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NASHVILLE—The Orioles have made a pick in the Rule 5 draft since 2006, the longest streak in major league baseball. That may be coming to an end, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said on Tuesday.
The Rule 5 draft, which essentially concludes the Winter Meetings on Wednesday afternoon was often the highlight of the event for the Orioles in the past.
Outfielder Anthony Santander (2016) and pitcher Tyler Wells (2021) were Orioles’ selections in the Rule 5.
If there’s to be another Orioles pick, it will come late in the draft. They select 29th.
“It’s probably a lot less likely than ever,” Elias said. “We’ve got a really good roster, so that’s a big part of it. It’s also a Rule 5 class that is less populated than usual because the 2020 draft was only five rounds.
“The odds are that we don’t. My impression from our conversations thus far is that we may have a player or two, if they’re still left we’d consider it.”
If the Orioles choose a player, it’s likely to be a reliever. Because several relievers, Mike Baumann, Danny Coulombe, Cole Irvin and Jacob Webb don’t have minor league options remaining and the Orioles don’t want to send others down, it would be hard to carry a pitcher who couldn’t be optioned to the minor leagues in 2024.
“This group is more mature in their careers now and a lot of them are either unoptionable or just people that are unlikely to be optioned and it’s something that we’re cognizant of,” Elias said.
“We may be bringing in more veteran relievers on some type of inflexible contract. We’ll keep that in mind, but that’s definitely something we’ve had talks about as we were planning the pitching staff.”
Dominican Republic facility nearing completion: The Orioles’ long awaited facility in the Dominican Republic is nearing completion, Elias said.
“It’s going great. It’s not open yet,” Elias said. “It should open this winter. We’re making some plans there. I just visited it a couple of weeks ago. It looks phenomenal. The buildings are up. The fields are out. It’s in a last kind of stage of construction. It’s going to be a really cool facility.”
Keeping the band together: The Orioles had 17 arbitration-eligible players and at the November 17th deadline for offering contracts, they announced they had signed four, left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin, infielder Jorge Mateo and outfielders Sam Hilliard and Ryan McKenna to contracts for 2024. The other 13 players were offered contracts.
The others were outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, first baseman/outfielder Ryan O’Hearn, infielder Ramón Urias, left-handed pitchers Danny Coulombe, Cole Irvin, John Means and Cionel Pérez and right-handers Dillon Tate, Jacob Webb and Tyler Wells.
“We ended up keeping them all, so that was a possibility that we were preparing for,” Elias said. “You have trade discussions leading up to that. You may do things that may result in a different decision. None of that happened. These are all players we wanted to keep. We wanted to keep them in the fold through the arbitration process.
“I think it’s an earmark of having a young roster. When you see some of these teams that have these massive arbitration classes, it’s often Tampa, Milwaukee, Cleveland with their young teams. I view it as a positive thing. It’s not going to last forever. These are good players that have value. The system affords us this ability to control for several years.”
Backup outfielders: There are several names in play for backup outfield slots behind Hays, Mullins and Santander.
“We have a lot of candidates,” Elias said, rattling off the names of Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, Kyle Stowers, Ryan McKenna. “We’ve got a lot of internal outfield options.
“I still see a ton of playing time and a lot of at-bats outside of our three primary outfielders,” Elias said.
“Right now, this is up for grabs. These guys, I don’t think any of them have really proven it yet over a long period of time in the majors, so we’re cognizant of that. If we can find external insurance or external help in this department, it’s not going to close the doors for those guys, and it wouldn’t be unwelcome from our end, either.
“Competition is good. Depth is good. These seasons are so unpredictable. Odds are you’ll get some injuries, so we have to prepare for all that. We’ll talk to free agents that might be a fit for joining our outfield mix, but we have high hopes for the names that I mentioned.”
Even though Kjerstad began playing first base this season, Elias continued to tamp down expectations of a position change.
“I don’t have designs on him becoming a full-time first baseman,” he said. “I think it’s something more that we’re trying to get it to a point where it’s in his back pocket and we can tap into it a couple of days a week, and I think we saw Ryan O’Hearn, for example, the ability to bounce out between first base and the outfield.
“This opens up avenues. It’s for his sake as much as it is for ours…He’s an outfielder primarily by trade. He’s a good defender in right field in the dimensions of Camden Yards. He’s not a centerfielder. With the stick he brings, it profiles well in corner outfield. I think right field is a good spot for him. He can throw well, too.”
Note: According to the New York Post, the Orioles are showing serious interest in free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel. The 35-year-old right-hander was 8-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 23 saves for Philadelphia in 2023.
Kimbrel, who is eighth on the all-time saves list with 417, played for Orioles’ bench coach Fredi González when he managed the Atlanta Braves from 2011-2014.
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