The Winter Meetings were scheduled to be held this week in Dallas, and there would have been lots of questions for Orioles general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde. Since the meetings have been canceled by Covid-19, I’ll try to answer your questions. Questions have been edited for length and style.
Question: What is going on with minor league baseball? Why is Major League Baseball dumping the current structure of the minor leagues? When will decisions be made? From Steve Schwarz via email
Answer: Steve, the minor leagues were the most popular subject for questions this month.
MLB is planning to reduce the number of affiliated minor league clubs to four in addition to a team-owned and operated short-season rookie team. They believe too much money is invested on players who have little or no chance of playing in the major leagues, and they want to eliminate teams at lower levels and improve the working conditions for minor leaguers.
Reportedly, MLB will choose 120 teams for affiliation, and that could happen as soon as this week. If Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick, Delmarva and Aberdeen make the cut, the Orioles will have to drop one team.
Aberdeen has the newest and nicest facility. Norfolk is the only one suited for Triple-A because of the size of its ballpark. The choice probably will come down to Bowie, Frederick and Delmarva.
All all are close to Baltimore and have strong fan followings. If it turns out one is dropped, another team, perhaps the Nationals, could pick them up since Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium is ancient, inadequate and not likely to be included in the 120 remaining.
Q: Hi Rich, I have been an Orioles fan since 1960. Pitching wins championships. I believe Mike Boddicker was the last pitcher to win 20 games in 1984. Do you see a pitcher in the organization that will win 20 games, or close to it, in the near future? From: Kevin in Connecticut via email
A: Kevin, starting pitcher wins isn’t considered as important a statistic as it was during the time when the Orioles often had 20-game winners.
Mike Mussina was a Hall of Fame pitcher, and he didn’t win 20 games in his time with the Orioles, though he won 19 and 18 twice each. He finally won 20 in his final year with the Yankees.
While DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez are excellent pitching prospects, I don’t think it’s a goal of the Orioles to produce a 20-game winner, though they wouldn’t turn it down. If I were you, I’d hope for consistent excellent starts, and team wins will come.
Q: Rich, in response to your call for questions, could you get ERA statistics when Severino caught and when Sisco caught. Agree with others that Severino has faded offensively and defensively each of the past two seasons. Trying to understand the true value, and maybe he calls a better game than the others. From: Phil770 via comments in BaltimoreBaseball.com
A: Phil, pitchers throwing to Pedro Severino in the 60-game 2020 season had a 3.89 ERA in 35 games. When throwing to Chance Sisco, who appeared in 26 games, they had an ERA of 5.87. In the 10 games Bryan Holaday caught, the ERA was 3.20.
Q: What shortstop options exist in the free-agent market? I am curious to know who may replace [José] Iglesias and be the everyday starting shortstop. What free-agent starting pitchers do you see the O’s pursuing? Any shot Elias goes after [Kyle] Schwarber to play designated hitter? The O’s could use some firepower in that lineup! From: Nassim Khoury via email
A: Nassim, MLBTradeRumors.com lists 12 free-agent shortstops. Some are too expensive for the Orioles, including Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien and Andrelton Simmons. One name that’s been mentioned in the past is Adeiny Hechevarria, who’s not on the list. The Orioles have had interest in him going back to 2017 when he was linked with the team before they traded for Tim Beckham.
The free-agent market is very slow, and I think it will be several weeks until the Orioles sign a shortstop. The pursuit of starting pitchers will wait, too. The Orioles will sign one or two to minor league deals or inexpensive major league deals. I would be shocked if they signed Kyle Schwarber to be their DH.
Q: Rich, I read about a week or so ago that the Orioles were interested in [Yasiel] Puig again. With a promising young, motivated and athletic outfield core set to play for the Orioles in 2021, why would they mess around with a guy that isn’t a team-first guy and is older than the rebuild players? He would cost more money than the players we have, and the Orioles don’t seem to be in the spending market. I don’t see what they would accomplish by signing him other than trying to flip him at the deadline for more prospects. From Dave Hersl via email
A: Dave, I was mystified at the mention of Yasiel Puig as well, and I agree with your reasoning. They seem to be reasonably set with a number of promising young outfielders.
Q: Not trying to be negative or put down the man as a person, but I want to understand the justification in Chris Davis having a spot on the 40-man roster in 2021. Can you provide any kind of insight? From: @MikeDoubleEwe
A: Mike, I know that whenever I ask for questions, there will be at least one Chris Davis query. Because there was a 60-game season in 2020, the Orioles paid Davis only 37.7 percent of the $23 million he was set to earn, including deferred money. If the 2021 season is shortened by the pandemic, they would save money by not releasing him now. I don’t know whether they’d make that move next year, but a shortened season saves them many millions.
Q: Knowing the relationship between Elias and [Carlos] Correa, any chance you see him playing shortstop for the Orioles? That would explain the turnover of Iggy. From: William Ford via email
A: William, Mike Elias was Houston’s scouting director when they drafted Carlos Correa. He’s eligible for free agency after next season. I cannot see the Orioles trading substantial assets for Correa now or pursuing him in free agency after next year.
Q: What minor leaguers in the O’s system are eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft? Out of those players who do you think is more likely to be taken? What if any impact will this have on the O’s in the minor leagues. What type of player/position do you think the O’s are likely to choose in the Rule 5 draft? From: David In Parkville via email
A: David, there are a large number of Orioles minor leaguers who could be taken in the Rule 5 draft. Rosterresource.com lists 18, but I don’t think that’s a complete list.
The ones who seem most likely to be taken are reliever Zach Pop, catcher Brett Cumberland and infielder Mason McCoy. Cody Sedlock, a right-handed pitcher who was the team’s top draft choice in 2016, is also eligible to be drafted, as is another right-hander, Brenan Hanifee.
Pop, who had Tommy John surgery in May 2019, seems the most at risk. If they lose Pop, the Orioles have a number of young relievers in the minors who are not yet eligible to be drafted.
I expect them to again make a Rule 5 selection—or two—on Thursday since they have two open roster spots. Pitching and infielders are the most likely choices.
Q: Rich, since the Orioles have only two starting pitchers with much MLB experience, do you think they may go with a six-man rotation? This would help limit the number of total innings each would pitch and, hopefully, prevent major injuries. From: Webster from Winter Park FL via email
A: Webster, you’re correct that Alex Cobb and John Means are the only starters with much major league experience. I think a six-man rotation is possible, but I think they’d need to add another starter or two from the list of inexpensive free agents to do that.
Q: Last year the O’s avoided the cellar because Boston had a generational meltdown. Do you see them staying out of the basement in 2021? And do you agree with Elias that some year they’re just going to throw a switch and start winning at the major league level? From: Will Miranda via BaltimoreBaseball.com comments
A: I don’t think they’re as concerned with the staying out of last place as they are with continued player development. The AL East is going to continue to be a difficult division. I interpreted Mike’s comment as changing direction and trying to maximize wins, and I think they’re still a year or two away from that, Will.
Q: Why all the penny-pinching by O’s ownership? Don’t they and Elias know that to contend in the AL East with New York and Boston the checkbooks must be opened? Where does it say a team must be profitable? They should not depend on the O’s to make them a profit; the team should be looked at as a utility to serve the public. From: Chris Evans via email
A: Chris, I’ve never heard the Orioles or other professional sports teams compared with utilities. I think following their fortunes is more interesting than checking on BG&E.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who have historically drawn fewer fans than the Orioles and play in an outmoded stadium, made it to the World Series and often contend without spending huge amounts of money. I think that’s the Orioles’ model.