Since the end of last season and the beginning of spring training, the Orioles have turned over 30 percent of their 40-man roster. Twelve players have been added, and that’s not including Trey Mancini and Richie Martin, who were on the 60-day injured list.
Despite the turnover, most of the attention has been on three additions who aren’t on the 40-man roster, particularly two new signings who have had some glory days in the major leagues.
The Orioles have added right-handers Matt Harvey (31), whose signing has yet to be announced, and Felix Hernández (34)– two pitchers who were dominant in the their prime. They’ve also brought back left-hander Wade LeBlanc (36). All three agreed to minor league contracts.
None of veterans has had recent success. Hernández didn’t pitch at all last season.
But barring a fruitless pursuit of a star such as Trevor Bauer, who signed with the world champion Dodgers, much of the free-agent pitching market was full of players who had little success last season or didn’t pitch at all.
Some of the more recognizable names who haven’t been signed are Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Mike Leake, Jake Odorizzi and Rick Porcello. Presumably, those pitchers would rather sign one-year contracts with a contending team, and their asking price is probably too high for the Orioles, who are looking for starting pitchers who can eat up innings while their young pitchers continue their development.
When starter Alex Cobb was traded, it opened a spot and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias signed LeBlanc, Hernández and Harvey.
After a 60-game season in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Orioles want starting depth in 2021. Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, who are expected to join John Means in the rotation, have started only 12 major league games. It seems unrealistic to expect them to start 30 times and work 150-to-170 innings.
Elias has signed a few modestly priced veterans to augment Akin, Kremer and Means, and perhaps Jorge López, Bruce Zimmermann and non-roster invite Thomas Eshelman.
He also selected two pitchers in the Rule 5 draft, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells, who could be contenders for the rotation.
Later in the season, three pitchers who were added to the 40-man roster — Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells — might be ready to join the team. Having the veterans available at the start of the season buys the Orioles time.
Elias is taking the long view, although that might be tough for fans who are eager for his rebuild to start showing results.
When Andy MacPhail took over the Orioles’ top baseball operations job in June 2007, the team was on its way to a 10th consecutive losing season. Although they had a talented young outfielder in Nick Markakis and second baseman in Brian Roberts, they had little else. Just before MacPhail was hired, the team had drafted catcher Matt Wieters.
MacPhail added key pieces in trades — Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Tommy Hunter, Adam Jones and Chris Tillman — and drafted Manny Machado. Those players set up the successful run from 2012-2016. He also hired Buck Showalter as manager in 2010.
But during MacPhail’s time, which ended in 2011, the Orioles lost 93, 93, 98, 96 and 93 games.
Social media wasn’t the force that it is today, but there were impatient fans who called him “MacFail.”
He left his successor, Dan Duquette, with an excellent base. Many of the players fans are eager to watch — Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle — were acquired by Duquette, as were two top pitching prospects — DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez.
Elias has acknowledged that he wasn’t starting from square one. But there aren’t enough players to contend. He had to start an international scouting program, one that Duquette wasn’t able to implement, and he had to have a minor league staff to nurture the prospects.
It’s impossible to say whether Elias will be successful in rebuilding the team because a judgment can’t be made in just two seasons. But low-priced acquisitions who may just be placeholders won’t interfere with the prospects’ development.
Elias should be judged on how the players on the 40-man roster perform. Twenty-one of them were added under Duquette, and 18 of them were acquired by Elias. (Davis was acquired by MacPhail.)
Duquette signed a pitcher as accomplished as Hernández, Johan Santana, during spring training in 2014. He never pitched for the Orioles because of injury.
Even during the team’s run the last decade, they never signed a top-shelf pitcher. They signed Cobb, Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez, who had good track records, but they didn’t perform well for the Orioles.
A number of free-agent pitchers don’t want to sign with the Orioles because Camden Yards is considered a hitters’ ballpark, and a one-year contract might mean no contract the following year.
A year from now, the Orioles should have more promising starting options and the need for low-priced veterans should be lower.