Seven Orioles are eligible for arbitration, and learning their fates this week will go a long way toward determining the makeup of the 2021 team.
Infielders Hanser Alberto, Yolmer Sánchez and Pat Valaika, catcher Pedro Severino, right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong, first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini outfielder Anthony Santander are eligible for arbitration. Mancini and Santander will be offered contracts by Wednesday’s deadlines.
The Orioles reduced those eligible for arbitration from eight to seven when they released first baseman/designated hitter Renato Núñez on Wednesday after designating him for assignment on November 13th when they added six players to their 40-man roster.
The Orioles claimed Sánchez on waivers on October 30th. He’s a year removed from winning a Gold Glove at second base while playing for the Chicago White Sox. With MLBTradeRumors.com forecasting that Sánchez would earn $6.2 million in arbitration a year ago, the White Sox cut him loose.
Sánchez, who earned $4,625,000 in 2019, didn’t sign for 2020 until January 31st when he agreed to a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants. When play began in July, Sánchez was unable to play because of a back injury, and he never played a game for the Giants and was released on August 21st. A week later, he re-signed with the White Sox, played in 11 games and was claimed by the Orioles.
Because he signed a minor league contract, which presumably was incentive-laden and far below what he earned in 2019, it’s difficult to forecast what he could make in arbitration. Perhaps the Orioles will try to sign him ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for tendering contracts.
If they retain Sánchez, and it’s hard to think they won’t after claiming him and knowing the contract history, they might try to find a taker for Alberto.
Sánchez’s defense is superior to Alberto’s, though his offense isn’t. In his Gold Glove year, Sánchez hit .252 with a .638 OPS in 149 games. He had just two home runs and drove in 42 runs.
Alberto had a strong 2019 offensively, hitting .305 with a .751 OPS. He hit 12 home runs and had 51 RBIs, and excelled against left-handed pitching, hitting .398 against left-handers.
As the regular second baseman in 2020, Alberto’s numbers weren’t as strong — a .283 average, a .698 OPS, three homers and 22 RBIs. He hit .375 against left-handers. Just 13 left-handers started against the Orioles in 60 games (21.6 percent). That was about half 2019’s total when 62 left-handers (38.2 percent) started against them.
Alberto would seem to fit in well on a contending team that could play him less often and appeal to his strengths. According to MLBTradeRumors, Alberto could earn at least $2.3 million in 2021.
Valaika was a nice surprise in 2020. Because of injuries to shortstop José Iglesias and first baseman Chris Davis, he ended up playing in 52 of 60 games and hitting .277 with a .791 OPS. He could make at least $1.1 million in arbitration, according to MLBTradeRumors.com, and that’s probably too much for a utility player who is likely to play far less in 2021.
It’s hard to see the Orioles keeping him, especially since Richie Martin will be coming back after missing last season because of a broken wrist and the addition of Rylan Bannon, who plays second and third, to the 40-man roster. The Orioles also have utilityman Ramón Urias.
Severino is another difficult case. It doesn’t seem that $1.4 million is much to pay for a regular catcher, which he’s likely to be for at least much of 2021. Adley Rutschman still needs minor league play, and it’s hard to project when he’ll be ready.
However, Severino regressed in September. He hit just .159 without an RBI.
Backup Chance Sisco continued to struggle at the plate, hitting just .214, though his on-base percentage was .364 because of 17 walks and six hit-by-pitches.
The Orioles could keep Severino and Sisco and search for another veteran catcher. Bryan Holaday, who was kept as the third catcher for much of the season, is one of 20 catchers on the free-agent list. If there’s a 26-man roster, it’s unlikely he could find a place on the team, though his veteran savvy helped this past season.
Austin Wynns remains on the 40-man roster, though he’s out of options, and trying to send him back to the minor leagues will expose him to waivers.
Armstrong, who’s also out of options,presents another complicated decision. He missed a month because of a back injury but had a 1.80 ERA and a 0.800 WHIP in 14 games. If the Orioles are restricted to 13 pitchers as was supposed to be the case in 2020, keeping him could be hard.
Armstrong’s projected arbitration number isn’t high, just $800,000, but if they have eight relievers and Jorgé Lopez and César Valdez are both on the team, that could complicate matters. Like Lopez and Valdez, Armstrong would have to pass through waivers to be sent to the minors, and he’d surely be claimed.
Having young relievers with options available, including Hunter Harvey, Travis Lakins, Dillon Tate, Bruce Zimmermann and a new addition to the 40-man roster, Isaac Mattson, could make bullpen management easier than having veterans.
A year ago, the Orioles traded Jonathan Villar, who was due for a hefty raise in arbitration, to the Miami Marlins for a young left-handed pitcher, Easton Lucas, just before the deadline for offering contracts.
Two days after he was tendered, Dylan Bundy was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for four right-handed pitchers, including Mattson.
Armstrong would be attractive to a contending team.
It looks like a challenging few days for executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, whose moves are difficult to forecast and interesting to dissect.