Three questions posed to the Orioles' front office

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One of the responsibilities of being a fan is also serving as armchair general manager. The pay’s lousy but one of the perks is you can’t be fired.

Not everyone is going to fit in the dugout. Someone has to move up to the suites and make the hard roster decisions.

I have three questions for you to consider.

Would you re-sign Jesús Aguilar?
Aguilar sneaked into the trade deadline craziness on Aug. 31, the unexpected guest knocking on your door, when the Orioles signed him as a free agent after his release by the Marlins four days earlier.

The Orioles saw an opportunity to grab a power bat and included him on their expanded roster. He was an All-Star with the Brewers in 2018 while hitting 35 home runs and finishing with 108 RBIs and an .890 OPS. He had 22 homers and 93 RBIs with the Marlins in 2021.

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More on Orioles' decision to keep same coaches for 2023

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The conclusion of a baseball season often leads to major shakeups in coaching staffs, or at least some light jostling.

The Orioles didn’t find any reasons to make changes in 2023. They built a unit that worked for them. They weren’t going to authorize repairs if nothing broke.

Make a spirited run at the postseason and stand pat.

As I reported yesterday, Fredi González is back as bench coach, Chris Holt as pitching coach/director of pitching, Darren Holmes as assistant pitching coach, Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte as co-hitting coaches, Tim Cossins as major league field coordinator/catching instructor, Anthony Sanders as first base coach/outfield instructor, Tony Mansolino as third base coach/infield instructor, and José Hernández as major league coach.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail and third base coach José Flores were replaced by Holt and Mansolino, respectively, after the truncated 2020 season. Holt already was employed as director of pitching. Mansolino came over from Cleveland’s organization.

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Orioles bringing back coaching staff for 2023

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The Orioles are following their first winning season in six years by leaving their coaching staff intact.

According to multiple sources, the only change coming is the addition of Cody Asche as offensive strategy coach. Asche just completed his first season as upper-level hitting coordinator in the minors.

Anthony Villa will now oversee the entire system as minor league hitting coordinator after working at the lower levels in 2022.

Manager Brandon Hyde, whose option already was picked up for next season, will again have Fredi González as his bench coach, Chris Holt as pitching coach/director of pitching, Darren Holmes as assistant pitching coach, Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte as co-hitting coaches, Tim Cossins as major league field coordinator/catching instructor, Anthony Sanders as first base coach/outfield instructor, Tony Mansolino as third base coach/infield instructor, and José Hernández as major league coach.

Holmes moved from the bullpen to the dugout this season, swapping places with Cossins. He previously held the title of “bullpen coach.”

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Is Wells a definite starter next season?

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How close are the Orioles to setting their rotation?

The short answer is, “Not very.”

How much urgency is there in the fall?

The shorter answer is, “None.” But it’s one of the most important tasks facing executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, along with adding some muscle to the offense, however he can do it.

The club doesn’t know when John Means will return from Tommy John surgery. He’s cleared to do some light tossing and plans on ramping up his activities after Jan. 1, when he reports to the spring training complex in Sarasota.

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Returning to more reflections on 2022 season

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We've entered Day 4 since the Orioles last grabbed the local media's attention by announcing a few transactions, the most notable the signing of backup catcher Anthony Bemboom to a 2023 contract.  

The quiet won't last. 

Let’s do a little more reflecting on 2022, a season that brought so many unexpected highs and unavoidable lows.

I’ve already noted how Matt Harvey never had his contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk, Gunnar Henderson earned a promotion despite his age, Yusniel Diaz stayed only for a cup of coffee, Rougned Odor lasted into September, we never saw Robert Neustrom, DJ Stewart didn’t make it back to the Orioles after three games to begin the season, Jorge Mateo was exclusively a shortstop, Bryan Baker stuck for the entire season, Nick Vespi will never give up another Triple-A run, Joey Krehbiel disappeared after almost going wire-to-wire, Terrin Vavra could wear many hats next season, Jacob Nottingham didn’t get back to the majors, and César Prieto’s 2022 ceiling was Double-A.

Here are two more:

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Is Urías a regular in 2023?

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The Orioles used to collect Gold Gloves the way my furniture collects dust. Winners every year between 1960-79. Eddie Murray creating a new streak on his own from 1982-84.

Pitching, defense, and the three-run homer. A box set.

The last streak ran from 2011-15, with third baseman Manny Machado the last Oriole to be honored.

Third baseman Ramón Urías and center fielder Cedric Mullins are finalists this year. Neither one is a favorite, but at least they earned the recognition.

Mullins is expected to lead off again and play center field on opening day, but Urías’ role is a mystery.

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Latest look at 40-man roster before it changes again

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I’m old enough to remember when the Orioles didn’t have any catchers on their 40-man roster.

OK, that was earlier this year. But I remember.

Pedro Severino and Nick Ciuffo were the holdovers in November after Austin Wynns had been outrighted and declared for free agency. And then they were gone, too.

Robinson Chirinos agreed to a one-year, $900,000 contract in March. Anthony Bemboom made the club in spring training after signing a minor league deal. And everyone waited until the Orioles selected Adley Rutschman’s contract, which removed Bemboom from the 40-man roster.

Bemboom has returned to it. The Orioles selected his contract on Oct. 6 and signed him to a one-year deal on Wednesday, a split contract like most of them under these circumstances, with his salary based on whether he’s in the majors or minors.

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Urías and Mullins named Gold Glove finalists in American League

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The Orioles will have two opportunities to break their streak of being denied a Rawlings Gold Glove.

Infielder Ramón Urías didn’t need the implementation of a utility player category in 2022 to be recognized in the American League. He joined the Blue Jays’ Matt Chapman and the Guardians’ José Ramírez today as finalists at third base.

Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins also was named a finalist with the Guardians’ Myles Straw and the Royals’ Michael A. Taylor.

Known more for his versatility in the field, Urías led the league with 14 defensive runs saved and a 10.9 ultimate zone rating at third base per FanGraphs.com. His seven outs above average put him ahead of Chapman (one) and Ramírez (one).

Urías, 28, was limited to 118 games due to injuries but made 84 starts and 98 appearances at third base. He also played second base and shortstop and twice served as the designated hitter.

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Reviewing Vespi's record-setting achievement with Triple-A Norfolk

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Exactly one month passed before reliever Nick Vespi made his final appearance with the Orioles this season. He left after working two-thirds of an inning in Game 2 of a Sept. 5 doubleheader against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards and returned to work two-thirds of an inning in an Oct. 5 doubleheader against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards.

The symmetry in Vespi’s season was best exemplified at Triple-A Norfolk. The zeros across his earned run average.

Good at the beginning, middle and end.

In a season when some of the Orioles’ most celebrated prospects climbed the organizational ladder to reach the majors or upper levels of the system, Vespi was the grinder who flew under the radar. An 18th-round draft pick in 2015, three years before the Orioles began to overhaul their front office, who crafted one of the most impressive streaks in recent memory.

The Orioles stalled it a few times, beginning on May 17 when his contract was selected, but it didn’t break. Vespi appeared in 26 games with Norfolk, one more than his major league total, logged 28 2/3 innings and allowed only three unearned runs and 12 hits, with five walks and 36 strikeouts.

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Could Orioles field a homegrown lineup in 2023? (Bemboom update)

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As I sorted through the mailbag that I emptied this week, I came across a question that nudged my curiosity.

A question that made me want to do a little digging.

More of a team effort. I’ll admit that I passed the shovel to a few hands.

Could there be at least one game next year with a homegrown Orioles lineup? With nine position players drafted by the club or signed as an amateur free agent?

My first reaction was to scan each one posted this season to make sure it didn’t happen.

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Leftovers for breakfast

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It feels like a homework assignment. Challenging the Orioles to pinpoint the exact moment when they realized the team would contend deep into the season. That it wasn’t a fluke.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias shares the opinion expressed by one of the club’s outfielders.

“I read some quotes from Austin Hays and that was the way I think it felt for me. It just crept up on us that this team was playing really well and the wins were stacking up,” Elias said on Oct. 5.

“I think it was very organic, which was cool to see, and that was our approach. I think (Brandon Hyde) and I came into a very tough spot again in 2018, and we just kept trying to do the right thing for the organization with every move, every little decision, and kind of kept our eye on the ball. And we had to navigate the pandemic. It seemed to congeal this year organically.”

Getting the same results, or better, isn’t promised. Stand still and you might go backward.

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Because You Asked - Rise of the Lycans

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The first offseason mailbag is here. I just wish the delivery guy hadn’t left it by my garage instead of walking up the steps and knocking on the front door.

This is the latest sequel to the beloved original. You ask, I answer, you ask again, I begin to doubt myself. And then I conduct a frantic search for a movie title that I haven’t already used.

I wonder whether anyone would notice a repeat. If not, get ready for Electric Boogaloo.

Full disclosure: I didn’t edit for clarity, length or brevity, but I did edit for style.

If you’re wearing a lime green leisure suit, your question won’t be used.

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More Orioles reflections from 2022 season

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The Orioles won’t stay quiet during the postseason. They haven’t shut down other than games no longer played.

Same here.

Let’s do a little more reflecting on 2022, a season that brought so many unexpected highs and unavoidable lows.

I tend to zero in on anticipated story angles that didn’t develop, or energy wasted on certain topics because they seemed like a much bigger deal at the time. But it’s a mixture.

I’ve already noted how Matt Harvey never had his contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk, Gunnar Henderson earned a promotion despite his age, Yusniel Diaz stayed only for a cup of coffee, Rougned Odor lasted into September, we never saw Robert Neustrom, DJ Stewart didn’t make it back to the Orioles after three games to begin the season, Jorge Mateo was exclusively a shortstop, Bryan Baker stuck for the entire season, Nick Vespi will never give up another Triple-A run, Joey Krehbiel disappeared after almost going wire-to-wire, and Terrin Vavra could wear many hats next season.

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Orioles won't be overlooked in 2023

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Austin Hays doesn’t believe that the Orioles spent the entire 2022 season or even the bulk of it sneaking up on opponents. He’s convinced that teams knew much earlier just how good the Orioles had become simply by paying attention. The results were spread out in front of them. Many more wins, much tighter games. The late comebacks, whether completed or missing by inches.

“I don’t think we were sneaking up on teams in July and August of this year,” he said in New York, “after we had already played over 100 games and we were playing a lot of the same teams over again.”

Players headed home after the Oct. 5 doubleheader understanding that expectations will rise in spring training. The national media and parade of prognosticators will cast them in a more favorable light. They aren’t blind to it.

Division winners? An unlikely prediction in the American League East. No matter what they do in the offseason. That’s just a sad reality.

Thinking outside the box still has its boundaries.  

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Orioles claim two catchers from Reds

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The Orioles are stockpiling catchers in the early days of their offseason.

Two more arrived today, with the Orioles claiming Aramis Garcia and Mark Kolozsvary off waivers from the Reds.

A full 40-man roster required two corresponding moves, and the Orioles designated relievers Louis Head and Beau Sulser for assignment.

Garcia, who turns 30 in January, is a right-handed hitter and second-round pick of the Giants in the 2014 draft out of Florida International University. He appeared in 47 games with the Reds this summer and batted .213/.248/.259 with two doubles, one home run, three walks and 34 strikeouts in 115 plate appearances.

The Reds were Garcia’s third major league team. He played in 37 games with the Giants in 2018-19 and 32 with the Athletics in 2021 and is a career .216/.253/.332 hitter with five doubles, 10 home runs, 25 RBIs, 10 walks and 114 strikeouts in 320 plate appearances. He’s thrown out 12 of 43 runners attempting to steal.

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Watkins waiting again to learn whether he remains with Orioles

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Spenser Watkins started the fifth and 162nd games for the Orioles in 2022. In between were impressive stretches, an injury, a demotion and a return.

What’s next for Watkins?

When you find out, please let him know.

Watkins signed another minor league deal with the Orioles in November after they outrighted him, and his contract was selected on April 11. He could stay on the 40-man or again become a casualty. He could be at spring training again as a starter or relief option or be pitching for a different team.

“Those thoughts definitely creep in, but just trying to focus on the fact that what I’ve done this year is great for an opportunity with this club, with another club, whatever it is,” he said.

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The price of moving back left field wall worth it for Orioles to eliminate cheap homers

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The Orioles got a lot of mileage out of moving back the left field wall about 30 feet.

Every fly ball that approached the warning track would elicit references to previous seasons and how another batter was robbed of a home run by the new dimensions rather than an outfielder.

It got a little tired for me, to be honest, but I understood the obsession. And the importance of balancing the playing field.

The cheap home runs became a joke, except no one with the Orioles was laughing.

An article from CBS Sports in late August noted how the ballpark was averaging 1.87 home runs per game this season compared to 3.36 from 2019-21. Only 8.8 percent of fly balls and line drives found the left field seats compared to 13.5 from 2019-21. 

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Wondering where Orioles would slot new bat into their lineup

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Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is taking a more general view of the areas that he’s seeking to upgrade during the offseason.

In the past, he’s sought veteran placeholders at shortstop and come away with José Iglesias and Freddy Galvis. He’s tabbed third base as a priority and signed Maikel Franco.

Elias is hoping to add more punch to the lineup after the Orioles finished 20th in runs scored with 674, in hits with 1,281, in batting average at .236 and in OPS at .695. Their .305 on-base percentage ranked 22nd. They were shut out 11 times.

Where would the Orioles plug in a bat? That's the burning question.

“I don’t have a specific prediction about which position any major league acquisitions are going to come in,” Elias said last week. “I think one thing that makes this a little bit tricky is that we have very interesting internal candidates for almost every single job, so it’s not necessary that we go target one particular part of the team.

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Orioles claim Cave off waivers from Twins

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The Orioles made their second roster move since ending the 2022 season, claiming outfielder Jake Cave off waivers from the Twins today and designating reliever Jake Reed for assignment.

An industry source confirmed the waiver claim, which appeared on the major league transactions page.

Cave, 29, appeared in 54 games with the Twins and batted .213/.260/.384 with seven doubles, three triples, five home runs and 20 RBIs in 177 plate appearances. He’s a career .235/.297/.411 hitter in parts of five major league seasons.

The Yankees selected Cave in the sixth round of the 2011 draft out of Kecoughtan High School in Hampton, Va. The Reds chose him in the 2015 Rule 5 draft and returned him on April 5, 2016. The Yankees traded Cave to the Twins on March 16, 2018 for pitcher Luis Gil.

As a rookie in 2018, Cave batted .265/.313/.473 with 16 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs and 45 RBIs in 91 games. He hasn’t played a full season in the majors, with those 91 games representing his career high.

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Figuring which Orioles are primed for raises in arbitration

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An increase in spending by the Orioles during the offseason leads the imagination directly to the free agent and trade markets. However, the club has seven players eligible for arbitration. Raises are coming to most, if not all, of them.

Outfielder Anthony Santander leads the pack after making $3.15 million this year. He doesn’t reach free agency until after the 2024 season due to his status as a Super Two player.

Santander lost his arbitration hearing during his first year of eligibility and settled for $2.1 million instead of the $2.4 million that he sought. The sides agreed to a $3.15 million deal on Nov. 30, 2021.

MLBTradeRumors.com ran its annual salary projections yesterday and placed Santander’s at $7.5 million after he led the Orioles with 33 home runs, 89 RBIs, a .455 slugging percentage and a .773 OPS, tied Cedric Mullins for first with a .318 on-base percentage and ranked second in walks with 55 and in runs with 78. He played in a career-high 152 games.

The Orioles are building a surplus of outfielders, with Colton Cowser approaching his debut next summer. Kyle Stowers already arrived. Santander has drawn trade interest in the past and his value is at its highest, coming off his finest season and being under team control beyond 2023.

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