Spring notebook on contracts, playoff talk, early arrivals, new rules and more

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles implemented a policy under their new regime that eliminated public consumption of the contract statuses of their front office and manager. Brandon Hyde has entered his option year after his hiring in December 2018, but anything beyond it remains under wraps.  

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, who’s believed to be working under a five-year deal handed out a month before he selected Hyde, also is unwilling to share any details. However, he offered more hints this morning about their long-term futures in Baltimore.

Asked specifically about Hyde, Elias said, “It’s an area that for better or for worse, I don’t believe it’s in the club’s interests, in anyone working here’s interests, to know the expiration dates on the contracts of our baseball ops employees. That includes him.

“I think you can look at the job that we’ve done rebuilding this team and I know he and I are very proud of it. Obviously, we have an outstanding working relationship so far that’s been very successful, in my opinion, and productive for the team, and I think that people are, for better or worse, going to have to get used to he and I here for a while. I think we’re going to have a lot of success going forward, and he’s done a great job and I was glad to see him get some recognition last year.

“I also was very proud of the fact that, for maybe the first time in recent baseball history, we’ve had the same manager from the beginning of a rebuild through the point of competition, and I think that says a lot and is something he doesn’t get enough credit for.”

Elias isn’t going to be forthcoming about his own situation, laughing at a reporter’s playful attempt to draw out more information.

“That wouldn’t be a question for me in the same way that I’m sure Brandon or our coaches would defer to me on theirs,” he said. “It’s not something that I feel is my business to go popping off about, but we’re very committed to this project with the Orioles.

“I’ve said before, it’s kind of personal for me, growing up in the area, to see the health of this franchise persist and blossom in the future, and I’m really proud to be here and proud of the way that it’s going.”

Will the media be talking to Elias in that exact spot, outside the baseball operations building, one year from now?

“Again, that’s not up to me either,” he said, laughing. “I certainly expect that to be the case, but this is a tough racket and I don’t take anything for granted in this gig or this line of work. Changes happen up and down organizations all the time.”

“I think that the management team that’s here, this has been a really hard job. We inherited a lot of problems, we’ve been working through them. They’re very big global problems but also big issues with the baseball operation when we came in, and I think … this has really gone about as well as I could have hoped since starting, especially with the pandemic layered in there and a labor stoppage. I think this group is really equipped to be the ones that lead us to the playoffs and beyond. So, I hope that’s how it plays out.”

Hyde is entering his first camp with the Orioles coming off a winning season, and with their expectations soaring.

"It was a tough few years, an unusual few years, also," he said. "It feels good. I feel proud if the organization, how far we've come. You just look at our spring training roster and you're really encouraged by the amount of talent that's there, and we're still fairly inexperienced and we have a lot of young dudes who haven't been in the big leagues yet who are incredibly talented. It's really, really exciting. 

"To be able to get to this point, it's not easy to do, and I give Mike and the front office a ton of credit for the way they've drafted and signed players and claimed the right guys. And the kind of character, too. We have high character guys, so not just talented, but high-character guys. It's nice to kind of get over the hump, so to speak."

* The Orioles are talking playoffs but not everyone is buying it.

PECOTA calculates their win total at 73.8, with a last-place finish in the division. ZiPS, which is under the FanGraphs umbrella, has them finishing below .500. Various betting sites are doing the same.

“I think those are lower than I would expect to see,” Elias said. “I think that’s the nature of it. You kind of tend to have some in-house bias, so to speak, on your own players with any kind of projections because you’re acquiring and keeping those players for those reasons, but we really like this team and it’s going to be a dogfight. I know that. I think we’ve got a good shot to get into the playoffs this year and we’re going for that.”

Elias trusts Hyde and his staff to get players ready for the season no matter how the club or industry views them.

“I’ll yield to their plans there,” he said.

Elias sees three position player roster spots that are wide open. The pitching side has the obvious rotation battles and more bullpen uncertainty with injuries to Dillon Tate and Félix Bautista.

“To me, it’s eight or nine roster spots that really don’t have somebody with a firm grip on the job right now,” Elias said. “I think that’s a pretty healthy competition in camp for a team that has its starting lineup somewhat penciled out.”

Starters who can’t win jobs in the rotation could land in the ‘pen. Room is expanding.

“It’s definitely possible,” Elias said. “I think it depends on the guy. I think one thing that we’re going to have to be mindful of is if one of our better starting pitchers doesn’t make the opening day rotation of five, and would be a clear help out of the bullpen, do we want to short-change that guy’s starting career or risk jeopardizing it by compressing them into a bullpen role just to help the early season 2023 team when they could be continuing their development as a starting pitcher.

“I think we’re going to cross that bridge when we come to it because those are not easy decisions and they’re best made with the context of everything else going on. But I think that’s something to keep in mind. We won’t just take some of our best starters and turn them into relievers just for the short term. Or at least, we won’t do it without being thoughtful about it.”

* Elias hasn’t turned away from the free agent market. It remains a path to upgrading the roster.

“I can’t handicap it,” he said. “Obviously, the list is dwindling, but there are still free agents and those that I would classify as legitimate major league free agents that we’re pursuing. Just don’t know what’s going to happen at this point.”

* Outfielders Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander arrived early because they’re leaving camp in a few weeks for the World Baseball Classic. Other position players who showed up ahead of Monday’s report date include Ryan Mountcastle, Terrin Vavra, Colton Cowser, Ryan McKenna, Gunnar Henderson, Joey Ortiz, Coby Mayo, Jackson Holliday, César Prieto, Daz Cameron and Robert Neustrom.

Holliday was invited after the Orioles selected him first overall in the 2022 draft.

“We talked about it with him,” Elias said. “When you take a high school kid with the first couple picks in the draft, it’s probably unusual for them to come to major league spring training, but we thought he could handle it, we thought he was ready for it. He had a really good debut and did well in A ball, and he seems to be a very mature kid, so we thought it would be a good experience for him, even though that’s not the norm like it is for a college player.

“I’m happy that he’s here and I’ve got to say, it’s been really fun watching infield drills so far the first couple days with him mixing in with that group. It’s a really talented group of guys going through the infield motions right now.”

Holliday’s locker is set up between Cameron's and Nomar Mazara's. Cowser’s locker is in between Heston Kjerstad's and Jordan Westburg's. Grayson Rodriguez is sitting next to veteran Kyle Gibson.

Mullins inherits the corner locker previously belonging to Adam Jones and Trey Mancini.

* Adley Rutschman caught Gibson’s bullpen session this morning. He also set the target for Kyle Bradish in the early portion.

Gibson was joined by Cole Irvin, Austin Voth and Mychal Givens. Bradish was in the group with Dean Kremer, Mike Baumann and Bruce Zimmermann.

* Kremer will be leaving camp to play for Team Israel. The risk, of course, is ramping up too quickly for the competition rather than easing into it.

"I think you always have concern when guys are playing those types of games in the middle of March," Hyde said. "But it's such an awesome opportunity and happy for them. All three of those guys are super excited about it and a cool thing for them to do."

* The Orioles began the process of educating their players on the new rules, including the pitch clock and restrictions on pickoff throws, and working with the bigger bases.

“We’ll have drills and things like that to kind of simulate game situations,” Hyde said.

Hyde believes the hitters could be most impacted by the pitch clock, feeling "a little bit rushed."

The over/under on stolen bases for Mullins and Jorge Mateo, who combined for 69 in 2022?

“In spring?” Hyde quipped. "I would hope they're going to have more than last year. They'll have the green light."

* Overall, the first day of camp felt normal, which was the ideal outcome.

Fans watching the workouts on the back fields beneath a blue sky, the media granted access. No masks in the clubhouse, no temperatures taken before entering.

The Orioles made it through the COVID stage and last winter’s lockout that pushed back and shortened the camp.

“I was joking all winter that unless we get attacked by aliens, we should have a normal spring training,” Elias said. “It looks like we can’t totally rule that out at this point, unfortunately, but we’re all very happy to be here. It’s nice to have the lengthy spring training calendar. Feels like we haven’t had that in a while. This is a little more leisurely pace leading up to games, which is great. And characteristically, excellent Sarasota weather and vibes so far. It’s hard to understate how happy we all are to have that stuff behind us.”

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