Orioles pick 17th in draft, Elias trying to strike another deal before leaving San Diego

SAN DIEGO – The new draft lottery couldn’t budge the Orioles from the 17th spot.

Their 0.4 percent odds of receiving the first-overall pick proved to be accurate, with no amount of ping pong balls able to influence it. The Brewers remained 18th, also where they started the day.

The Orioles haven’t drafted outside the top five since taking high school pitcher Grayson Rodriguez 11th overall in 2018. They haven’t been pushed back this far since choosing prep left-hander DL Hall 21st overall in 2017.

The lottery system was approved in the new collective bargaining agreement for the 18 teams that missed the playoffs.

The Pirates were the big winners tonight – a rare distinction for the franchise - by receiving the first pick, followed by the Nationals, Tigers, Rangers, Twins, Athletics, Reds, Royals, Rockies, Marlins, Angels, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Red Sox, White Sox, Giants, Orioles and Brewers.

The rest of the rounds go back to the traditional setup based on inverse order of the 2022 standings, except for compensatory and competitive balance selections.

The Orioles used the first-overall pick on Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman in 2019 and Oklahoma prep shortstop Jackson Holliday in 2022. They chose left-hander Don Hood 17th overall in 1969.

Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias stated his approval of the lottery during his media session at the Manchester Grand Hyatt that was held earlier in the day.

“I am kind of excited about it,” he said. “We have a 0.4 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, which is pretty cool when you’re the last team to not make it into the playoffs and have a winning season, so that would be great.

“I think it’s interesting. It was put in place in the CBA. We’ll see where it takes things. But wherever we’re picking, I know that our scouting department will have a lot of fun trying to do as well as they can.”

Agent Scott Boras referred to the Orioles this morning as “feathered up,” lingo that amused Elias.

“Always looking for some different catchphrases, and appreciated that,” Elias said.

“I have enjoyed a very productive relationship with those guys over the years. They’ve got a lot of good players, many of whom are already in our organization, and there are others we’d love to have join. They’ve got a lot of great players. We’re talking to every major agency here on face-to-face basis. It’s one of the values of the Winter Meetings for me. And we, as he said, kept in touch with him on a number of his clients.”

The Phillies reached agreement tonight with free-agent right-hander Taijuan Walker on a four-year, $72 million deal, according to multiple reports. He’s a Boras client who’s off the board.

Elias won’t handicap whether the Orioles will sign another player before heading back to Baltimore on Thursday. The only major league deal is the $10 million given to veteran starter Kyle Gibson in 2023.

“I’m not one to view this event as something with some artificial pressure, but sometimes there’s very real pressure that comes out of this event, and if that happens, we have to be in a competitive position to move quickly before the Winter Meetings are over. We’ll do that,” Elias said.

“Other than that, that’s the only time frame I see the Winter Meetings presenting.”

The signing pace around the league is quickened this year, which Elias said is understandable given the unusual circumstances the past two years, including a virtual version in 2020 and the cancellation of the 2021 event.

“I can’t say I’m too surprised, but this definitely seems to be moving quite well,” he said.

“We didn’t have the Winter Meetings the last couple years, but then the first couple ones, we were just so focused on hiring and building the organization and we weren’t as focused on major free agents, so this is really the first year where we’ve been a kind of relevant party for a lot of the types of free agent talks that pick up steam at the Winter Meetings. I can’t say I’ve had a lot of experience with this with the Orioles, but we’re pretty deliberate, I think we have an organized kind of approach. We’ve done a lot of preparation coming in here.

“The fact that the whole industry is here together can pick up the pace of the competition, but other than that, I don’t necessarily view this as an event where we feel pressure to do something. It’s only if things kind of pick up steam organically because there’s competition are we going to worry about the end of the Winter Meetings.”

The Orioles made two more minor league moves today by signing outfielder Nomar Mazara and infielder Josh Lester.

“There’s a lot to like about Nomar Mazara,” Elias said, prior to the announcement about Lester. “He was a huge prospect coming up and he’s still a young guy. He’s 27 years old. I think he’s a good fit for our roster, which is why he chose us.

“Provides a left-handed bat option in particular who can play both outfield spots. I think we’re going to have a roster spot on the team that presents a left-handed outfielder who’s kind of a platoon option, so I could see him filling that roster spot. It’s going to be a good opportunity for him to come in and try to make our team out of camp.”

Franchy Cordero, signed Friday to a minor league deal, also enters the competition, as the Orioles try to avoid “relying on players who spent most of the year in the minor leagues fully,” Elias said, “and knowing that we might have some ups and downs from that group, and we want to have some depth in the organization or some options in case they don’t make the team out of camp.

“They’re going to get every opportunity to, but so will a guy like Nomar Mazara, Franchy Cordero. We just want as much competition as possible.”

Lester, 28, is another left-handed hitter. The 13th round draft pick in 2013 out of the University of Missouri made his major league debut this season with the Tigers and went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. However, he had 39 doubles, 29 home runs and 99 RBIs in 145 games with Triple-A Toledo, and he plays every infield position and the corner outfield.

Elias is engaged in trade discussions for a starting pitcher who slots near or at the top of the rotation. He’s prepared to dip into his prospect stash, but also has talked about swapping veterans on the major league roster.

There’s also a downside to that approach.

“We’ve brainstormed stuff with other teams where it’s a major leaguer for major leaguer trade,” Elias said. “Obviously, nothing’s happened yet, but we’re definitely open to that. I think it makes it a little bit harder in our situation because our goal this year is to increase our odds of making it into the playoffs, and if we’re taking guys off our major league team, kind of bites into that. But we’ve definitely entertained those types of discussions when it comes to starting pitchers.”

A backup catcher could be signed to a major league deal. Rutschman is the only one on the 40-man roster.

“I wouldn’t say anything has picked up steam yet, and there are some major trade guys out there in the catching market,” Hyde said. “Not that they’re fits for us because we have Rutschman as a starter, but I think perhaps the catching market in free agency won’t take full shape until some of those trades either happen or become clear that they’re not going to happen.”

Whether Rutschman plays first base next season depends on other roster moves made during the offseason. Elias said Rutschman will be used as the designated hitter and catch “as much as he can while not wearing his body down to where his performance suffers.”

“There is no one in the league who catches every single game. J.T. Realmuto is probably the guy who catches most frequently and he’s usually in the 120-125 game neighborhood or something in a full season, so that’s kind of the upper bound in today’s game. I assume it won’t be anymore than that, even in a max scenario.

“Last year Robbie Chirinos was a great sounding board for Adley and taught him a lot. It’s still only his second year in the big leagues, so having somebody else back there with some more experience might be nice for him, as well, to share the duties.”

Rule 5 draft next up at Winter Meetings
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