The latest removal of Lewin Díaz from the 40-man roster and the approaching resolution on Ryan O’Hearn didn’t move the Orioles forward in their offseason plans for first base.
They may have already arrived.
The club has sought a left-handed hitter to back up Ryan Mountcastle, and it’s been collecting candidates since November. The first time it claimed Díaz off waivers, on the same day that it signed Franchy Cordero to a minor league deal. Four days before it signed Josh Lester, also to a minor league contract.
The Orioles are going with a quantity approach, and they’re counting Anthony Santander, who worked out at first base last summer but didn’t play in a game. I’ve heard that he’ll do more of it in spring training.
Santander made nine starts with Single-A Lynchburg in 2016. It’s been a while.
Adley Rutschman and Terrin Vavra also took ground balls at first and will continue the routine in camp. Rutschman should make some starts this season, as he’s done it in college and the minors. Vavra must make the club.
The Orioles are hoping to get O’Hearn through waivers and keep him in the organization. Díaz is the boomerang that keeps coming back. Don’t assume that he’s gone for good.
Now that Eric Hosmer, Brandon Belt and Carlos Santana are off the market – first basemen who drew the Orioles’ interest – the club is more likely to head into spring training with the current group and figure out ways to rest Mountcastle. They also need depth at Triple-A in case of injury, which is lacking with Trey Mancini and Jesús Aguilar free agents and Tyler Nevin traded to the Tigers.
An appealing hitter could become available closer to opening day as teams set their rosters, but it’s too risky to count on it. Leave the possibility open but guard against it not happening.
The primary task with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in five weeks remains the search for another veteran starter. The effort is there, but also the understanding that it may produce nothing more and the Orioles will play the right and left hands that they’ve been dealt.
The Orioles have stayed in contact with free agent Michael Wacha, per sources, their interest stretching for months. They remain engaged in the market despite its dwindling options and have done more video recruiting since the holidays, but they also are considering various trade possibilities.
Nothing appears imminent on the trade front, but the Orioles are aware of the shortstop needs among multiple teams and seem willing to deal from their stash.
It’s a rather robust infield group.
This is another area where they could pivot in any direction. Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías are trade chips, teams are checking on their availability, and the Orioles could be enticed to move one. They aren’t conversation stoppers like Gunnar Henderson. But the team also likes the idea of having left-handed hitters Henderson and Adam Frazier and right-handed hitters Mateo and Urías in the mix, with each of them able to switch positions.
Dealing from the major league roster would bring some pain in 2023, but there’s relief available at Triple-A for future years, led by Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz and Connor Norby.
The Marlins are loaded with starters in the majors and minors, and the Orioles have been in contact with them. There’s motivation to stay in touch. Miami's player asking price might not be a match, though trading Miguel Rojas could help.
Free agency won’t bring a true No. 1 starter. The job would need to be won in camp if they sign a veteran who normally slots lower in the rotation or they decide to conclude the search. The opening day assignment would be up for grabs, with Grayson Rodriguez the least likely to earn it, due to his lack of major league experience and the plan to manage his innings.
Rodriguez could really force the issue - his talent certainly makes it possible - but the odds don’t favor him.
Trying to handicap the race could eventually depend on how the club wants to line up its starters for the first series in Boston.
Trevor Bauer, designated for assignment by the Dodgers two weeks after Major League Baseball reduced his suspension under its domestic violence policy from 324 to 194 games, doesn’t appear to be a consideration.
Another veteran for the bullpen is possible but hardly a priority. The Orioles traded for lefty Darwinzon Hernandez yesterday, but he has two minor league options and a high walk rate as a sidecar to his 14 strikeouts per nine innings.
They’d have to weigh a talent upgrade against the squeeze on a 13-man pitching staff and concerns over the lack of options among some relievers. Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi would have to clear waivers and be offered back to the Red Sox.
The bench hasn’t taken shape, and I’ve also heard that the Orioles are checking on corner outfielders with plus defensive skills. Of particular importance in left field with its increased distance and quirky 90-degree angle at the bullpen.
The club is willing to make a major league acquisition, perhaps more likely via trade than free agency as the market shrinks.
Santander is going to be used quite a bit as the designated hitter, taking advantage of the spot’s flexibility. Austin Hays will be rested to keep him healthy and avoid certain matchups with tough right-handers. Ryan McKenna can play each spot, but he’s a right-handed hitter.
Vavra, Cordero, Kyle Stowers and Nomar Mazara are interesting left-handed bats but aren’t proven defensively in left at Camden Yards. Jake Cave was lost on waivers.
The Orioles acquired Brett Phillips at last year’s deadline, but he just signed with the Angels.