While the baseball world balances on the edge of its seats waiting for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper to sign their monstrous contracts, which will reduce the media’s baseball chatter by about 75 percent, the Orioles are quietly researching ways to fill out their roster.
Much of the heavy lifting outside of it is done. Two big front office hires have been completed in executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and assistant Sig Mejdal, the latter responsible for building up the analytics department. Elias has stated, and it’s been written here multiple times, that director of baseball operations Tripp Norton, director of minor league operations Kent Qualls and assistant scouting director Brad Ciolek are staying in the organization and shouldering more responsibilities in their respective departments.
Brandon Hyde was named manager and the Orioles will reveal his coaching staff after the last hire is completed. Koby Perez was chosen to be the senior director of international scouting and gradually will build up his staff, placing a lot of trust in holdovers Mike Snyder and Calvin Maduro. Chris Holt has replaced John Wasdin as minor league pitching coordinator.
So, what about the roster?
The Orioles explored ways at the Winter Meetings to acquire an outfielder and did their homework on a few of the shortstops on the free agent market, including Freddy Galvis and José Iglesias. Though likely to pass on both of them, the club could continue to check on veteran options rather than hand the job to Rule 5 infielders Richie Martin or Drew Jackson.
Jonathan Villar could be the shortstop, but the Orioles’ actions suggest that they’d like to keep him at second base, where he made most of his starts after leaving the Brewers. They’d certainly like to have more choices while valuing the type of versatility that Villar and others offer.
I was surprised by the decision to designate infielder Breyvic Valera for assignment and trade him to the Giants for cash considerations. He made a decent impression in his brief audition and is a career .299/.357/.388 hitter in 894 minor league games. I assumed that he’d at least compete for a utility job, but the new regime had no ties to him and seemed to prefer other infielders on the 40-man roster.
One of the topics discussed Saturday on “Wall to Wall Baseball” on MASN was how the Orioles could struggle to land the best available free agents willing to accept one-year deals because they can’t offer the chance at a ring and might not dangle the largest sum of guaranteed money while trying to keep down their payroll. Playing time could be a strong selling point.
Elias has issued the warning that the Orioles will be slower to enter the free agent market than most teams. Players still stuck on it as spring training approaches, and after workouts and games start, tend to be less choosy about where they sign.
The door hasn’t closed on catcher Caleb Joseph’s return to Baltimore after he was non-tendered. The free agent market includes Martín Maldonado, a Gold Glove winner in 2017, but he could pull in a multi-year deal and the Orioles would have to decide on the length of commitment they’re willing to make for a catcher.
Carlos Pérez, who agreed to a minor league deal this week, is insurance that comes with a nice skill set behind the plate. A plus defensive policy.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas is a free agent again and he still won’t become an Oriole. The club had internal discussions about him last winter - more like a debate - while committed to making one final run at a championship. But his detractors kept pointing to a low career on-base percentage, now set at .307 after he slashed a combined .251/.315/.459 with the Royals and Brewers.
I kept writing that I’d gladly take him if the Orioles were committed to moving Machado to shortstop. He could have been flipped at the non-waiver deadline.
The Orioles currently have Renato Núñez and Rio Ruiz as options at third base. They could work in a platoon, with Núñez batting from the right side and Ruiz from the left. One of them could emerge as a full-timer. Or the Orioles could seek an upgrade from outside the organization.
The infield feels unsettled with questions about third base, where Villar will get most of his innings and whether Chris Davis is the everyday first baseman or liable to be used a lot as the designated hitter, especially if Mark Trumbo isn’t ready on opening day.
Then again, we also don’t know who’s the starting catcher and who’s playing right field, and we’re only assuming that Trey Mancini stays in left and Cedric Mullins breaks camp as the center fielder. We don’t know who’s filling out the rotation behind Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner - if no one is traded - and who’s in the bullpen besides Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier, assuming the latter is ready for opening day after undergoing lat surgery in June.
More assumptions put Miguel Castro and left-handers Tanner Scott and Paul Fry in the ‘pen. Pedro Araujo needs to spend 17 more days in the majors to lose his Rule 5 status and Mike Wright Jr. is out of options, but will Elias and Hyde care?
Note: The Orioles have reached agreement with right-handed reliever Gregory Infante, 31, on a minor league contract that likely will include an invitation to spring training.
Infante appeared in 62 games with the White Sox over the past two seasons, including 10 in 2018, when he allowed eight runs and 12 hits and walked eight batters over nine innings. He posted a 3.13 ERA and 1.189 WHIP in 52 games in 2017.
Infante hadn’t pitched in the majors since debuting with the White Sox in 2010 and tossing 4 2/3 scoreless innings over five games. He’s another potential bullpen piece along with right-hander Austin Brice, claimed off waivers from the Angels over the weekend.
MLBTradeRumors.com reported the Infante signing.