or does it seem like pitchers throughout the entire league were “climbing the ladder” and throwing way more high to higher pitches this year, especially when going for the strikeout? It’s just that for the past 30 years, pitchers concentrated on keeping the pitches low in the strike zone, but suddenly this year the hitters were or seemed to me to be chasing after (and whiffing) at balls 2 to 5 inches high and out of the strike zone? Are any analytics available on this? From: Boog Robinson Robinson via email
A: Ken, you are correct that pitchers are throwing higher. The four-seam fastball is popular, and hitters are undercutting the ball, leading to more home runs and strikeouts. I haven’t seen any analytics on this, but I’m sure they’re around somewhere.
Q: Can you see a scenario where the Orioles could trade a strong young outfielder for one of Tampa’s outstanding second base prospects? We seem to have a glut of outfielders and few infielders. From: @philbrownridge
A: Phil, I know you wrote this before the Orioles acquired Yolmer Sanchez, but I don’t think the Orioles feel they really have a glut of outfielders, yet. A year from now, they may feel differently.
I think for now, the Orioles will continue to employ the waiver wire and inexpensive free-agent signings for infielders.
Q: In your post [Thursday], you rightly say that fans come the ballpark to watch great players. Do you think any current Oriole fits that lofty designation? From: Steven Cohen via email
A: Steve, I think the current Orioles have some popular players — Hays, Mancini, Means, Santander, but none are really great. Their last great players were Adam Jones and Manny Machado. I think fans came to the ballpark to see them and, hopefully, there will be players on the current team or the minors who fit that description.