When spring training opens, the Orioles might look different than they do today.
In 2020, they added three players claimed on waivers between late January and spring training — infielder Pat Valaika, pitcher Travis Lakins and infielder Ramón Urias. They also signed two pitchers to minor league contracts — left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone.
Transaction-wise, things have been quiet for executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias in recent weeks.
There was last Friday’s 17-player international signing class, and the agreement with first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini on a 2021 contract for $4.75 million.
The team didn’t reach an agreement with arbitration-eligible outfielder Anthony Santander, who’s seeking $2.475 million. The Orioles offered $2.1 million, and Elias said he’ll head to his first arbitration hearing.
At least three position players from last season’s team are gone — shortstop José Iglesias, who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels, second baseman Hanser Alberto, who wasn’t offered a contract, and first baseman/designated hitter Renato Núñez, was released on November 23rd.
It’s possible that the replacements for all three are already on the roster, although the Orioles continue to look for shortstops.
Richie Martin, who missed last season because of a broken right wrist, could be the starting shortstop, although it would be a surprise if at least one other candidate wasn’t found between now and February 16th, the scheduled start of spring training in Sarasota, Florida.
Alberto’s likely replacement is Yolmer Sánchez, who was claimed on waivers from the Chicago White Sox on October 30th.
Núñez’s spot on the roster is expected to be taken by Mancini, who missed the 2020 season after colon cancer surgery.
In addition to Sánchez, there are three new position players on the 40-man roster — infielder Rylan Bannon, outfielder Yusniel Diaz, both added from the Orioles’ minor leagues, and first baseman/outfielder Chris Shaw, claimed on waivers from San Francisco on November 25th.
There’s been more movement among the pitchers. Seven pitchers have been added to the 40-man roster since the end of last season.
Right-handers Michael Baumann and Isaac Mattson and left-handers Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells were added to the 40-man roster from the minors. Two other right-handers, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, were taken in the Rule 5 draft, and right-hander Ashton Goudeau was claimed on waivers from Pittsburgh.
Thomas Eshelman, who lost his place on the 40-man roster when Shaw was claimed, tried his hand at free agency and re-signed with the Orioles this week.
Although six players were added to the 40-man roster, it’s not likely any will begin 2021 with the Orioles but it’s possible all will play with the team during the season.
The Orioles need to see what Diaz can do, and it’s been more than 2 ½ years since he was the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2018.
Ryan McKenna, an outfielder who was new to the 40-man roster last year, needs a look, too.
However, the Orioles seem solid with outfielders. Santander, Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart could be the group beginning the season.
Mancini, Mountcastle, and Chris Davis could vie for playing time at first. A designated hitter should come out of the first base/outfield group.
Another area that could be unchanged is catching. Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco look again to be the top two catchers to begin 2021.
Last season, Bryan Holaday, who recently signed a minor league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was on the roster for much of the year. That was with a 28-man roster, and it’s possible that with health concerns still paramount because of Covid-19 that an expanded roster will be the rule again.
In December, the Orioles outrighted Austin Wynns, who didn’t play with the team in 2020. He’s still in the organization.
Last month, the team added Nick Ciuffo, who signed a minor league contract. Ciuffo played 19 games with Tampa Bay in 2018 and 2019, so it’s possible the Orioles could add another catcher on a minor league contract between now and February 16th.
The possible addition of Adley Rutschman, Diaz, Bannon and some of the pitchers later this year will add to roster intrigue, but not immediately. In Elias’ first two years, Hays, Mountcastle, Santander, Sisco and Stewart all began seasons in the minor leagues, only to be promoted later.
With a free-agent market that’s been slow and an enormous number of players still available, Elias could make several moves in the next month and add competition for starting pitching, the infield and even catching.