February arrives with roster position projections unchanged

The baseball world has spun into a new month, which brings the Orioles within two days until the beginning of their Birdland Caravan with a kickoff fan rally with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde inside the Bel Air High School auditorium.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training by the 15th, with the first workout held the following day. Position players are due on the 20th, with the initial full-squad workout the next day.

Back to normal, it appears, after the pandemic forced everyone to head home early in 2020 and impacted 2021, and after the lockout delayed and shortened the 2022 activities.  

Roster business last February was limited with the sport shut down on the major league side, but the Orioles were busy in 2021 with the Alex Cobb trade on the 2nd that brought infielder Jahmai Jones from the Angels and the minor league contracts handed to pitchers Spenser Watkins and Dusten Knight. On the 3rd with the minor league deals with veteran starters Félix Hernández and Wade LeBlanc and reliever Konner Wade. Matt Harvey’s minor league deal became official on the 17th.

The Orioles might not show the same starter aggression this month, though they’ll need to know whether their inventory sufficiently stocks Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation.

LeBlanc’s first contract with the Orioles arrived on this date in 2020. Infielder Ramón Urías was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals on the 11th – a much more impactful transaction.

Left-hander Tommy Milone signed on the 14th, also a minor league contract, and he replaced an injured John Means as the opening day starter in Boston.

The moves in February 2019 included minor league deals for catcher Jesús Sucre, shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielder Eric Young Jr., and pitcher Nate Karns getting $800,000 as Elias’ first signing.

Nothing to see here. Sucre didn’t make it through April and didn’t make it back to the majors. Karns was injured again after four appearances, this time a right forearm strain, went on the 60-day injured list and didn’t make it back to the majors. Escobar and Young were released in March.

Young didn’t get back to the majors, but Escobar finally did two years later.

Elias isn’t refusing calls or cutting off all contact with other executives. The Orioles could increase a camp roster that still hasn’t been announced. Maybe some depth moves, since they’ve checked off the boxes from their original list.

Two veteran starting pitchers. A veteran reliever. A left-handed hitter to play second base and the corner outfield. A backup catcher. Left-handed bats to compete for the backup job at first base and/or play the outfield, ideally without occupying spots on the 40-man roster.

A player could land on the waiver wire who’s perceived as an upgrade and the Orioles might pounce. The free agent market is running out of appealing options, though they reportedly had some level of interest in left fielder Jurickson Profar. The courting of Michael Wacha probably is over following the trade for left-hander Cole Irvin.   

Elias is talking about his infield as if it’s set. As if the Orioles are holding onto Urías and Jorge Mateo, who evolved into trade chips but apparently weren't actively shopped.

The Orioles like the right-left combination and the versatility provided by Mateo, Urías, Gunnar Henderson and Adam Frazier. They also seem committed to the same outfield alignment of Austin Hays in left, Cedric Mullins in center and Anthony Santander in right, with the flexibility to also use them in the designated hitter spot and locate starts for Kyle Stowers and Ryan McKenna.

It feels safe to write the position side of the roster in indelible ink, which probably means that it’s not. A late pickup could smear the page. There’s always the possibility of an injury. Perhaps a non-roster invite wins a job, which likely would have to involve first base.

The 13 players still look like catchers Adley Rutschman and James McCann, infielders Urías, Mateo, Henderson, Frazier, Ryan Mountcastle and Terrin Vavra, and outfielders Santander, Mullins, Hays, Stowers and McKenna.

Frazier has the potential to impact Vavra, who’s also a second baseman and corner outfielder, but there’s room for both of them. The Orioles should be able to keep Stowers busy, eliminating the temptation to give him everyday at-bats in Triple-A to keep pushing forward his development.

The interest in another corner outfielder with plus defensive skills is a curiosity with McKenna on the roster. He can play anywhere, and the right-handed bat is a nice complement to Stowers, Frazier and Vavra.

Go ahead and use ink, but have clean paper nearby just in case.

Note: The Orioles' May 7 game against the Braves in Atlanta will be broadcast on NBC and Peacock at 11:35 a.m.

Peacock also will have the June 18 game (1:05 p.m.) between the Orioles and Cubs at Wrigley Field and the July 2 game (12:05 p.m.) between the Orioles and Twins at Camden Yards.

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