With the free agent market still overflowing due to a winter-long freeze, a neat trick if you know anything about liquids and temperatures, the Major League Baseball Players Association is arranging a “31st camp” for unemployed players at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The list of participants will include former Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold, 34, who’s attempting a comeback after announcing his retirement last summer.
Reimold failed to receive a spring training invitation last year and had 78 plate appearances with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League before returning home. He changed agents and is trying to make it back to the majors, where he last played for the Orioles in 2016 - the team that drafted him in the second round in 2005 out of Bowling Green State University.
The union approved Reimold and then denied his inclusion based on his status as a six-year minor league free agent. Joshua Kusnick, who now represents Reimold, noted how the outfielder is entitled based on his eight seasons in the majors and the matter has been resolved.
An agent’s negotiating is never done.
Reimold has been working out in Nashville with Ben Zobrist, Logan Forsythe, Chase Headley and James McCann. He won’t need the IMG camp to get in shape. Just to get noticed.
Baltimore native and former Orioles catcher Steve Clevenger, another minor league free agent, also will attend the camp in Bradenton.
Free agents aren’t the only players on edge over the lack of activity this winter. There’s also the group already under contract waiting for teams to make the necessary improvements and avoid a repeat of last place.
The Orioles need starting pitching, which dragged them into the cellar last year. They also want a left-handed hitting outfielder and perhaps a left-handed reliever and utility player.
“It’s pretty obvious what our needs were when the season ended, but being with the team so long, I understand. We wait,” closer Zach Britton said on Thursday night’s “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
“We normally don’t spend top dollars on guys and we wait for a deal to come to us that makes sense. I did think that maybe we would go out and sign a guy, an established major league player during the Winter Meetings, to fill at least one of the slots and maybe let the kids in the organization fight for the last two. But, yeah, to be this close to spring training with three rotation slots in our division open, it’s maybe a little frustrating for myself and I know some other teammates, especially the fact that a lot of us are free agents.
“Unfortunately, I’m hurt right now, but I don’t think that had any effect on the direction of where the team is going. We have a good bullpen with or without me. So, yeah, I think there’s some frustration, but if you look at the game right now I think it’s a little disheartening to see a lot of these teams that did have glaring weaknesses and haven’t filled those positions and tried to make a competitive team. It seems maybe that’s just not the course of action that some teams are taking this offseason, but from the Orioles aspect, I think we have a manager who’s very good at getting the most out of the roster. But like I said before, we have three rotation spots open, so I didn’t expect us to use in-house candidates for all three. But somebody’s bound to have a breakout year. It always happens.”
The Orioles would prefer choosing only a fifth starter from within the organization, the candidates including Miguel Castro, Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa and Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. Otherwise, they continue to negotiate with agents and executives to occupy the other two openings.
“You give somebody a chance to step into the rotation and they might surprise you, and I think that might be the case this year,” Britton said. “Obviously, we’ve seen what the Yankees have done and Boston’s bound to do something and the Blue Jays have got a pretty good young team. They’ll be competitive. So we’ll see. There’s just so much time left and we’ve got a good lineup. That’s for sure.
“Our lineup competes with anybody and the bullpen is really, really good and maybe can even get a little bit better with some more experience. But, yeah, it’s going to come down to starting pitching and hopefully we can get some guys to step in and do a good job.”
The Orioles hold varying levels of interest in a variety of free agent pitchers who remain on the market, including Chris Tillman, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Jason Vargas, Drew Hutchison and Jaime García. They failed in early attempts to sign Michael Fiers and Miles Mikolas.
“We’re normally a pretty patient organization and kind of wait for some of those deals to happen later on and even during spring training,” Britton said. “I’m not sure the last time we needed to fill three rotation spots, so I felt like this offseason is slightly different, but guys like myself and Adam (Jones) and Manny (Machado) and Brad (Brach) and I’m sure I’m missing guys who are free agents next year, I think maybe we thought that some guys would get signed a little sooner and we’d come into spring from an organizational standpoint like, with the fire ready to go and try to take the division instead of just kind of waiting to put together the roster, but the free agent market has a little bit to do with that. We’ll see.
“We’ve been competitive with teams that no one thought was going to be any good, so it’s hard to sit here as a guy that’s been on teams like that say, ‘Well, if we don’t sign anybody we’re not going to be any good,’ because I’ve seen it happen. You just get a group of guys with the same mindset that have enough talent to go out there and compete with a good manager and you really just never know. You never know. So hopefully that’s the case, but I’d still like to see us fill out the roster with major league talent.
“We haven’t really signed any yet, but hopefully we will.”