Taking another look at Orioles' offseason interests

The business conducted by the Orioles can be brought out into the open, whether from the outset or at its conclusion, or held behind closed warehouse doors. The public finds out about decisions made on the 40-man roster and in arbitration talks without knowing all of the mechanisms.

Negotiations with free agents and executives usually are kept private, as least by the club. Too much leaked information can wash away the progress made, with other teams perhaps using it to their advantage.

The Orioles were occupied yesterday with tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players Anthony Santander, Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, Jorge Mateo, Dillon Tate and Austin Voth, and the non-eligible group on the 40-man roster. They can negotiate contracts until Jan. 13, and if unsuccessful, head to hearings.

But there’s always something else going on beyond what we see.

Catcher Mark Kolozsvary passed through waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday, a process hidden until the Orioles announced the outcome. It was significant because only one catcher remained on the 40-man roster, and the overall number of players dropped to 38.

Kolozsvary can’t refuse the assignment – it’s his first and he hasn’t accrued the necessary service time – so the assumption is that he’ll be invited to spring training and compete for the backup job.

I received a message this week from a fan asking whether executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias was waiting until after the Rule 5 draft to “make any moves.” My response: “Not if he can do it sooner.”

Elias isn’t waiting. He just isn’t sharing.

I’ve heard from some industry folks that the Orioles are talking to the representatives for multiple free agent pitchers and are setting up meetings between the players, Elias and manager Brandon Hyde, whose inclusion is significant. Part of selling a pitcher on Baltimore is introducing him to the guy who quickly won over the clubhouse after his hiring.

The Orioles aren’t expected to be serious bidders for the most expensive pitchers on the market, though it doesn’t hurt to open the lines of communication and perhaps float an offer. There are plenty on the second tier who could slot somewhere among the top three starters in the rotation.

Early offseason rumblings have the Orioles active in the markets for left-handed-hitting corner outfielders, first basemen and designated hitters.

While the team already is deep in outfielders on the 40-man roster and among its top prospects, with Colton Cowser expected to debut at some point in 2023 and Heston Kjerstad at least a consideration to begin the year at Double-A Bowie, it can use the DH spot to rotate players and rest Ryan Mountcastle.

Joc Pederson might have been a nice fit, but he accepted the Giants’ qualifying offer. I’m a bit intrigued by Michael Brantley, a professional hitter with an injury history that could scare away some teams. Brandon Belt’s also on the market after 12 seasons with the Giants.

Cody Bellinger, anybody? The Dodgers non-tendered him, with MLBTradeRumors.com projecting his salary at $18.1 million. He’s taken a mighty dive since his 2019 Most Valuable Player season.

A key designation here is an apparent preference for left-handed hitters, whatever the names. And that includes second basemen with Rougned Odor’s departure.

I still haven’t heard anything about, or gotten the sense that, the Orioles are targeting shortstops to upgrade the lineup. At least at the moment, they seem more likely to lean on their internal candidates while concentrating on the above-mentioned positions.

The flexibility on the current roster allows the Orioles to put Mateo, Gunnar Henderson or Ramón Urías at shortstop. They can co-exist in the same lineup, with Henderson proving to be a quality defender at third base and Urías winning a Gold Glove at the position.

Mateo played only shortstop this year, with the Orioles wanting him to concentrate on one position while they evaluated him. He flourished, of course, winning a Fielding Bible Award, but he’s able to move around the infield.   

Joey Ortiz, added to the 40-man roster this week, is a plus defender at short who’s also capable of moving to second or third. Jordan Westburg, the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year who’s expected to be invited to camp, also had to bounce around the infield due to the number of infield prospects.

Terrin Vavra was a second baseman and corner outfielder as a rookie, but he played a lot of shortstop in the Rockies system.

Infield drills in spring training could be very interesting. Tracking where players are taking ground balls and getting in significant work.

Note: Orioles Dominican Summer League pitcher Henry Tejada has received a 60-game suspension without pay after testing positive for Nandrolone, a performance-enhancing substance, in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. The suspension will be effective at the start of his 2023 season.

Tejada, 18, had a 2.10 ERA in seven games, including three starts. He walked 15 batters and struck out 25 in 25 2/3 innings in his first professional season after signing in January.

After 40-man add, Drew Rom is searching for additi...
Checking in on more free agent pitching

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