Act like contenders or play the kids?

I’m in the process of dividing up the Orioles fan base, putting the “we’re still alive” crowd on one side of the room and the “start playing prospects because the season’s over” crowd on the other. No fighting, please.

There’s a special section for the “it’s over” crowd that started up in June. I’m roping them off and tossing them snacks.

At what point should the Orioles play Austin Hays every day in right field and get a head start on spring training? They put him on the 40-man roster a tad early, locking up a spot they may need over the winter. I’ve heard both sides of the argument within the organization.

As long as Hays is here, it makes sense to give him steady at-bats and exposure to the infamous third deck in major league ballparks that, as manager Buck Showalter points out, can challenge the best young fielders. Getting a sense now that Hays is a legitimate consideration for the opening day lineup in 2018 can influence business conducted at the winter meetings and beyond, if it’s possible to really make a fair assessment in the final weeks.

The same goes for Chance Sisco, who’s made it to The Show at 22. He could be sharing catching duties with Caleb Joseph next season. Or Welington Castillo could exercise his $7 million option and perhaps shove Sisco back down to Triple-A Norfolk.

Opinions vary on Castillo’s intentions and whether the Orioles are better off with or without him. I’d personally take a catcher sporting an average around .300 who’s also hit 19 home runs and thrown out 49 percent of runners attempting to steal.

Just double up the cup.

The list of free agent catchers this winter includes the following, courtesy of MLBTradeRumors.com:

Alex Avila
Hank Conger
A.J. Ellis
Tyler Flowers ($4 million club option)
Nick Hundley
Chris Iannetta
Jose Lobaton
Jonathan Lucroy
Miguel Montero
Rene Rivera
Carlos Ruiz
Geovany Soto
Chris Stewart ($1.5 million club option)
Kurt Suzuki
Josh Thole
Matt Wieters
Bobby Wilson

Wieters can opt out of the remaining one year and $11 million on the contract he signed in spring training.

Meanwhile, Castillo would appear to be quite a catch, so to speak, and may pursue a multi-year deal.

Santander-Runs-White-Sidebar.jpgOutfielder Anthony Santander will retain his Rule 5 status for the first 44 days next season and the Orioles seem committed to keeping him rather than placing him on waivers and, if he clears, offering him back to the Indians. He’s received only 12 at-bats and obviously would benefit from a steady flow of them.

Playing Hays, Sisco and Santander on a regular basis would signal that the Orioles have shifted their focus from the 2017 season. It’s a concession speech written on a lineup card.

Is it wrong? Give me your thoughts and take your place on either side of the room. Just don’t get your fingers too close to the roped off group.

Dylan Bundy moves up in the rotation to start tonight, though he’s working on seven days’ rest. He’s registered a 2.90 ERA and 0.871 WHIP this season in five starts on six days’ or more.

Bundy has held the Blue Jays to one run with one walk and 14 strikeouts in two starts this season covering 13 innings. In six career appearances, including four in relief, he’s allowed one run and 11 hits with four walks and 18 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. He hasn’t surrendered a run in 8 1/3 innings at Rogers Centre.

The current group is 9-for-43 (.209) against him.

Blue Jays right-hander Joe Biagini already has made six appearances against the Orioles this season, including two starts. It’s become stalkerish, except he’s done the exact same thing against the Red Sox.

Biagini has held the Orioles to three runs over 17 innings. Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop are 5-for-14 against him, the latter with two doubles.

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