A tweak of the 40-man roster yesterday was similar to cleansing the palate before the main course. Likely the first and only time that Anthony Bemboom has been compared to a sorbet.
The Orioles can’t really get busy with their offseason until after the World Series. The free agent market opens. Executives discuss potential trades. Decisions are made regarding arbitration-eligible players and who’s protected in the Rule 5 draft.
Bemboom had his contract selected yesterday from Triple-A Norfolk, preventing or delaying his plunge into minor league free agency, depending on whether he stays on a 40-man roster that’s currently full.
Pending free agents Robinson Chirinos, Rougned Odor and Jesús Aguilar will come off the 40-man, and Jordan Lyles would join them if the Orioles don’t pick up his $11 million option. John Means and Chris Ellis must be added from the 60-day injured list, though the latter isn’t guaranteed to stick.
The Orioles could designate Ellis for assignment and try to re-sign him to a minor league deal or cut ties.
Grayson Rodriguez will headline the prospects who must go on the 40-man or be exposed to the Rule 5. Drew Rom and Joey Ortiz also are on the list.
This is going to be one of the more interesting offseasons in many years, with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias again raising expectations this week. The team is going to spend, though how much isn’t clear. We don’t know if it’s on a smaller market scale and whether the cart will be pushed down market aisles that previously were skipped.
The annual end-of-season chat Wednesday morning in the auxiliary clubhouse confirmed that the Orioles will attempt to upgrade the roster, which leads to a higher payroll, via signings and trades. There’s more than one way to do it, and the club is willing to inherit a bigger contract, as the Astros did while moving past the rebuild stage.
But again, how big is big? We don’t have an answer.
“We’re going to look at any and all ways to improve our chances at making the playoffs,” Elias said, “within the budget that we’re going to be working with.”
That last part can raise hopes or eyebrows. But either way, the Orioles sound like a team that’s going to be much more aggressive this winter.
Elias is guarded in his answers, never wanting to put all of his cards on the table for everyone to see – that can only hurt his negotiations – but this sentence stood out during a nearly 25-minute media session with manager Brandon Hyde:
“This is the time to start to make more significant investments in the major league payroll.”
The Orioles have reached a point in the rebuild where the young talent is flowing to the highest affiliates and spilling onto the major league roster. I’m sure this is how it looked on Elias’ PowerPoint presentation when he interviewed for the job. The front office must blend the prospects with the holdovers and the outside acquisitions. Determining which ones are the keepers and which ones could be packaged in trades.
Elias must give up something to get the top-of-the-rotation starter or big bat that he desires if veering away from free agency. Rival executives are aware of the farm system’s rankings and which players could be blocked. They’ll want to poach.
As Elias said on Wednesday, “I think we’re going to have to (trade prospects) if we want to import players from trade. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get it done without sending any prospects.”
The trick, of course, is choosing the right ones. Don’t give away too much and come away with Glenn Davis.
Signing players only costs money, and the Orioles feel like they have more to offer beyond the cash. Their reputation seems to be repaired. They’ve come more desirable.
“I think this is a very attractive free agent destination now,” Elias said. “We hear great compliments from our players about the clubhouse environment that Brandon’s built, about the way our players get better here and have really put that on display this year. It’s a great town, it’s a great ballpark, it’s now a great place to pitch, and I think that we’re going to have a lot of players want to come join this team.
“It was a really fun vibe all year long. The whole world got to see it. This is the varsity division. You’re playing on national TV with the lights on, and that’s attractive, too, even though the competition’s tough. So, I expect that we’re going to have a lot of interest in guys wanting to join this group.”
The Orioles already are mapping out their plans through meetings that have been held for the past month. This includes evaluating players at Triple-A and Double-A who, as Elias put it, “are on the radar screen for 2023.”
“I think if you’re looking for a sweeping statement about it, I don’t think we want to put ourselves in a position where we’re taking something for granted, and you have to prepare for the reality that a lot of players struggle in their first introduction to the major leagues, although Adley (Rutschman) and Gunnar (Henderson) and Kyle (Stowers) have done pretty well this year,” Elias said.
“We like that we have internal depth and internal options coming, but I think it’s always helpful if we can have some insurance against not just stutter steps in their development or performance, but maybe injuries.”
So here we are, tracking the small stuff as the playoffs begin tonight and waiting for the business gates to bust open. The Orioles will talk trade, they’ll negotiate with agents, and they’ll try to determine which prospects are on board for liftoff.