Questions keep coming as Orioles ready for spring training

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The Orioles broke camp last spring with a 28-man roster after Major League Baseball and the union approved its expansion through May 1, one of the changes caused by the lockout. Fifteen of those players weren’t with the club on 2021 opening day: pitchers Jordan Lyles, Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Keegan Akin, Joey Krehbiel and Mike Baumann, infielders Kelvin Gutiérrez, Rougned Odor, Jorge Mateo and Chris Owings, outfielders Ryan McKenna and DJ Stewart, and catchers Robinson Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom.

Bautista, Pérez, Mateo, McKenna, Baker, Krehbiel, Akin, Baumann and Bemboom remain in the organization, and the others are with new teams or waiting to sign.

Lyles joined the Royals on a two-year, $17 million deal. Odor and Chirinos also made it through the entire season with the Orioles but are major league free agents.

At least a dozen players could be on the charter to Boston who weren’t with the Orioles last opening day: Pitchers Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, Mychal Givens, DL Hall and Austin Voth, infielders Gunnar Henderson, Adam Frazier and Terrin Vavra, outfielder Kyle Stowers and catcher James McCann.

Rule 5 selection Andrew Politi will try to squeeze into the bullpen. At least one of the non-roster players - a group that includes first baseman Lewin Díaz and first basemen/outfielders Ryan O’Hearn and Franchy Cordero - will try to be counted among the opening day newcomers with the Orioles.

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Orioles roster seems to be nearing completion but hasn't necessarily reached that point

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The Orioles ventured into the offseason with the stated goal of finding veteran starting pitching to supplement a collection of younger, promising arms with varying degrees of major league success, none of it sustained for significant periods. John Means is the undisputed ace but shelved by reconstructive surgery on his left elbow that could sideline him for the first half. The others showed flashes of becoming established in the rotation, some a little brighter than others.

Kyle Gibson signed a $10 million contract for 2023 and left-hander Cole Irvin was acquired in a trade with the Athletics, providing four years of team control and another consumer of innings. Perhaps a slight deviation from the club’s initial vision of how the free agent market would play out, though it wasn’t expressed publicly in exact terms.

The second tier wasn’t as much of a bargain as perceived early in the process, but the Orioles eventually were able to land their veterans, and at a much lower cost. Irvin hasn’t reached his first year of arbitration eligibility.

Never assume that the front office is done, even though the numbers – and these are available to the media – show an overflow of starters for a five-man rotation and could flood the bullpen.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias also prioritized left-handed bats for first base, second base and the corner outfielder. Players who also could contribute as the designated hitter.

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A look at what Adam Frazier could add for the Orioles

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As infielder/outfielder Adam Frazier joins the Orioles this year after signing a one-year deal for $8 million in December, which player on offense will the club be getting? The player that was above average in 2021 when he was a National League All-Star, or the player that was below average last season?

Or maybe the stats meet somewhere in the middle.

In 2021, over 639 plate appearances between Pittsburgh and San Diego, Frazier hit .305/.368/.411/.779 with 36 doubles, five triples, five homers, 43 RBIs, 10 steals and 83 runs scored.

But over 602 plate appearances for Seattle, which made the postseason in 2022, the 31-year-old lefty hitter batted .238/.301/.311/.612 with 22 doubles, four triples, three homers, 42 RBIs, 11 steals and 61 runs.

Big difference in that Frazier’s OPS+ was 114 in 2021 and just 80, or 20 percent below league average, last season. Frazier has a career .728 OPS, which produces an OPS+ of 99, or just about at league average for his career.

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Sifting through spring training storylines as report date nears

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The offseason is melting away like Frosty. Not quite a puddle, but it’s getting mushier.

(I’m still wondering why Santa Claus left Karen on the roof of her house rather than dropping her off at the front door. She should have demanded to speak with his manager. But I digress …)

The report date for Orioles pitchers and catchers is exactly one month away. A few days earlier for Dillon Tate (Team USA) and Dean Kremer (Team Israel) as they ready for the World Baseball Classic and are marked as absent in camp.

The Orioles already have them pegged for the 26-man roster on opening day. The only concern is how they’ll ramp up earlier than normal, which in theory could make them more vulnerable to an injury. Manager Brandon Hyde will wave goodbye with fingers crossed.

Knowing how close we are to a Sarasota dateline creates another round of camp curiosities, which I’m formulating this weekend between NFL playoff games.

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Checking the current IF depth chart and what may be on the way

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If we were to take a shot at the Orioles depth chart in the infield right now in a look ahead at opening day 2023, the four starters would likely include a newcomer to the team and a rookie with just 18 starts at the position where he may well be on opening day.

It might also include Ramón Urías, the 2022 American League Gold Glove winner at third base, not starting there when a new season begins. During the offseason, Urías became the O’s first Gold Glove winner at any position since Manny Machado in 2015. He joins Brooks Robinson and Machado as one of only three to win a Gold Glove at third for the Orioles.

But and this should not be a real surprise, my starters as of today on the Baltimore infield are Ryan Mountcastle at first base, Adam Frazier at second, Jorge Mateo at short and Gunnar Henderson at third base. It could be that Urías and Frazier platoon at second base or that Urías plays all over the infield. For his O’s career he has made 94 starts at third base, 48 at second and 44 at shortstop.

Frazier I will guess was not signed to sit much, so for now I see him as the second base starter. This despite the fact his 2022 offensive numbers are behind Urías. Frazier produced a .612 OPS last year, which was 20 percent below league average. Urías was three percent above the league at .720. On paper, based on last year, Urías was the better player.

But Frazier was a 2021 All-Star when his OPS was .779 with a .305 batting average between Pittsburgh and San Diego.

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Needing more answers about the Orioles

Kyle Bradish pitching white

Tyler Nevin was designated for assignment on Wednesday and we still don’t know whether he’s staying in the organization as an outright or joining another team via a trade or waiver claim.

I have a few more questions before 2022 turns into 2023.

How will a new double play combination impact the proficiency in turning them?
Adam Frazier could get most of the starts at second base or he might be busy switching between the infield and outfield. He’s signed for one season and could get bumped over the summer for one of the prospects. But he’s here right now and his main position is second base.

Gunnar Henderson is expected be the third baseman despite Ramón Urías winning a Gold Glove in 2022. Henderson also will be used at shortstop. Urías will move around the infield, with his primary landing spot to be determined.

Rougned Odor is gone after contributing to a defense that turned 150 double plays, the second-most in the American League and fifth-most in the majors. Odor had his deficiencies, but this was one area where he seemed to excel.

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What's done and what remains for Orioles

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The week between Christmas and New Year's tends to be a dead zone in baseball. Silent nights until after the last champagne cork and aspirin are popped.

The ball drops, jokes are made about teams that can’t field, and the next round of business commences.

Oh sure, there are exceptions.

The Orioles, for example, signed pitcher Kohl Stewart on Dec. 29, 2019. He opted out in 2020, citing underlying conditions that put him at risk during the pandemic, and he didn’t appear in another major league game until 2021 with the Cubs.

Free-agent pitchers Miguel Tejada, Paul Demny, Jon Link and Brooks Kieschnick signed minor league deals on Dec. 28, 2017, Dec. 27, 2015, Dec. 28, 2011 and Dec. 26, 2005, respectively. Small stuff, of course. Dinner didn’t get cold while the media filed stories. But it happened.

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What might be still to come for the Orioles

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Hey, Birdland and all readers here, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season. 

We can make no promises, but the time leading up to Jan. 1 should be pretty quiet around baseball. We'll see if that holds.

But here are a few more questions about the Orioles as the New Year soon arrives.

Is a big trade still coming?: The Orioles have yet to pull off a deal where they trade from their deep pool of prospects. They have the No. 1-ranked farm in the game, and surely their top 30 list and beyond will draw the attention of all teams in the sport.

Is a big trade for a frontline pitcher in their future? The Orioles were unable or unwilling to sign a top-of-rotation starter. Could that pitcher be had via a deal?

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Catching up on a few recent moves

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A few thoughts today on some Orioles moves from over the last week or so.

The addition of Mychal Givens: I had written early in the offseason that I thought the Orioles should look to add to the bullpen. This came at a time when most of the focus was on a top starter and a big bat.

Eventually, it would be great to see the Orioles have a starting rotation like Houston's, which last year featured five pitchers throwing 148 innings or more. That led to the Astros' bullpen throwing the fewest innings in the American League while recording the No. 1 bullpen ERA. Keeping your relievers fresh and in their roles lends itself to a lot of good things happening with the ‘pen pitchers.

The addition of Givens gives the O’s another solid bullpen arm that lengthens their 'pen. The trade of Jorge López late last year that moved Félix Bautista to the ninth inning took away a setup reliever and thinned out the bullpen, which showed some wear and tear late in 2022.

While Bautista is nowhere near an established closer yet, he showed both the talent and makeup to handle the job and did it well, recording 15 saves while posting a 2.19 ERA. Now in the seventh and eighth innings the O’s will have some combination of Cionel Pérez, Dillon Tate, Givens and Bryan Baker. Joey Krehbiel could factor into that, too, as could others, including DL Hall if he doesn’t make the starting five.

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Leftovers on Adam Frazier (with Givens update)

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The reviews from Orioles fans on the Adam Frazier signing can be described most succinctly as mixed.

Arguments that he’s an upgrade and sensible pickup are countered mostly by one word:

“Why?”

As in, why pay $8 million for Frazier when the Orioles can play Ramón Urías, Terrin Vavra and Jordan Westburg at second base?

All three of them could do it in 2023, but the Orioles wanted a left-handed bat. Urías and Westburg don’t check that box. Vavra is in the early stages of his major league career, though it’s an impressive start with his .340 on-base percentage in 40 games.

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Frazier eager to join "an exciting young team" in Baltimore

Adam Frazier Mariners white

The Orioles have arranged a video introduction in a few days between Adam Frazier and their hitting coaches who want to learn more about him before they tackle the reasons why his offensive production took a nosedive this summer.

The front office already has gotten ahead of the process.

Frazier signed a one-year, $8 million contract on Thursday to wrap up a recruiting mission that began early in the offseason. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and others in the organization sold him on the data available to hitters, the favorable aspects of Camden Yards, the chance to stay in the lineup.

Their interest was made abundantly clear through words and actions.

“I didn’t have my best offensive performance last season and Mike had asked what kind of adjustments I was making or trying to make this offseason, and then pulled up a frame of exactly what I had said,” Frazier said today in a Zoom call with the media, “so it seems like they’ve done their homework on myself and it seemed like we kind of view things in a similar manner.”

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This, that and the other

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With so much attention thrown at the Orioles’ rotation and the free-agent starters who keep signing with other clubs, Adam Frazier looked like a guy yesterday sneaking through the back door.

The Orioles signed Frazier to a one-year, $8 million contract, increasing their offseason spending on the major league roster to $18 million.

Left-handed bats have been a priority. Finding a player who can replace Rougned Odor at second base has been a priority. Frazier checks those boxes, and he also can play the corner outfield.

That’s three boxes. Or four if breaking it down to left and right.

Frazier won’t duplicate Odor’s power, but he makes contact - he ranked in the top five percent in the majors with a 12.1 percent strikeout rate and 14.4 whiff rate this year, per Statcast – and he hit .305/.368/.411 in 2021 during his only All-Star season. He’s an above-average fielder at second, with 15 defensive runs saved, a 1.5 ultimate zone rating and 11 outs above average, and he's twice been a finalist for a Gold Glove.

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Orioles sign Adam Frazier to 2023 contract

Adam Frazier Mariners blue

The Orioles found their left-handed hitting second baseman.

Adam Frazier signed a one-year contract this afternoon worth a guaranteed $8 million. The club announced the length of the deal and an industry source confirmed the amount.

Frazier, who turned 31 yesterday, will be joining his fourth team since 2021. He appeared in a career-high 156 games for the Mariners this season, most on the club, and slashed .238/.301/.311 with 22 doubles, four triples, three home runs, 42 RBIs, 61 runs scored, 46 walks and a career-high 11 stolen bases.

The four triples also led the Mariners and tied for ninth in the American League.

Frazier was an All-Star in 2021, which he split between the Pirates and Padres. He hit a combined .305/.368/.411 in 155 games with 36 doubles, five triples, five home runs, 43 RBIs, 48 walks and 10 steals.

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