Orioles staying quiet as Winter Meetings nearing conclusion

NASHVILLE – The Winter Meetings conclude later today with the Rule 5 draft. The Orioles hold the 29th selection in the first round but can move up as teams ahead of them pass.

Probably won't matter.

The Orioles have made a selection every year in the major league phase since pitcher Alfredo Simon in 2006. They traded Simon to the Phillies for catcher Adam Donachie and cash considerations.

Donachie never played in the majors. Simon was returned to the Rangers but later signed with the Orioles as a free agent in 2008 and 2009.

The rest of the club’s Rule 5 picks were as follows:

2007: pitcher Randor Bierd
2008: catcher Loue Palmisano
2009: pitcher Ben Snyder
2010: pitcher Adrian Rosario
2011: infielder Ryan Flaherty
2012: pitcher T.J. McFarland
2013: infielder Michael Almanzar
2014: pitcher Logan Verrett
2015: outfielder Joey Rickard
2016: pitcher Aneury Tavárez and outfielder Anthony Santander
2017: pitchers Nestor Cortés, Pedro Araújo and José Mesa Jr.
2018: shortstop Richie Martin
2019: pitchers Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker
2020: pitchers Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells
2022: pitcher Andrew Politi

Santander was the last pick in the first round at No. 18 overall and Wells was next-to-last at No. 17. Martin was the first-overall selection.

The 2021 major league phase was canceled due to the lockout.  

The Orioles have four openings on their 40-man roster but seem prepared to pass this afternoon. However, they could be active in the Triple-A phase.

This isn’t akin to Cal Ripken Jr. voluntarily ending The Streak, but it’s a shock to the Winter Meetings system.

Declining to dive into the Rule 5 waters could leave the Orioles dry as they board their flight home.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is trying to get a starter and a reliever who can close. An "anchor" in his bullpen, with Craig Kimbrel a confirmed target. He needs the logjam to break, with a few mega-signings creating action for the rest of the clubs.

It’s like everyone is waiting for Shohei Ohtani to make a decision. He's impacting an entire industry.

“It would probably be the best theory I could have for why this seems to be a slower developing kind of Winter Meetings,” Elias said. “When you’ve got a ‘generational’ is probably not the right word, it’s like a century, Babe Ruth talent, pretty big deal. There are some really big teams that seem to be focused almost entirely on him right now, and that’s by nature going to clog things up.”

Elias stated right away that he wasn’t under pressure to make moves in Nashville, that there wasn’t a sense of urgency. The offseason has more length to it.

If he can’t make an impactful trade or signing?

“We won the division last year. Ninety percent of the team is back,” Elias said.

“It would not be ideal, I think, for us to be totally dormant all winter, but we’re going to do our best to avoid that. But we’re viewing this as a winter to augment this group and reinforce it and supplement it, and not reinvent it or supplant this group. So, that’s a great starting point.”

Elias is focused on pitching and he’s willing to address the position player side at a later date, an area that’s more set.

He doesn’t foresee making any multi-year offers to position players but was willing to do so for pitching last winter. It didn’t happen.

“I think we’ve got a lot of returning position players, basically one through nine, and a lot of those guys are around for years and years,” he said. “So, it puts us in a little bit of a unique spot where we don’t really need to run around filling out our position player profile on multi-year deals right now, just because we have so many homegrown core guys. Then, it’s more of a case-by-case basis when you’re talking about pitchers.

“We’ve been in those conversations. Obviously, haven’t done one of those yet, but it’s been on the menu for a while now and we’ve gotten really close on some of them, and I’m sure that will happen at some point.”

Elias sees plenty of internal candidates for a fourth outfielder role with Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad, Kyle Stowers and Ryan McKenna. But he could bring in a free agent or attempt to swing a trade.

“I still see a ton of playing time and a lot of at-bats outside of our three primary outfielders – (Cedric) Mullins, Santander and (Austin) Hays, and right now this is up for grabs. But these guys, I don’t think any of them have really proven it yet over a long period of time in the majors, and so we’re cognizant of that, and if we can find external insurance or external help in this department, it’s not going to close the doors for those guys and it wouldn’t be unwelcomed from our end, either.

“Competition is good, depth is good. These seasons are so unpredictable and our three primary guys, knock on wood, but odds are you’ll get some injuries. So, we’ve got to prepare for all of that. We’ll talk to free agents that might be a fit for joining our outfield mix, but we have high hopes for the names that I mentioned.”

Kjerstad will work out again at first base, where he made 38 appearances in the minors this season and none with the Orioles. However, he isn’t changing positions.

“I don’t have plans or designs on him becoming a full-time first baseman,” Elias said. “I think it’s something more that we’re trying to get it to a point where it’s in his back pocket and we can tap into it a couple days a week.”

Elias used Ryan O’Hearn as an example of how bouncing between first base to the outfield can open up avenues for playing time.

“It’s for Heston’s sake as much as it for ours for his career,” Elias said. “He’s an outfielder primarily by trade. He’s a good defender in right field in the dimensions in Camden Yards. He’s not a center fielder, but with the stick he brings, it profiles well in the corner outfield, and I think right field is a good spot for him. He can throw well, too.”

Other back-burner business likely includes negotiating deals for the 13 arbitration-eligible players tendered contracts at the deadline. Four others signed for 2024, making the Orioles 17-for-17.

Elias said it was a possibility all along.

“You have trade discussions leading up to that,” he said. “You may do things that would result in a different decision. None of that happened. But these were all players that we wanted to keep. We wanted to keep them in the fold through the arbitration process.

“I think it’s an earmark of having a really young roster. When you see some of these teams that have these massive arbitration classes, it’s often Tampa, Milwaukee, Cleveland, with their young teams. So, I view it as a positive thing. It’s not going to last forever that way, but these are good players that have value, and the system affords us this ability to control them for several years.”

* Former Orioles catcher Austin Wynns, a Nashville resident and new father, was at the Winter Meetings yesterday.

At least six teams are interested in signing Wynns, who played for the Giants, Dodgers and Rockies this year.

* Former Orioles pitcher and current MASN analyst Ben McDonald will be the featured guest at the Delmarva Shorebirds 21st annual Hot Stove Banquet on Feb. 8 from 6-9 p.m. at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in Salisbury.

Single tickets are available for $40, and preferred tables of eight are $400. A buffet-style dinner is included, and all tickets must be purchased in advance at theshorebirds.com or by calling 410-219-3112.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Fly Together Fund, the Shorebirds charitable organization, to continue to support and aid the Delmarva community.

Doors open at 6 p.m. and guests are invited to a meet-and-greet with McDonald from 6:15-7 p.m. They also can bid on sports memorabilia in a silent auction.

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