Orioles agree to terms with Jake Cave

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The Orioles have made the following roster moves:

  • Agreed to terms with OF Jake Cave on a one-year contract for the 2023 season.
  • RHP Chris Ellis has elected free agency in lieu of accepting an outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk.
  • C Aramis Garcia has elected free agency in lieu of accepting an outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk.
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MLBPipeline's Jim Callis on Heston Kjerstad's play in the AFL

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On the first night of play in the Arizona Fall League, Orioles outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad crushed a homer to right-center and he’s been hitting ever since. Today it seems quite likely that he will be selected to play in the AFL’s Fall Stars game this Sunday. He is taking part in the AFL Home Run Derby on Saturday.

Through Wednesday in 19 AFL games, Kjerstad has hit .353/.385/.624 with a 1.009 OPS, eight doubles, five homers and 17 RBIs. He was tied for the AFL homer lead and ranks sixth in the league in OPS.

Jim Callis, senior writer for MLBPipeline.com, saw Kjerstad play in person earlier in the AFL season.

“On opening day, I saw him hit a massive home run at Scottsdale Stadium,” said Callis. “The good news for Orioles fans is he looks like the guy, the No. 2 pick in the draft from a few years ago. He looks like the guy I thought was the best left-handed college power hitter in that draft. I had seen him at the College World Series in the past and he’s got big left-handed power. It's power over hit (tool). He’s got about a 30 percent strikeout rate in the Fall League. He’s always had some strikeouts but still managed to hit for average if that makes sense.

“He looks like the type of guy that could hit .260 with maybe 30 homers. He’s not a blazing runner or anything, but he moves well enough. He’s got a strong arm. I haven’t talked to the Orioles since I’ve seen him, but I have to think they are quite pleased with how he’s looked.”

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This, that and the other

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The Orioles can’t be assured of anything next season based on their success in 2022. It might be a launching pad. It might raise hopes and expectations that can’t be met.

If momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, it can’t be relied on to sustain through the winter and spring. The slate is clean for everybody.

Though it’s still early, with the last game played only a month ago, the Orioles are anticipating a return to absolute normalcy.

The pandemic shut down spring training in 2020, chopped the schedule down to 60 games and destroyed the minor league season, and its influence remained in 2021. The expiration of the old collective bargaining agreement last December led to a prolonged shutdown, late start to a shortened spring training, and significant adjustments to the schedule and how earlier games were managed.

Everyone had the same challenges, but the field wasn’t level. Some teams were better equipped to handle the strife than others.

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Urías reacts to first Gold Glove and updates knee injury

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The surprised reactions this week to Ramón Urías winning a Gold Glove at third base weren’t shared by the Orioles infielder.

Urías knew the numbers. He understood that his chances were good. He didn’t concede the honor to Toronto’s Matt Chapman or Cleveland’s José Ramírez.

Let the others express their doubts and skepticism.

The 14 Defensive Runs Saved, 10.9 Ultimate Zone Rating and 11.1 SABR Defensive Index computed for Urías led all American League third basemen. He was armed with solid arguments.

“I knew that I had a shot to win at Gold Glove this year, especially because of the metrics,” Urías said today on a video call with media.

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MASN Orioles Podcast predicts who the O's will sign in free agency

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WATCH THE MASN ALL ACCESS PODCAST 

The Baltimore Orioles are in uncharted territory. 

When Mike Elias was hired in November 2018, the Orioles were in full rebuild mode. The O’s had already parted ways with Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Zack Britton, Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day.

Offseasons under Elias have been approached in similar ways: Sign low-cost veterans that can help the team in the short-term and hope they can be flipped for prospects at the deadline. That approach, among other things, led to the organization’s No. 1 farm system ranking, and allowed the Orioles to find diamonds in the rough through waiver claims, trades and small-money signings. 

Elias’ patient approach culminated in a 2022 season in which the Orioles vastly out-performed expectations, racking up 83 wins and finishing just three games out of the final American League Wild Card spot.

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The big man with a big arm had a big year for the Orioles

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These stats seem pretty good. And probably just about any pitcher would take such numbers.

* Top three percent of Major League Baseball in strikeout percentage.

* Top one percent in velocity.

* Top eight percent in whiff percentage and expected slugging against.

* Ranks 10th in the American League in ERA among pitchers throwing 60 or more innings.

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Modeling Houston and chasing a consistent playoff contender

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If the Orioles' rebuilding efforts were and are at least partially being modeled after the Astros, is there a way to compare where Baltimore is in the process in looking at Houston’s winning run?

Sure we can look at it and it provides an interesting exercise. But it is certainly not an apples to apples comparison.

The Orioles lost 100 or more games for three straight full seasons from 2018 through 2021. Houston did that from 2011-2013. The 2014 Astros then went 70-92 taking a step forward and breaking out of the 100-loss rut. The Orioles did that going 83-79 last season. The 2015 Houston team then won 86 and made the American League Division Series, so they were in the postseason in year two post 100-loss seasons and that timeframe would put Baltimore in the 2023 playoffs. The 2016 Astros though won just 84 and missed out on the playoffs.

But that all led to 2017, a tainted World Series win, but also the beginning of a run of four World Series appearances in six years. Which team wouldn’t take that run of success? The Orioles did that once of course in yesteryear, from 1966 to 1971, winning the WS twice in the greatest run of success in team history.

So Houston had the 100-loss years, then three seasons with one playoff appearance leading into six years of consistent winning and  World Series appearances. If the O’s followed that exactly, which is unlikely of course, they would be looking at one playoff appearance over the next two years with things really humming starting in 2025.

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Some important dates on the baseball calendar

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The World Series is three games deep, stalled a bit after Monday night’s postponement in Philadelphia. The real offseason also is on hold, with some teams making smaller 40-man roster moves until the heavy lifting commences.

For example, the Orioles must decide five days after the World Series whether to exercise Jordan Lyles’ $11 million option. That’s a big one.

They can keep him, they can put him back on the free agent market with a $1 million buyout and move on, or they can decline it and attempt to re-sign him to a lesser deal.

There's also the pick up and trade possibility, which happened with shortstop José Iglesias. Probably not, but it has to be mentioned. 

Players on the 60-day injured list will return to the 40-man roster. John Means is the last Oriole after Chris Ellis’ outright to Triple-A Norfolk. Other players who are pending free agents finally can hit the market after the World Series.

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Ramón Urías wins first career Rawlings Gold Glove

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Rawlings today announced that RAMÓN URÍAS has been named the 2022 American League Gold Glove Award recipient at third base. The award is voted on by Major League managers and coaches, which accounts for 75 percent of the selection process. The other 25 percent is based on the SABR Defensive Index™ (SDI).

Urías, 28, led AL third basemen and finished third among all AL fielders with an 11.1 SDI. He was 3.9 SDI better than the next qualified AL third baseman. Urías’ SDI is the best by an Orioles fielder since J.J. HARDY’S 11.9 in 2016 and the best by a Baltimore third baseman since MANNY MACHADO’S 11.8 in 2015. SDI is a measure of the number of runs saved by a player's defensive performance over the course of a season, compared to the average defensive player at that position. The SDI combines measures from six different defensive data sources and includes factors that rate a defender’s arm strength and accuracy, range and sure-handedness, and the number of “excellent” and “poor” fielding plays made.

He also led AL third basemen with 14 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), per Sports Info Solutions, and with a 10.9 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), per FanGraphs. Urías’ DRS is the best in a single season by an O’s third baseman since Machado’s 18 in 2015. His UZR is the best by an Orioles defender since Hardy’s 11.4 in 2014 and the best by a Baltimore third baseman since Machado’s 20.8 in 2013. Both DRS and UZR take a variety of game situations into account including infielders’ performance on balls hit in the air, range, throwing success, double play ability, fielding bunts, and the impact of good plays/misplays that are not accounted for in other components.

Urías tied for the AL lead among third basemen with seven Outs Above Average (OAA), per Statcast. Since MLB began tracking in 2016, his OAA are tied with Machado for the most by an Orioles third baseman. OAA is a range-based metric of skill that shows how many outs a player has saved.

This season, he finished with eight errors in 259 total chances at third base for a .969 fielding percentage and nine errors in 350 combined total chances between second base, third base, and shortstop for a .974 overall fielding percentage.

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Random take Tuesday

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He didn’t get anything going against the Orioles in a three-game series near the end of the year, but Aaron Judge has hammered Baltimore pitching so much over the years that if he leaves the Yankees, no one in Birdland will shed a tear.

Elation might be the prevailing emotion.

Before Birdland gets too excited about that prospect, for one, Judge might not leave. For two, the Nationals won the World Series the year after Bryce Harper left via free agency. The Astros, who once had George Springer, Carlos Correa and Gerrit Cole on their team, are in another World Series without that trio.

It’s still a team game. Stars are important, but good teams can win even as great players move on.

But seeing Judge, a free agent, sign with a National League team, would be welcoming news in Birdland. In the next-to-last series of the 2022 regular season, with Judge trying to hit his 62nd homer to set an AL record, the Orioles pitched Judge tough, and he went 1-for-7 with five walks and six strikeouts in the series. Amid much whining from New York fans and media that they dared to not throw him a meatball.

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Offseason workouts lifted Watson to organizational pitching award

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Ryan Watson didn’t seek out a trainer during the offseason to decrease his chances of being injured. It was more about eliminating some mobility issues, concentrating on hip work and “becoming very aware of his body because he’s so tall,” said Theo Aasen, a strength and conditioning coach who owns Optimal Athlete Kollective in Tampa.

Never did the 6-foot-5 Watson imagine that he’d rise above others in the Orioles organization to be named its minor league Pitcher of the Year. An unexpected byproduct of the many improvements that included a sharper slider and an uptick in fastball velocity.

Watson often worked in the 89-91 mph range last year in his first professional season. He climbed to 93-95 mph this summer and was able to reach 96-97.

Watson’s representative, Francis Marquez of The MAS+ Agency, suggested that the right-hander meet with Aasen.  

“He’s never really lifted in a style that I train, so we taught him how to lift properly and use a full range of strength,” said Aasen, who also worked with Austin Hays, changing the outfielder’s weightlifting routine to get his body more in baseball shape, with improved flexibility, rather than just bulking up. Hays avoided the injured list this year.

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There are plenty of defensive metrics, making sense of them is the problem

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There are some aspects of baseball not up for an argument or debate. It’s simple math and right there in front of our eyes on the stat sheets to see which players won batting titles in each league, or led the league in homers, doubles or saves for instance. It’s clear which team wins the World Series as they decide that on the field.

But some honors are very subjective and up for a vote. And a debate. Like MVP and Cy Young for instance and defensive awards, some of which came out this week.

At this point in baseball we probably have more defensive stats than ever but in my humble opinion, we still struggle as a sport to quantify defense and sometimes there is no consensus about defense. And that is even when intelligent eyes are doing the viewing. And voting.

The finalists were recently announced for Gold Gloves in the American League and the Orioles' Jorge Mateo was not among them at shortstop in the AL. The three finalists were Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, Minnesota’s Carlos Correa and Houston’s Jeremy Peña.

In one advanced metric, Defensive Runs Saved, Mateo ranked ahead of two of the three AL shortstop finalists. While Peña tied for the MLB lead with 15 DRS at short (tied with Miami’s Miguel Rojas), Mateo was next, third in MLB, with 14 DRS. Bogaerts with 4 DRS ranked 11th and Correa at 3 DRS was 12th in the majors.

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Opposing scout offers Kyle Schwarber comp on Heston Kjerstad

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When rosters were revealed last month for every team in the Arizona Fall League, Heston Kjerstad led a group of seven Orioles assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions. He was the biggest name as the second-overall selection in the 2020 draft. He was the biggest deal because, quite simply, everything Kjerstad does warrants our attention.

The draft status, the myocarditis diagnosis, the hamstring injury in March that further delayed his professional debut. The questions about whether Kjerstad would be able to lead a normal, healthy life. Forget baseball for a moment.

But just for a moment.

It always comes back to the game when a player chosen in the first round threatens to be – cruel word alert – a “bust.” But the Orioles weren’t giving up on Kjerstad and he certainly didn’t give up on himself. His attitude remained remarkably positive, and he understood and appreciated the organization’s careful handling of him.

You don’t play around with inflammation of a heart muscle. And on a much smaller scale, you don’t rush the return from a hamstring strain.

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Orioles outright Aramis Garcia to Triple-A Norfolk

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The Orioles have made the following roster moves:

  • Outrighted C Aramis Garcia to Triple-A Norfolk.
  • Reinstated RHP Chris Ellis from the 60-day Injured List and outrighted him to Triple-A Norfolk.

The 40-man roster is at 39 players.

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Revisting notes on Hyde, the bullpen and Lyles

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Today, I'm taking a look back at some recent stories and topics that appeared in this space while discussing some interesting potential O's developments. Such as ...

* What to do with right-hander Jordan Lyles and his 2023 team option for $11 million?

Most seem to be in favor of a return of Lyles, who pitched decently enough for the Orioles and was huge in the clubhouse.

Last season over 32 starts and 179 innings, Lyles went 12-11 with a 4.42 ERA. He allowed 26 homers with 52 walks and 144 strikeouts. His WHIP was 1.385 and he walked 2.6 per nine innings and fanned 7.2. His numbers were similar to 2021 in many respects, except his ERA went down from 5.15 and his homer rate of 1.3 fell from 1.9.

It is well documented that Lyles was a real leader for the pitching staff, and he embraced and enjoyed the role. Right-hander Tyler Wells discussed Lyles’ leadership abilities.

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Returning to reflections on the Orioles' 2022 season

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I think The Supremes said it best when they sang, “Reflections of, the way the season used to be.”

Or something close to that.

My reflections are continuing into late October, after the Orioles took their fans on a thrill ride until finally running out of gas.

I’ve already noted how Matt Harvey never had his contract selected from Triple-A Norfolk, Gunnar Henderson earned a promotion despite his age, Yusniel Diaz stayed only for a cup of coffee, Rougned Odor lasted into September, we never saw Robert Neustrom, DJ Stewart didn’t make it back to the Orioles after three games to begin the season, Jorge Mateo was exclusively a shortstop, Bryan Baker stuck for the entire season, Nick Vespi will never give up another Triple-A run, Joey Krehbiel disappeared after almost going wire-to-wire, Terrin Vavra could wear many hats next season, Jacob Nottingham didn’t get back to the majors, César Prieto’s 2022 ceiling was Double-A, we don’t know how the Orioles view Mike Baumann, and Chris Ellis’ second chance with the Orioles was much worse than the first.

Here are two more:

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A few past and present World Series/postseason notes

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With the start of the World Series last night, I found myself playing around with the Stathead feature on Baseball-Reference.com yesterday checking some vary random facts and notes.

Such as which Oriole played in the most postseason games wearing the Orange and Black only? The Oriole to play the most postseason games for Baltimore was Mark Belanger, who was in 43 such games. Brooks Robinson comes next at 39 and Paul Blair is third with 35 games.

Hall of Famer Frank Robinson with nine, hit the most postseason homers for the Orioles. Brady Anderson, Eddie Murray and Boog Powell each hit six to tie for second. Don Buford and Brooks Robinson hit five each.

When I checked to see the OPS leaders for the O’s in the playoffs, if the standard was just 25 plate appearances at a minimum, here is the top of the list:

1.076 – Harold Baines
1.007 – Nelson Cruz
.955 – Brady Anderson
.949 – Geronimo Berroa
.939 – Todd Zeile

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Ryan Minor diagnosed with colon cancer

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I’m going to peel away from the standard baseball talk this morning and share some sad news about former Orioles third baseman Ryan Minor.

Minor, 48, recently was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. His twin brother, Damon, is involved in setting up a GoFundMe page to gather donations on behalf of his wife Allyson.

Why good people keep being hit with this kind of news is forever a source of tremendous frustration. And you can be sure that Minor is one of the really good guys in the industry and outside of it. A high-character individual and as nice as they come.

Minor spent parts of three seasons with the Orioles from 1998-2000 and finished his major league career with the Expos in 2001 after they acquired him in a trade for reliever Jorge Julio.

The Orioles hired Minor as hitting and infield coach with Single-A Delmarva in 2008, after he served as the first hitting coach for the independent York Revolution. He managed the Shorebirds from 2010-12 and high Single-A Frederick in 2013 before returning to Delmarva for the 2014-17 seasons. He managed the Keys again in 2018-19 before the Tigers hired him to manage in the Gulf Coast League in 2020.

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Another look at a strong year on the Baltimore farm

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While the Orioles were the surprise team in the majors this year, gaining 31 wins from 2021 to 2022, the Baltimore farm also had a strong year. But there, the win-loss record is not the standard by which success is fully achieved.

Sure, you would like to win on the farm, but developing players and advancing them forward is the top goal. Helping them get better, moving them through the farm and onto the majors. That is the ultimate way to grade the farm – how many players make the majors and are good when they get there. The farm also produces so-called “prospect capital” that can be traded to bring more talent to the organization and improve overall depth while filling holes that might exist.

Only High-A Aberdeen (78-54) made the playoffs among the full-season clubs, losing in the South Atlantic League finals. But Triple-A Norfolk (74-76) and Double-A Bowie (68-70) were near .500. The Baysox lost out on a playoff spot for their second-half record on the final day of the season. Low Single-A Delmarva (49-81) had the poorest record, but it was a roster filled with international players on the rise, many playing full season ball for the first time and taking some lumps along the way.

In midseason farm system rankings, where outlets are grading your total talent in the organization which is not based on wins and losses, Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and ESPN all ranked Baltimore No. 1 out of 30 major league organizations.

The Orioles got to the top, and now we'll find out if they can stay there as the team no doubt will use the farm in some different ways with a major league team ready to win now. You can’t force development, so they won’t be rushing players. But some could join the major league roster faster now as needs arise. And for the first time under Mike Elias, we could see him trading from his surplus of minor league talent to help the major league roster this winter. Up to about now, the team was in the position to try and add prospects of all ages to bolster the farm. It was all about rebuilding.

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Mateo gets glove love with Fielding Bible award

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Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo wasn’t deemed worthy of being a finalist for a Rawlings Gold Glove in the American League, a snub that drew attention inside and outside of the organization. He dazzled and was denied.

If it stung Mateo, he was soothed yesterday with news that he’s receiving a Fielding Bible Award as the best defensive shortstop in the majors.

In either league. One shortstop is selected based on statistical analysis from sabermetrically inclined journalists and other personnel, and it’s Mateo.

The news release from Baseball Info Solutions included this passage on Mateo:

Jorge Mateo was instrumental to the Orioles resurgence, finishing a close third among shortstops with 14 Defensive Runs Saved and tied for second in Good Fielding Plays with 28. He led all shortstops by converting 72 percent of his double play opportunities. He’s the first Orioles shortstop to win the award.”

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