Boras on Orioles: "They've feathered up"

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SAN DIEGO - A grand tradition of the Winter Meetings is the enormous media scrum that sets up for agent Scott Boras in the lobby area. Occasionally informative and often entertaining.

The Orioles’ unexpected rise to contender status in 2022 and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias’ vow to seek ways to improve the major league roster have put them back on his radar.

“Baltimore, they’re birds of prey,” Boras said. “They’ve feathered up.”

Don’t overthink it. Whatever “feathered up” means, it’s vintage Boras.

“They have an amazing young core,” Boras added, before listing clients Gunnar Henderson and DL Hall. “There are a number of young players that they’re stocked with, and I think they’re trying to supplement this young nucleus. They really feel like they’re ready to compete.”

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Orioles sign Nomar Mazara to minor league deal

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SAN DIEGO – The Orioles are deepening their pool of left-handed-hitting corner outfielders.

Nomar Mazara signed a minor league contract this morning, providing more competition in camp for a role that’s been defined as a priority at the Winter Meetings.

Mazara, 27, hit 79 home runs in four seasons with the Rangers beginning in 2016, when he finished fifth in voting for American League Rookie of the Year. He had 30 doubles and drove in 101 runs in 2017.

The White Sox acquired Mazara in a Dec. 10, 2019 trade for outfielder Steele Walker, who made his major league debut this year. The Orioles are Mazara’s fourth organization since that day, including the 50 games he played for the Tigers in 2021 and 55 with the Padres this summer.

He’s totaled six home runs since leaving the Rangers, who gave him a $5 million signing bonus as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic.

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More from Elias' media session at the Winter Meetings

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SAN DIEGO – For Orioles media gathered at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the most important 20 minutes of yesterday’s Winter Meetings unfolded in Mike Elias’ suite.

Unlike the 20 minutes that passed later at the packed hotel bar before a drink could be ordered.

The club’s executive vice president/general manager shared the details of pitcher Kyle Gibson’s one-year, $10 million contract. An amount deemed too steep for Jordan Lyles at the time of the deadline for exercising options.  

Elias expressed hope that another starter could be signed or traded for, without the caveat that it must be an opening day arm. And multi-year offers have been floated, which keeps the Orioles in play for the top pitchers on the second tier.

They won’t avoid pitchers who received a qualifying offer. They won’t narrow their focus to only left-handers.

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Orioles still in hunt for starters after giving Gibson $10 million contract

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SAN DIEGO – Veteran pitcher Kyle Gibson passed a physical and signed his contract today with the Orioles that pays $10 million in 2023.

The deal was made after the Orioles declined Jordan Lyles’ $11 million option and gave him a $1 million buyout.

“I think that we targeted Kyle. He was a priority for us,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said today in his suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

“Our jobs as front office evaluators is to look at what we think is going to happen in the future, and not what somebody’s baseball card numbers were last season, and we saw a lot of things to us that project well into the future for Kyle. I think he’s going to have a really nice season for us and is a really good fit, and it puts us in a position of security with our rotation, our pitching staff, as we proceed through the rest of the offseason.

“It’s nice for us to have him in the fold already in this early juncture.”

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Orioles sign Ofriedy Gómez to minor league deal

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SAN DIEGO – The Orioles made their first move of the Winter Meetings this afternoon. A minor league deal that won’t get a team to the podium but is aimed at providing depth.

The club announced that it signed pitcher Ofriedy Gómez, who spent this season in the Phillies organization and registered a combined 5.19 ERA and 1.754 WHIP in 38 games between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Gómez is assigned to Triple-A Norfolk’s roster.

The one-year deal with starter Kyle Gibson, pending a physical, hasn’t been announced. An agreement was reached over the weekend.

Gómez, 27, hasn’t pitched in the majors. He spent eight years in the Royals organization beginning in 2013, and the 2021 season in the White Sox’s system following his release. He signed with the Phillies in April.

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Taillon an Orioles target in free agency (and updated notes)

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SAN DIEGO – Justin Verlander is off the Winter Meetings board after reaching agreement with the Mets today on a two-year, $86.66 million deal. The Rangers already secured Jacob deGrom with a five-year, $185 million contract.

Left-hander Carlos Rodón is the top free agent pitcher on the market, and the Orioles have been linked to him based on how they “checked in” – a popular offseason term – their quest for a frontline starter and their willingness to expand payroll.

That’s basically it.  

They aren’t ignoring the top tier, but they’re most aggressive below it.

Rodón is seeking a six-year deal at an annual rate of $30 million or more, according to the New York Post, which is territory that the Orioles aren’t expected to wander into this winter. However, there is legitimate interest in veteran right-hander Jameson Taillon. He’s created the loudest lobby buzz on the first day.

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Same business on tap for Orioles at Winter Meetings

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SAN DIEGO – The recent moves made by Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias haven’t really shortened his offseason shopping list. The biggest items still seem to be missing from it, which keeps the interest in the Winter Meetings percolating.

Kyle Gibson, who agreed to a one-year contract, isn’t a guy who ideally slots at or near the top of the rotation. The Orioles have sought multiple veteran starters after declining Jordan Lyles’ $11 million option. Gibson comes from the Lyles mold.

Elias arrives in San Diego today trying to find a pitcher who’s more equipped to replace John Means, the staff ace recovering from Tommy John surgery in April.

Grayson Rodriguez is baseball’s No. 1 pitching prospect, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to be the opening day starter. This isn’t Norfolk. Give him time to climb.

Elias is focused on left-handed hitters, specifically first basemen/designated hitters, corner outfielders and second basemen. Lewin Díaz was a waiver claim Friday and Franchy Cordero signed a minor league deal later in the day that pays $1.35 million if he’s in the majors.

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Notes on some Orioles promotions, Gibson and new Hall of Fame inductee

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SAN DIEGO – Baseball executives and media are flowing into the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego today for the start of the Winter Meetings that were held virtually two years ago due to the pandemic and canceled in 2021 during the lockout.

The Orioles haven’t announced the signing of veteran pitcher Kyle Gibson to a one-year contract because he must pass his physical before the deal is official.   

Other business is conducted that extends beyond the major league and minor league roster.

The club is operating behind the scenes to promote and hire members of the scouting and analytics departments.

Kevin Carter and Will Roberston have been promoted from Pro Scouting Analyst to Senior Pro Scouting Analyst. Ben Reed is promoted from Pro Scouting Fellow to Pro Scouting Analyst.

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Looking at the Winter Meetings agenda in San Diego

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The Winter Meetings are back to normal after going virtual in 2020 and disappearing in 2021.

Media can storm the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, clog the lobby and wait in long lines for its morning coffee.

I’d expect the largest wave of reporters to arrive later today. Some team executives will wait until Monday morning. And then, it’s on.

The Orioles will be linked to pretty much everyone, based on the vow to be more aggressive this winter and to increase payroll - the lobby buzz will be deafening - but much of that money is set aside for arbitration raises. They’re at the stage of the rebuild to begin spending more in free agency and to inherit heftier contracts, but I’ll repeat that they aren’t in hot pursuit of the big four shortstops. I'll also stand by my earlier take that they aren't being super aggressive with the top-tier starting pitchers, as if primed to break the bank and leave everyone else wounded from lesser bids, but I'll happily pivot if they do.

Checking in with representatives isn't the same thing. That's happening a lot, at every tier, because it's the responsible thing to do. And they obviously like left-hander Carlos Rodón, but so do teams like the Mets and Yankees who live in a different financial neighborhood.

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Orioles agree to terms with Kyle Gibson on 2023 contract

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The Orioles have made a flurry of moves leading into the Winter Meetings that begin Sunday, with today’s news pertaining to the signing of a veteran starting pitcher who's a year removed from his selection to the All-Star team.

Right-hander Kyle Gibson has agreed to a one-year contract pending a physical, as first reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.

Gibson isn’t the elite starter that the club is seeking, but he can slot near the back end of the rotation and perhaps serve as Jordan Lyles' replacement. The Orioles declined Lyles’ $11 million option.

The 40-man roster will grow to 38 players after Gibson signs.

Gibson, 35, is a former first-round pick in the 2009 draft out of the University of Missouri who has registered a 4.52 ERA and 1.385 WHIP in 10 seasons. He spent the first seven with the Twins, parts of the next two with the Rangers and parts of the last two with the Phillies.

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Pérez provides example of hugely successful waiver claim

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The Winter Meetings that begin Sunday in San Diego will maintain or create new dialogues between Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and various executives and scouts. Talks aimed at producing a trade or free agent signing, or building momentum toward resolutions later in the offseason.

The Orioles have been fairly predictable in the past, but moving into a more competitive stage, with a more aggressive attitude, could change that entirely.

What should stay the same is the annual selection in the Rule 5 draft, the only interruption blamed on the lockout, unless picking 17th costs them the players they wanted. They aren’t averse to passing.

They could add to the list of waiver claims that includes third baseman Rio Ruiz at the 2018 Winter Meetings, Elias’ first major league addition, reliever Marcos Diplán at the 2019 event and pitcher Ashton Goudeau in 2020.

It always leads to the line, “Assuring that they won’t go home with just a Rule 5 pick.”

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Orioles claim Lewin Díaz from Pirates (and sign Franchy Cordero)

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The Orioles are prepared to arrive at the Winter Meetings next week with 37 players on their 40-man roster.

Multiple moves were announced earlier today, with one player joining the organization and two others removed from the 40-man.

The Orioles claimed first baseman Lewin Díaz off waivers from the Pirates. Outfielder Daz Cameron was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk after clearing waivers, and the Phillies claimed outfielder Jake Cave.

Díaz, 26, fits the profile of the left-handed hitting first baseman/designated hitter that the Orioles are shopping for, but they’ll keep checking the market to further address that part of the roster.

The Pirates claimed Díaz from the Marlins on Nov. 22 and designated him for assignment two days ago after signing free agent Carlos Santana. They also traded for first baseman Ji-Man Choi, lessening the chances of Díaz staying with the team.

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Will the Orioles be left with only right-handers in their rotation?

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One of the potential benefits of attending the Winter Meetings, held next week at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, is the chance to gain more clarity on the Orioles’ preferences for the construction of their roster. Any specifics regarding the pitching staff or lineup. How they might pivot if the original plan begins to crumble.  

Daily media sessions with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias can be enlightening, without any expectations of him providing play-by-play on his meetings with executives and agents. Information can be dispensed in broad terms and still satisfy the masses.

The desire to sign or trade for at least one veteran starting pitcher has been confirmed. Nothing new on that front. And the targeted areas in free agency are below the top tier, which you’d hope would douse any reports linking the Orioles to the priciest arms and suggesting that they’d engage in a massive bidding war.

Here's the question that hasn’t been answered: What is the exact level of importance in bringing in a left-hander?

John Means will head back to the 60-day injured list after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Bruce Zimmermann broke camp last spring as the No. 4 starter but made a few trips to the minors and isn’t a lock for the rotation after registering a 5.99 ERA and 1.480 WHIP.

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Seth Johnson on offseason workouts and knowledge of new team

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The version of Seth Johnson that didn’t undergo ligament-reconstructive surgery in his right elbow was projected by some outlets to reach the majors next summer. He might have finished this season at Double-A, shortening his climb onto the Orioles’ active roster.

Johnson made seven starts at High-A Bowling Green before the injury, and prior to the deadline trade that sent him from the Rays to the Orioles. He didn’t pitch after May 20 and had his procedure on Aug. 3, which threatens to keep him away from an affiliate until 2024.

A throwing program is set to begin in the middle of January and the Orioles will get a clearer read on his progress. Johnson is hoping at a minimum to pitch in the Florida Complex League before the minors shut down.

The road to Sarasota already has been traveled. Johnson is cleared for weight training, which he’s done at the spring training complex except for a short period when it closed for some renovations.

Johnson has mostly kept his offseason on a normal trajectory other than the whole pitching thing.

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Timing of trade "a little weird" for Seth Johnson

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The timing of the trade was so good that Seth Johnson didn’t dwell as much on the oddity of his circumstances.

Johnson had just arrived in Dallas on Aug. 1 for the surgical repair of his right elbow that would be done two days later. Waiting for his father to join him at the rental car counter, Johnson received a phone call from the Rays informing him of the three-team trade involving the Orioles.

“With the Rays, you get traded pretty quick and stuff happens kind of fast with them,” he said yesterday, “but it was still kind of a shock just because everything you’ve known goes out the window because you’ve got a new organization to learn.”

A coincidence weaved its way into the introduction.

“It actually worked out nice because later that night I was planning on going to the Orioles and Rangers game anyway, so I got traded like four hours before that game and got to go see the new organization play that night,” he said. “So, that was pretty neat.”

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A few notes on impact of minor league options

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The most recent Orioles transaction remains the outright of catcher Mark Kolozsvary to Triple-A Norfolk on Nov. 17, two days after they selected the contracts of pitchers Grayson Rodriguez, Drew Rom, Seth Johnson and Noah Denoyer and infielder Joey Ortiz to protect them in the Rule 5 draft. The 40-man roster remains frozen at 38 players, but probably not for much longer.

The Winter Meetings begin next week in San Diego, where the Orioles could land the starting pitcher or hitter that they’re targeting, if it doesn’t happen before their contingent boards its flights. At least one selection is anticipated in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, which also will impact the 40-man.

A trade could be made that doesn’t touch it, with rival teams expressing interest in prospects who aren’t eligible for the Rule 5. Those talks are among the many happening behind the scenes.

Over the last few days, I’ve written about additional front office decisions that are pending and questions pertaining to a bullpen that could undergo some tweaking.

I've moved on to nuggets, and here are a couple worth tucking away:

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A few questions relating to Orioles bullpen

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The Orioles are concentrating on upgrades for their rotation, but they also could acquire at least one new reliever on a major league or minor league deal. They don’t usually bring back the exact same unit while expecting the exact same results. That's a dangerous little game.

If nothing else, they can increase the camp competition.

The trust that the bullpen instilled in manager Brandon Hyde keyed the 2022 turnaround. Leads didn’t dissolve like teaspoons of sugar in water.

The Orioles were 60-2 when ahead after the sixth inning, 64-3 after the seventh and 71-3 after the eighth. They kept deficits manageable and allowed for late comebacks.

The ‘pen’s 3.49 ERA ranked ninth in the majors. The Orioles were last in 2019 and 2021, and 27th in 2018.

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A few more front office decisions

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Armchair general managers stayed busy in the early days of the offseason. Imagine how hectic it’s become with the free agent and trade markets wide open and the Winter Meetings approaching.

Your mistakes can’t cost you a job that you don’t actually have, which makes it a sweet gig.

I already posed five questions: whether you’d re-sign first baseman Jesús Aguilar, whether you’d pick up Jordan Lyles’ $11 million option (the Orioles didn’t), whether you’d trade an outfielder, whether you’d stay in-house for a backup catcher, and whether you’d attempt to re-sign Rougned Odor.

Here are two more:

Would you stay in-house for a shortstop?
Four of the top five free agents are shortstops, according to the MLBTradeRumors.com rankings – Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson. The cheapest contract projection is Swanson’s seven-year, $154 million deal.

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Because You Asked – Holiday Heist

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The fatigue that I keep blaming on tryptophan, which makes no sense because I use the excuse year-round, limits how much heavy lifting I can do in one day.

The mailbag isn’t a priority compared to daily workouts, but I decided to empty it this morning while it’s still relatively light.

While I don’t need relatives to assist me.

This is the holiday sequel to the beloved original. You ask, I answer, you ask again, I answer again. Why do I still feel the need to explain it? You get it by now.

Also, my mailbag is in charge of carving the turkey, while yours is stuck washing the dishes.

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Leftovers for breakfast

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Baseball’s regular season ended on Oct. 5. The World Series finished exactly a month later. The Arizona Fall League wrapped up two weeks ago.

There’s still the annual game of seeing how far the Thanksgiving leftovers can be stretched. And its spinoffs.

Does this smell right? Didn’t that used to be gravy? If that's a mushroom, why is it moving?

The sport has its own leftovers. Delicious nuggets from the Orioles’ public relations staff.

I’ll heat up another batch this morning.

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