The Orioles contingent that traveled to Las Vegas this week for the general managers meetings huddled with about a dozen agencies that rep players of interest to the organization, feelings expressed as a method of identifying potential fits.
Making the most out of a couple days before returning to the B&O warehouse.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias was joined by assistant general manager/analytics Sig Mejdal, senior director of international scouting Koby Perez, assistant GM/baseball operations Eve Rosenbaum, director of pro scouting Mike Snyder and director of baseball strategy Brendan Fournie.
“The meetings are always an invigorating event, and especially post-COVID, I think we’ve kind of learned to appreciate the face-to-face opportunities that we get with the other executives, with the league officials, and then probably most of all, with the agents that are there,” Elias said.
“I think one thing that was a little bit unique with these meetings is, because of the lockout and the late start to the season, there was still an ongoing quiet period, but that’s lifted as of (yesterday) and it feels like things are already starting to move fast.”
A few other teams already have swung deals, including the Braves sending starter Jake Odorizzi and cash to the Rangers for left-hander Kolby Allard, and the Pirates acquiring first baseman Ji-Man Choi from the Rays for minor league reliever Jack Hartman.
Elias and his group also sat down with a few rival executives, but with a lesser sense of on-site urgency.
“That’s always nice to do and it’s good to spend some time together,” Elias said, “but nowadays, trade discussions are so easily handled over text and phone that I don’t know that speeds up the process, but it’s always enjoyable to build relationships in person, which these meetings give you a chance to do.”
The Orioles left Vegas still targeting starting pitchers, a backup catcher and a bat that slots in the middle of the order. Confident that they’ll check off the items prior to opening day, but prepared for an accelerated pace.
“I think this is going to be a very competitive market for players,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of teams out there that are looking to get better. People feel good about the health of the industry and I expect this will be a pretty active and maybe fast free agent market.
“We obviously are very encouraged about the state of our team and the organization underneath the team that supports it. We can obviously augment and hope to do so, whether by free agency or trade with some accomplished major league players, but we have internal players at almost every spot that we think are interesting, and I think that provides us with some flexibility with which players we go after.
“We’ve got some positional flexibility with our current group and that makes for a scenario where we don’t have a very specific recipe of which positions the players have to come in. We’re going to be looking for pitching help, but everyone is, and that’s going to be competitive, as well. And also, I think that we need to be mindful that we’re not going to go from zero miles an hour to 60 miles an hour in one offseason. We’ve got to build the team and build the payroll in a methodical and strategic fashion, but I’m very encouraged and hopeful and optimistic that we’re going to make some significant steps forward in that regard in this offseason, and I hope that it will add to our playoff chances and increase our chances of making the playoffs in this difficult division.”
The limited conversations with other executives this week confirmed the high opinion of some prospects who could be blocked or find it more difficult to fit onto the roster. Elias noted on Oct. 5 that he might have to part with a few to land a starting pitcher.
“We’ve already expressed some interest in other teams’ major league players, and have gotten some names back from our organization,” Elias said yesterday.
“I think one thing that’s really encouraging and not surprising is everybody likes looking at our farm system and it makes for a lot of possibilities, and that’s great. Maybe the fact that there’s more depth with our farm system, more top-end talent, or just easier to work with, perhaps that makes us a more favorable trade partner. So, we’ll just be doing that, we’ll be comparing it against our free agent options, and we’ll see where this goes.”
Elias’ plate is stacked with other business.
He’s trying to build depth through waiver claims, recently having six catchers on the 40-man roster before cutting that number to two and adding outfielders Jake Cave and Daz Cameron.
“You never know which of these guys is going to break out,” Elias said. “We try to pull in talent from all angles. Just because we continue to work the waiver wire fairly aggressively doesn’t mean that we’re closed off to bigger-ticket free agent acquisitions. We want to do both.
“We’ve had a lot of success on the waiver wire during the rebuild, but we’re going to be picking lower on the waivers, and there’s maybe fewer at-bats to go around, so we’ve got to be judicious about it. But we’re going to keep looking for those moves and strengthening not only the major league roster but the Triple-A roster in doing so.”
The Orioles declined starter Jordan Lyles’ $11 million option and gave him the $1 million buyout that returns him to free agency. The timing wasn’t right to make that much of a financial commitment.
The lines of communication aren’t severed.
“I’m looking forward to staying in touch with Jordan,” Elias said. “I talked to him a good bit (Thursday). I thought he had a great season for us. I think he was what the doctor ordered. I thought the signing went as well as we could have hoped for. He really helped us. But this is a big business with big money, and sometimes it just doesn’t line up at the date that we have to make these decisions.
“For us, with this contract with this club option, it was the fifth day after the World Series and we just weren’t ready to bring him back in that way in that point in time. I think that we’re going to stay in touch with him, we’re going to see how the pitching market unfolds. I think that he’s going to have a very good free agent experience himself, and we’ll just stay in touch because I know he liked it here and we liked having him.”
Outfielder Yusniel Diaz also fell off the 40-man roster this week. Previously the Orioles’ top prospect following the Manny Machado trade with the Dodgers in 2018, Diaz cleared outright waivers and elected free agency rather than accepting his outright assignment to Triple-A.
Diaz could find his way back to the organization, but he’s on the market.
“We’ll try to stay engaged with him in free agency,” Elias said. “Charting our offseason course again, what we’re probably going to do in advance of the Rule 5 draft, what we’re probably going to do in free agency, we try to budget out how many 40-man spots we have. And knowing that Yusniel was going to be a minor league free agent if he wasn’t kept on the roster, it just made sense to do this now rather than wait and tie up a spot too much longer.
“He passed through waivers, so I guess the rest of the league saw it that way. But he’s got a lot of latent talent, he’s still 26 years old, and he’s just had so many injuries, that I wouldn’t be surprised if he blossoms in whatever his next opportunity looks like, wherever that is.”
The Orioles are preparing to discuss which players to protect before the Dec. 7 Rule 5 draft, with top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez and shortstop Joey Ortiz the easiest calls.
The 40-man roster must be set by Tuesday.
“This is all moving along really fast this offseason. We’ve got this deadline coming up. We have a couple of all-hands meetings on Monday and Tuesday to finalize our decisions in this regard,” Elias said.
“I think when you have an increasingly deep farm system like we do, there tend to be uncomfortable decisions. It’s always uncomfortable. Even when you don’t have a deep farm system, it seems like there’s always some intriguing players who may be at risk in the Rule 5 draft. So, we’re going to talk about it.
“I think there’s a couple real slam dunks, but there’s a couple guys that maybe aren’t huge names in the public, but with all the info and scouting info that teams look at these days, I could see them getting plucked, so we’re going to have to be shrewd about navigating this.”
Six players remain eligible for arbitration – outfielders Anthony Santander, Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays, shortstop Jorge Mateo and pitchers Dillon Tate and Austin Voth - and Friday is the deadline to tender contracts. Business that’s also at the forefront.
“We’ve got a group of guys that have been in the organization for a while that it’s either their first time in arb or they’re getting deeper into arbitration,” Elias said. “And then we have some guys that haven’t been in the organization for a while, and if we want to retain them, it would be through arbitration. We’re just going to sit down and figure all that out.
“Hopefully, we can come to agreements, but the arbitration system is in place for a reason and there’s always that if we’re not able to do that.”