In last week’s video conference call, Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias raised expectations for the team when he said he felt there were “not a lot of holes right now.”
Next year will be the third in Elias’ tenure and, although the team was not in the 2020 playoff hunt, the Orioles were just a game under .500 (20-21) more than two-thirds into the 60-game season.
No one knows if teams will be able to play a full 162-game season in 2021 but, even if they don’t, a better winning percentage is expected from the Orioles.
In 2018, when the Orioles went 47-115, they had a winning percentage of .290. In 2019, they had a 54-108 record and a .333 percentage. This past year, the 25-35 record gave the Orioles a .417 winning percentage.
The season before Elias arrived, the Orioles had the worst record in baseball. In 2019, it was the second worst. This past year year, they were tied with the Arizona Diamondbacks for fifth worst.
Elias has said in the past that the win/loss record isn’t necessarily linear. What was different this past year was that the Orioles began to show signs of a brighter future through the play of Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander and Cedric Mullins and the pitching of Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Tanner Scott. More promising players are in the pipeline.
Elias acquired second baseman Yolmer Sánchez, who won a Gold Glove in 2019, and picked up the option on shortstop José Iglesias’, whose stellar play was restricted by injuries in 2020.
They also will be getting back their best player, Trey Mancini, who was treated for colon cancer this past year.
The Orioles might try to add depth to their starting pitching, which finished with a rotation of John Means, Alex Cobb, Jorgé Lopez, and rookies Akin, Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann.
Except for Rylan Bannon, whom the team didn’t promote in 2020, there aren’t any internal options at third base other than Rio Ruiz. Bannon, who played more second base at last month’s Instructional League, has played second and third in the minors and joined the group at the alternate site in Bowie for the final weeks of the season.
Ruiz has been acceptable as a placeholder at third but has a .229 batting average and a .692 OPS in his two seasons. Elias also must make a decision on second baseman Hanser Alberto, who is eligible for arbitration. He might have tipped his hand with the addition of Sánchez.
MLBTradeRumors.com recently published a list of its 50 top free agents and their projected destinations. The Orioles weren’t seen as the landing spot for any of the 50.
Looking back to their list of 2019, Iglesias, who had a .373 average and .956 OPS in 39 games, didn’t make TradeRumors’ top 50 list even though he’s had a solid major league career.
Elias waited until early in January and then signed Iglesias to a one-year $2.5 million contract with a $3.5 million option.
With the market expected to be flooded with free agents, the Orioles probably will wait out the market and perhaps sign some infield and starting pitching insurance at low cost.
The free-agent market has started slowly. Toronto re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to a one-year, $8 million contract over the weekend.
This normally would be the week when the general managers would meet. Agents typically make their rounds, and the market begins to settle. Without the physical meeting and no Winter Meetings next month, it will be interesting to see how other clubs and the Orioles gauge the market.
Mountcastle will be eligible in 2021: Mountcastle, who wasn’t a finalist for American League Rookie of the Year, received a third-place vote in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Seattle centerfielder Kyle Lewis was the unanimous winner. Chicago outfielder Luis Robert was second and Houston right-handed pitcher Cristian Javier finished third
Mountcastle was one of nine players who received votes and the only one from an American League East team.
Because he had 126 at-bats, four short of the 130 that end rookie status, Mountcastle will be eligible for the award in 2021.
Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena, who was a postseason sensation, didn’t receive any votes and also will be eligible for Rookie of the Year next season.
No Oriole has won the award since Gregg Olson in 1989.
Manager of the Year will be announced Tuesday, Cy Young on Wednesday, and Most Valuable Player on Thursday.
Note: The Orioles promoted Mike Hoppes to senior vice president, chief financial officer. According to the team, “ Hoppes will oversee the organization’s finance and accounting functions, including the team’s financial reporting with Major League Baseball and the Commissioner’s Office.”
Hoppes has been with the Orioles since 1986.