Because You Asked - Frozen Empire

My mailbag is getting thick around the waist again. So am I, which prevents me from judging it too harshly.

Rather than let it balloon and risk a rupture, I’ve decided to empty it this morning in the latest sequel to the beloved original in August 2008.

Harder to keep the weight off as we age.

I didn’t burn many calories editing your questions. I might have attached a first name. I might have removed a comma or parentheses. Please don’t contact your lawyer.  

Also, my mailbag plays sweet music and yours has Creed on a loop.

Which players did you expect to be exposed to the Rule 5 draft?
The vast majority of them.

Nothing more?
Outfielder Hudson Haskin, catcher Maverick Handley and pitchers Ryan Watson and Jean Pinto are some of the notables who are eligible. But so are, in no particular order, Anthony Servideo, Shayne Fontana, Randy Florentino, TT Bowens, Greg Cullen, Kyle Brnovich, Zach Peek, Garrett Stallings, Nolan Hoffman, Houston Roth, Trey McGough, Connor Gillispie, Conner Loeprich, Kade Strowd, Noelberth Romero, Peter Van Loon, Isaac De León, Elio Prado, Tyler Burch, Nick Richmond, Luis Valdez, Stiven Acevedo, Mishael Deson, Morgan McSweeney, Moisés Chace, Dan Hammer. So, lots and lots are vulnerable. I assumed Haskin, the No. 17 prospect per MLB Pipeline who is snubbed in Baseball America's rankings. The Orioles ended up protecting none.

There are a lot of references to Heston Kjerstad needing to improve defensively. Can you provide details on what he is bad at? I know he has a plus arm.
Yes, good arm and athleticism. And “bad” might be harsh. People in the industry think he can be at least adequate in the corner outfield. Must work on getting good reads and jumps, because he won’t outrun all of his mistakes. He isn’t quick, but also isn’t a plodder once he gets going. He has a next gear. First base is a weaker position but the Orioles will work with him there, as well. Don’t pin a full-time DH label on him.

Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz, Connor Norby. What does your crystal ball say about their future?
All of them capable of being very good major league infielders. They can play. Westburg should be a regular at second and third base in 2024. Steady starts maybe divided between the two positions. Ortiz could be a solid utility player with his ability to handle shortstop, second base and third base with plus skills, and a bat that’s knocked him past the all-field, no-hit judgement. Norby is second base, left field and a smidge of right, which isn’t the same versatility and could make it harder to stick. But he was one of the most underrated players in the minors this year. Blame a No. 1 farm system and boatload of prospects that overshadowed him. He hit .290/.359/.483 with 40 doubles, three triples, 21 home runs and 92 RBIs in 138 games with Triple-A Norfolk and didn’t make the International League All-Star team. He’s the No. 7 prospect in the system and a guy who packaged could fetch a nice return if the Orioles don’t have a spot for him.

Have the Orioles named their new pitching coach and assistant pitching coach? And don’t say “your mom.”
I’d never! Still no announcements. They could wait until other vacancies are filled in the majors and minors.

What did you think of “Wicked?”
Loved it. But I assumed it was based on the witch in "Wizard of Oz," not a conversation between two dudes from Boston.

I see what you did there.
That’s not a question.

How did Kyle Bradish do in Cy Young voting?
You got this one in just under the wire. Bradish finished fourth. Gerrit Cole was a unanimous winner, of course. Bradish received six third-place votes, eight fourth and five fifth. He's the first Orioles pitcher to appear on a ballot since closer Zack Britton in 2016. Good for him. And good for Félix Bautista receiving three fifth-place votes to finish 11th.

Want to bet 50 pushups that the Orioles don't spend more than $5 million in free agency this year? (Contracts acquired in trades don't count.)
(I’ll take that bet.)

Are there any under-the-radar, non-Adley Rutschman or Gunnar Henderson extensions that you could see happening this offseason?
None. I don’t even see Henderson, whose agent is Scott Boras. But never say never, right?

I’m not going to ask the requisite question about the lease. In a related question, have you ever written or received a memo of understanding?
I seriously had to Google the definition of MOU. Then I asked my wife. I thought it was the sound a French cow makes.

Roch, do you have a gut feeling on how management will deal with what looks to be a crowded outfield with the arrival of Colton Cowser and possibility of other prospects? I know spring training will shed some light, as will arbitration.
Correct. A trade could lessen the logjam. A flexible designated hitter spot also helps. But talk to any scout from outside the organization and he’ll speculate about a trade, wondering how else the club can make room on a 26-man roster.

You ever been over to Cakes’ house for cakes? And I mean pancakes, not a cake.
I understood the first time. I’m still waiting for my invitation. I’ll bring the maple syrup and promise not to wear a robe and fuzzy slippers. I'd hate for us to clash.

Would the Orioles consider non-tendering Anthony Santander, with his contract projection near $13 million?
No way. He’ll draw the usual trade interest, though he’s a rental in 2024, but no one is putting him in the non-tender candidate pile.

When do pitchers and catchers report to spring training?
Still waiting for the Orioles to announce it. The first exhibition game is Feb. 24 against the Red Sox in Sarasota.

What’s the best part of the exhibition schedule for you?
Two off-days.

John Means missed the playoffs with an undisclosed injury. Is this something we need to be concerned with for Opening Day? Is it related to his injury when prepping for his return?
Means just experienced a little elbow soreness and was fine by the time that the Rangers completed their sweep. But the Orioles had to set their roster and couldn’t wait for him. No reason to be concerned about his availability for the opener.

Randy Milligan and Mike Mussina were both "Moose.” Can you think of other Orioles who shared nicknames?
Are we counting Cakes (Jim Palmer) and Kakes (Nick Markakis)? Otherwise, I’ll really need to think about this one. Stevie Wilkerson was the only Dr. Poo Poo. I don’t need to do the research. Don Baylor was “Groove.” That’s close to Mike Hargrove’s “Grover,” but not the same. Mike Cuellar was “Crazy Horse.” Albert Belle was just crazy. Cal Ripken Jr. was “Iron Man.” Matt Wieters had iron feet. John Lowenstein was “Brother Low.” There’s got to be a Sweet’N Low joke about Sidney Ponson, but I’m above that sort of thing.

Maybe this isn't a pattern, but Brandon Hyde frequently pops out of the dugout when the starter has pitched well through five innings and has given up a hit with one or no out in the sixth. Why is that? Sure, he can be criticized for leaving a pitcher in too long, but if the previous five innings have yielded no or little damage against, why not let the starter fight through it?
Look around the majors. It’s common in this analytic age. Could be a third time through the order concern. It could be based on matchups and maybe a fresh bullpen. Hyde might notice that the starter’s stuff isn’t as sharp.

What will happen first, an Orioles championship or your retirement?
An unforced retirement is at least five years away unless my accountant suddenly says otherwise. If that’s the case, I’ll be covering my first World Series parade.

How many Orioles reach 30 home runs in 2024?
I don’t know who returns or arrives from another organization. Anthony Santander and Gunnar Henderson come to mind right away. Adley Rutschman might get there. Ryan Mountcastle could if he avoids the injured list and a prolonged slump. Heston Kjerstad has the power, but I don’t know about the necessary plate appearances.

How many Orioles who are not currently on the 40-man roster reach 30-plus home runs in 2024?
Coby Mayo would need to get here fast. I don’t think he breaks camp with the team.

How old does Andrew Bailey being a pitching coach candidate make you feel? I didn't even realize he stopped pitching.
Everything makes me feel old. Bailey’s last season was 2017. He’s 39. And the Orioles reportedly have interest in him, though he's headed to Boston. Chris Holt is 44. Not as many grizzled coaching veterans as in the past.  

We know Mike Elias brought in veterans each of the past two years to supplement the team and to provide veteran leadership. At what point does a homegrown player become a veteran so it is no longer necessary to bring in veteran leadership? I ask because Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander have all been around for quite a while now.
That’s a good question. They qualify as veterans, but the playoff experience is limited to this season. There’s enough youth on the roster, with more on the way, that bringing in a veteran or two makes sense. Could be a half-season rental until a prospect is ready. Could turn out to be Adam Frazier, who lasted throughout the 2023 season.

Going into the 2024 season, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and Antony Santander are all valuable but in line for substantial pay raises through arbitration. With Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser in the wings and a chance for Rookie of the Year, who gets dealt in the winter months?
The Orioles aren’t pressured to do anything, but if the right offer comes along, they could react. Santander and Hays would seem to be more likely than Mullins with the Orioles having corner outfield options. But that’s a lot of run production lost if Santander goes. There’s a reason why teams like him so much. Hays is toolsy, an All-Star and a Gold Glove finalist who plays left field at Camden Yards better than anyone.

Assuming Seth Johnson is still with the team, is he targeted for a mid-season call-up?
Johnson has made one start above High-A and is returning from Tommy John surgery. I don’t think there’s a date or general time frame for his promotion. However, if he’s mowing down hitters he could move fast. And yes, that includes reaching the majors.

Chicago, New York, Seattle, Sonoran, or plain hot dog style for you?
I had to look up Sonoran and Seattle. My hot dog knowledge is limited. New York works for me, with the hot dog water from a street vendor as a chaser. And this is probably a good place to stop.

If the person sitting next to you at a BBQ ate his ribs with a fork and knife, would you still be friends with him the next day?
As long as he didn’t use my pants as a napkin, though his hands would be cleaner. And this is definitely a good place to stop.

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