Here’s the second part of our final monthly mailbag of 2021. Thank you for all the good questions, some of which have been edited for length, clarity and style.
Question: In light of the Orioles’ starting pitching situation, how do you think management came to the conclusion that it was a good move to let Chris Ellis become a free agent? From: Lcbjmn via email
Answer: I was as surprised as you were when Chris Ellis was taken off the 40-man roster, and I wrote that. While I think that the team has several others who have more promise than he does, I thought he should have been kept as a depth piece.
Ellis had a 2.49 ERA in six starts with the Orioles, and the team won five of those six starts. But he wasn’t in the game long enough to record a victory in any of those starts, and his walk-to-strikeout ratio wasn’t very good. (16 strikeouts, 13 walks in 25 1/3 innings).
Question: What are the odds the Orioles start the season with an all left-handed rotation of John Means, Keegan Akin, Alexander Wells, Zac Lowther, and Bruce Zimmermann? From: Damon Stout via email
Answer: Besides Damon, @SJ69569741 asks what I think the 2022 rotation will be.
The Orioles reached an agreement with right-handed starter Jordan Lyles just before the lockout. It’s not official because Lyles hasn’t passed a physical, which will occur when the lockout ends. Lyles slots in as the second starter behind Means, so there won’t be an all left-handed rotation.
While there are four other left-handed candidates, there’s also Mike Baumann, who only pitched in relief last season, and Dean Kremer and potentially Spenser Watkins, who was re-signed to a minor league contract.
The Orioles are likely to sign at least one other starting candidate as a free agent once the lockout ends.
Question: I think Brandon Hyde has done what he can with the roster he’s been given. With his recent promotion do you think Buck Britton gets a shot at the big league job at some point? From: @MichaeFleetwood
Answer: The Orioles think highly of Buck Britton, who has moved up from Delmarva to Bowie, and now to Norfolk, but they also think highly of Brandon Hyde, who has managed the team well under difficult circumstances.
I’d like to see Hyde get a shot with a more talented team, and I think the Orioles would like to see how Britton handles a team with more veterans at Norfolk. I know he’s highly thought of around the game.
Your thoughts about Britton are shared by many fans, but let’s see how the Orioles do in 2022, and perhaps Hyde will be the manager for the long term.
Question: Any word on how players with Oriole connections are doing in the winter leagues? From: CEP_Observer
Answer: Alan, thanks for the question, and I enjoyed researching this one. How else would we have known that Radhames Liz, Felix Pie and Alfredo Simon were still playing in the Dominican Winter League?
There are many other former Orioles, including Fernando Abad, Hanser Alberto, Dusten Knight, Jimmy Paredes, Joey Rickard, Henry Urrutia, César Valdez and Gabriel Ynoa, playing there, and I found a few current players doing well.
Through Saturday, Kelvin Gutiérrez is batting .417 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 18 games for Gigantes del Cibao; Marcos Diplán has pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings for Aguilas Cibaenas; and Félix Bautista has 2 1/3 hitless innings for Leones del Escogido.
Question: I’ve read about Endeavor for the last few days in your writing and others. Do you think it’s good for minor league baseball to have one company with all that influence and power? I got a bit concerned when I read about it. From: Jeff Maynard via email
Answer: Jeff, I don’t think it’s a great thing when a large entity has so much power, and the reports I’ve read suggest that Endeavor, which has just announced plans to buy eight minor league teams, could purchase as many as 40 of the 120 affiliates.
Obviously, they think that owning minor league teams is a good investment, and I hope there’s still room in minor league baseball for smaller operators.
There have been good things about the minor league consolidation (increasing pay and better working conditions), but it’s taken minor league baseball away from smaller and rural communities around the country at a time the sport needs to grow everywhere in the United States.
Minor league teams don’t supply players, the major league teams do, so I don’t think it will hurt competitively. Endeavor purchased minor league teams from some of the strongest major league organizations economically (Yankees, Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, Braves), and I’ll be interested to see if they reach out to any of the smaller-market teams.
Question: What’s the worst thing in a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that could impact the developmental progress of the Orioles in fielding a competitive team in the near future? From: Glenn Fuller via email
Answer: Good question, Glenn. Many of the points being argued about in the talks affect the Orioles. Fans who want to see the team spend more on free agents are hoping for a minimum salary requirement for teams. They also want to see an end to service time manipulation so that there’s no excuse for not starting catcher Adley Rutschman in the majors next season.
If things aren’t changed in the agreement, the Orioles will pick first in the draft, but there’s some sentiment for making sure a team doesn’t pick in the first five in consecutive years. (They’re set to pick in the first five for the fourth straight year.)
Players are also arguing for reducing the time it takes to qualify for free agency from six years to five. That could hurt teams like the Orioles because they might trade players more quickly.
Increasing the number of playoff teams to 12 or 14 from the current 10 might also make the Orioles competitive more rapidly.
Question: As much as teams care about the service time factor (and, hopefully, it gets fixed in the new CBA), how important is it for Adley Rutschman to start the season with the O’s? From: @Karks88
Answer: Eric, both you and @RaubPhil are eager to know about Rutschman’s start date. Phil wants to know under the current CBA when Rutschman could begin with the Orioles without it costing the team service time.
I hope that Rutschman starts the season with the Orioles, but that might depend upon changes to service time in the CBA. If the regular season is delayed because of the lockout, Rutschman would likely begin the season at Triple-A because he’s not on the 40-man roster and he could keep playing.
According to the just-expired CBA, a player needs 172 days of service time to be credited for a full season of service. The 2022 season will be 186 days long so, in order to avoid being credited for a season, a player would have to stay in the minor leagues for at least the first 15 days of the regular season, which begins March 31st.
Hopefully, the loophole gets changed because it’s not good for anyone.
Question: Who are the free agents that the Orioles are interested in? Who will they actually sign? From: Paul D
Answer: Paul, I’m not sure which free agents the Orioles are interested in, but they can’t sign any to major league contracts until after the lockout. I think they’d like another candidate for the starting rotation in addition to Jordan Lyles, perhaps another relief pitcher or two, and certainly another catcher, and perhaps a veteran outfielder.
I assume most of the signings would be to minor league contracts, and those signings can continue through the lockout.
Question: With no catchers currently on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, is it more likely that they trade for one or sign one in free agency? From: David in Parkville
Answer: David, I think either is possible, and I think it’s also possible they select one in the Rule 5 draft. There aren’t many major league free-agent catchers available, and they’ll need at least another catcher in addition to Jacob Nottingham, who signed to a minor league contract last week.
Question: Do you know if the Orioles have any intention in dabbling in the overseas Asian market for free agents? From: Tyler Kappen via email
Answer: Tyler, under Mike Elias, the Orioles haven’t participated in the Asian free-agent market. They haven’t been a team to get into a bidding contest with other teams, and the best Asian free agents are sought after by multiple teams. I don’t think their strategy changes.
Question: Has anything come from the two different baseballs that MLB used last season? I read that MLB and the commissioner’s office claimed two different balls were due to not enough of one being manufactured in time because of the pandemic. Did MLB at least keep stats or do any studies between the different balls? From: Dave Hersl via email
Answer: I read the story, Dave, and can’t add any additional information. Players and fans would like to see the stats on the different balls, and so would I.
Question: The Orioles offered contracts to Trey Mancini, John Means and Tanner Scott as part of the arbitration process. Can you tell us how much each of the players were offered? From: K. Bishop, 55+ year O’s Fan in Rochester, New York.
Answer: The amounts offered to Mancini, Means and Scott weren’t released, but if they go to arbitration, the numbers asked for by the players and offered by the Orioles would be available.
Question: Who are the pitchers who come to mind when the system is criticized for lacking depth beyond the bigger names? From: @Eric_Birdland
Answer: Eric, I don’t think specific pitchers are being criticized. I think it’s just being pointed out that beyond Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, there aren’t any top-rated pitching prospects in the system.
Mike Baumann, Kyle Bradish, Drew Rom and Kevin Smith are also considered good prospects, but aren’t rated as highly as Rodriguez and Hall.
Remember that John Means was never considered a top prospect when he was in the minor leagues, and rankings of prospects are subjective.
Question: What member(s) of the 2021 draft class do you see making it to Bowie or perhaps Norfolk by the end of the 2022 season? From: teebeach via email
Answer: I think the Orioles’ first-round pick, outfielder Colton Cowser, who starred at Delmarva, could jump two levels to Bowie and perhaps Norfolk by the end of 2022.
Their second-round pick, Connor Norby, a second baseman, also did well with the Shorebirds and could make it to Bowie and perhaps even Norfolk next season, too.
Outfielders John Rhodes, their third-round pick, and Dontá Williams, picked in the fourth round, have the potential to reach Bowie by the end of the season, too.