The bench, arbitration deadline, Triple-A hitting coach and more

Hints were dropped at the Winter Meetings that the Orioles could go with a three-man bench and carry 13 pitchers. Manager Buck Showalter never stated it as a certainty, but he implied that they could follow the trend in baseball.

He also pointed out why it would be an extreme challenge. Why it seemed unlikely to transpire, circumstances stomping out the idea.

“The problem is, if you look at our schedule and the way the game’s going, most people are going with 13 pitchers, so now you’re talking about a catcher and you’re talking about (Anthony) Santander. So you’re talking about one spot left,” Showalter said.

“The premium on that guy being very versatile, and I think the value of that player in the game today is becoming real, real valuable to teams. Most teams are able to develop somebody like that from within. We’re not quite there yet.”

They’re not expected to go through with it, whether or not Santander breaks camp with the team.

Revisiting the subject at this week’s minicamp in Sarasota, Showalter downplayed the possibility of the Orioles attempting to carry three reserves on opening day - keeping in mind that roster decisions are fluid, especially in the early weeks of the season.

“I think you’re going to see more and more of that, but it’s going to be hard to do, the way that the rest of the roster is constructed,” he said. “You’ve got a backup catcher, you’ve got a utility infielder and ideally you’d have an outfielder. I’d rather go with four guys on the bench if I could.

“I think what you’re going to see as we go forward in baseball in general is you’re going to see that super utility guy really be a much-wanted commodity, especially in our league. Because if you don’t have that guy, it’s tough to go with 13 pitchers.

“I’m hoping we can stay at 12. The way our scheduled is set up, it’s going to be hard to go with less than that.”

So we’re apparently looking at the standard alignment of 12 pitchers and 13 position players. Nothing too crazy.

Tim-Beckham-swing-gray-sidebar.jpgTim Beckham is on the table as a utility player, shortstop or third baseman. No one knows on Jan. 12. It would benefit the Orioles to figure it out by Feb. 12, the day before the report date for pitchers and catchers.

Beckham has played every infield position, though only a handful of games at first and third base. None in the outfield. It isn’t a natural fit.

Santander’s continued Rule 5 status is a major complication. He’s expected to be part of the 25-man roster, but Showalter isn’t offering any promises.

“If he makes the club,” Showalter said. “It’s not a given that we’re going to carry him for 44 days. I hope he comes in and has a great spring and he never goes to the minor leagues.”

As a reminder, the Orioles can’t assign him to an affiliate unless he clears waivers and the Indians pass on him. They’d likely take him back.

Santander is a corner outfielder. He doesn’t play center and someone has to back up Adam Jones, which brings me back to free agent Jon Jay, who also hits from the left side and has a career .355 on-base percentage.

The Orioles want a left-handed hitter to plug into right field. Austin Hays could back up at all three outfield spots if he isn’t assigned to Triple-A Norfolk, leaving room on the bench for Santander, the backup catcher and a utility infielder. Again, if they choose a more standard approach.

* Today marks the deadline for teams to exchange salary figures with their arbitration-eligible players if agreements aren’t reached. It’s one of the bigger non-stories of the offseason.

The players are under team control no matter how much they’re paid. The only interest comes if there’s a sizable gap in proposals that could lead to a hearing.

The Orioles tendered contracts to all seven of their players: Beckham, third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, starter Kevin Gausman, relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach and catcher Caleb Joseph. Executive vice president Dan Duquette will try to get them signed by the 1 p.m. deadline and move on to other business.

MLBTradeRumors.com projected Machado’s salary to increase from $11.5 million to $17.3 million, Britton’s from $11.4 million to $12.2 million, Schoop’s from $3.475 million to $9.1 million, Gausman’s from $3.345 million to $6.8 million, Brach’s from $3.05 million to $5.2 million, Beckham’s from $885,000 to $3.1 million and Joseph’s from $700,000 to $1.4 million.

I won’t bite on any suggestions that the Orioles will “file and trial” or “file and go” if they don’t reach agreements. It was stated last winter and they still negotiated right down to the wire.

Two players went to hearings, with Brach winning and Joseph losing. The Orioles are 11-2 since Peter Angelos became majority owner.

* The Orioles haven’t made a decision on a new Triple-A hitting coach to replace Sean Berry, who was hired as the Marlins minor league hitting coordinator.

Double-A Bowie hitting coach Butch Davis is a consideration, which would create another vacancy. Former Orioles outfielder and minor league manager Jack Voigt also is a candidate.

Voigt served as Triple-A Las Vegas hitting coach from 2015-2017. He was in the Mets organization for 12 seasons.

* Vouchers for the annual Orioles FanFest at the Convention Center go on sale Jan. 17 at 10 a.m.

The list of autograph session times and participants will be posted online for preview at www.orioles.com/fanfest by Jan. 16 at 9 p.m.

FanFest will be held on Saturday, Jan. 27 11 a.m.-6 p.m., with early entry for Orioles season plan members beginning at 10 a.m. as part of the Orange Carpet Program.

Children ages 4-14 will have a specially-designated kids only player autograph station presented that’s free of charge and operates throughout the day. All other autograph stations will require the advance purchase of autograph vouchers for $20 with all proceeds benefiting children’s charities through OriolesREACH.

Since instituting the autograph policy in 2011, FanFest has raised more than $835,000 for the Orioles Charitable Foundation.

There will be 250 vouchers available for each autograph session, guaranteeing that every fan purchasing a voucher for a particular session will receive an autograph from the players assigned to a station. Fans may only use one voucher per person per autograph station. Each person in line must have his or her own voucher and may only use one voucher per station.

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