SARASOTA, Florida—Fans are hoping that Adley Rutschman, the top prospect in baseball, is the Orioles’ catcher on Opening Day, April 8th at Tampa Bay.
Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the Orioles will be guided by Rutschman’s play in spring training and not by a rule that teams use, and sometimes abuse, to gain maximum club control of a player.
The Orioles could get an additional year of service time for Rutschman if they keep him in the minor leagues for a few weeks. A player is eligible for free agency after six seasons. Under the old collective bargaining agreement, a player was awarded a year of service time when he was on the major league roster for 172 days.
Under the new agreement, Rutschman could earn a year of service time—regardless of how long he’s on the major league roster–if he finishes first or second in Rookie of the Year voting. The Orioles could be rewarded with extra draft picks if Rutschman finishes in the top three in voting for top rookie.
“No, it’s nothing to do with rules,” Elias said on Monday about Rutschman’s status. “He’s in major league camp. He’s one of the brightest talents in the minor leagues in the sport. He’s been through a lot the past couple of years like everybody. I think if you’re in major league camp, you’ve got a shot to break with us.
“When you’re not on the 40-man roster, it’s oftentimes different than the guys that are on the 40-man roster. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do and we’ll see what group of catchers we really finish here in terms of putting together our camp here. It’s going to be exciting watching him.”
The Orioles have signed 37-year-old catcher Robinson Chirinos, who has a .231 average in 10 seasons with Tampa Bay, Texas, Houston, the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs. They also signed two catchers with limited major league experience –Anthony Bemboom and Jacob Nottingham — to minor league contracts.
Because of that, Elias is looking to strengthen other areas.
“We’re still in the process of examining people that might come in and help the shortstop competition, and the infield competition, both from a depth standpoint and also somebody that could come up with a good leg up on the competition, but we’ll see where exactly that lands,” Elias said.
“Everyone’s looking for pitching. We’re always looking for pitching. We’ve got to be mindful of the calendar. This is going to be a crazy three weeks. We’ve been through this in 2020, but I think this is going to be more challenging because of the 162-game season and the lack of contact [because of the lockout] that we’ve had until just recently with these guys. We want to be careful with a number of pitchers.
“No playbook for that, but it’s something that we’re bearing in mind and we want to have some external competition from the 40-man roster for the pitching staff. Also the group of pitchers that we have on the 40-man roster that we like are still in the process of getting their footing as major league starters or major league relievers. We want to leave some availability for those guys to do their thing this year, too, and we continue to evaluate them.”
In Elias’ first three years in charge, the Orioles haven’t given a multi-year contract to a free agent.
“It’s probably unlikely that we’re in multi-year mode at this point in time. You never say never,” he said. “There’s still a lot of free agency happening and also the trade discussions, it kind of feels like late July. I don’t know, but I’d hedge against it at this time.”
With the opener just 25 days away, a free-agent pitcher signed by the Orioles would have to ramp up quickly.
“It seems like the clock’s ticking in the next couple of days,” Elias said. “We are actively looking at guys, with the mindset of perhaps not having them break the Opening Day team and letting them ramp up responsibly and then joining the team. That’s going to have to happen for some of these guys as it goes further.”
Kjerstad injures hamstring: Heston Kjerstad’s professional debut may have to wait. Kjerstad injured a hamstring in a simulated game on Friday. Kjerstad, who was the second overall pick in 2020, missed 2021 because of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart.
“He was looking great,” Elias said. “It was one of the first real baseball games he played in in a while. He was diving for a ball … We’re going to get some diagnostics further. It stinks but most important thing is his internal health. Everything is going really well there, on a number of levels that’s the most important thing.
“If somebody gets normal athletic injuries after going through something like that, it’s in a weird way back to normal. We had him facing live pitchers all winter. He’s been here in Sarasota basically all winter involved in every camp we’ve basically done, and we’re trying to catch up with at-bats. But to the degree that this costs him some at-bats at the front end of season and delays his pro debut, it’s going to be a shame. We’re going to keep pushing through it and fighting through it. He’s as tough as they come. We’ve learned that.”