In Mike Elias’ first two seasons as Orioles’ executive vice president/general manager, he was cautious about describing his team and his expectations. It was about building an “elite talent base.”
As his third offseason begins, Elias sounds more optimistic. The Orioles were 25-35 in the 2020 season, which extrapolates to 94 or 95 losses. In the unknown that is 2021 because of the pandemic, Elias thinks the talent is starting to jell.
“As it pertains to additional free-agent moves for the Orioles, we’re just going to have to see,” Elias said in a video conference call on Monday.
“We’re going to monitor the market. While this sounds a little strange for a team that was in fourth place last year with a losing record and has not been shy about saying it’s rebuilding, I look at the players that are on our 40-man roster or soon to be on our 40-man roster, and it’s a very functional group — all of whom have settled roles on our team or we want to audition some of these guys and leave paths open for them this year, and we’re fortunate to have some upper-level starting pitching depth.”
If the Orioles don’t trade veteran Alex Cobb, they could have at least six candidates who’ve started games for them. Besides Cobb, there’s John Means, three rookies who pitched at the end of 2020 — Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann — and Jorgé Lopez, who showed some potential late in the season.
In 2020, the Orioles signed veteran left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone. Elias predicted some additional pitchers will be in Sarasota when the Orioles start preparing for 2021.
“I definitely think we’re going to be signing some starting pitchers,” he said. “You can never have enough. You see last year we got the injury bug like every team does on a couple of starters so we’re definitely going to need to sign some outsiders, whether it’s a major league or minor league deal, it will be case-by-case …”
Akin, Kremer and Zimmermann are promising but combined to start just 11 games. There’s no guarantee they’ll be in the starting rotation when the season begins.
“There will be additional competition in camp,” Elias said. “Players have rough sophomore years so to speak. That’s to be expected. I don’t think we’re going to lock anything in stone. We’re going to have that competition.”
Elias likes the Orioles’ relief pitching.
“I think our bullpen right now is fairly set, and it’s a quality group,” he said. “I’m not saying we won’t look to upgrade that or add a veteran presence via free agency. It’s definitely a group that will work for next year.”
Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander show promise in the outfield. Yusniel Diaz soon will be added to the 40-man roster. There’s also DJ Stewart and Ryan McKenna.
“Our outfield, I don’t know the exact number, but I want to say we have six to eight outfielders on our 40-man roster that are high quality, that are interesting young guys, that are players with options,” Elias said. “I feel like that group is pretty fleshed out that I think we want to see in action next year.”
The infield already has gotten an upgrade. The Orioles are bringing back shortstop José Iglesias and signed Yolmer Sánchez, a Gold Glove winner in 2019. They also expect the return of Trey Mancini, who is likely to play first base.
Hanser Alberto, Renato Núñez and Pat Valaika are eligible for arbitration.
“The infield, we’re still addressing that with our arbitration class,” Elias said. “We’ll continue to monitor ways to fortify our infield, but we have a lot of interesting internal candidates on our roster now, and the same with our two catchers.”
Pedro Severino, the primary catcher for the last two seasons, is also eligible for arbitration. Neither Severino nor Chance Sisco had strong seasons.
The timetable on top prospect Adley Rutschman is uncertain because of the cancellation of the minor league season in 2020, another veteran catcher could be brought in.
Bryan Holaday, who hit .161 in 20 games, could resurface if he’s signed to a minor league deal. The Orioles liked his leadership.
Elias took over a team that went 47-115, worst in club history in 2018. It was 54-108 in 2019 and 25-35 this past season.
“We’re trying to get better,” Elias said. “We trying to amplify the whole talent base as we’ve been talking about for two years now. I do feel like this is a group that’s not full of holes right now, and our team is improving. It got a little bit better two years ago, it got a little bit better last year, and there’s a lot of guys that still have a lot of room to get better. I think there’s an interesting group here, and I think we’re just going to try to be smart about mixing in any additional acquisitions right now.”
Note: Anthony Santander, who was one of three finalists for the American League Gold Glove award for rightfielders, lost out to Texas’ Joey Gallo, it was announced Tuesday night.