The Orioles expressed interest in outfielder Michael Saunders throughout the winter until the trade for Seth Smith lessened the urgency. They had a left-handed hitter for right field with a career .344 on-base percentage.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette wants another player who bats from the left side, but he’s also seeking a plus defender in the outfield and Saunders experienced a decline in 2016.
A cheaper alternative also could present itself after Saunders reportedly agreed to a one-year, $9 million deal with the Phillies that included an $11 million option for 2018 that can increase to $14 million.
The Phillies had been one of the favorites for Saunders - they were my guess to sign him - and the odds grew as the Blue Jays became more focused on Jose Bautista.
The Orioles became a little more intrigued by Bautista as his demands lessened and it appeared that he could be obtained on a one-year deal, but they still didn’t want to surrender a first-round pick for him. No amount of contact with his agent was going to change that fact.
Meanwhile, Trey Mancini just wants to be part of the 25-man roster after the Orioles brought him to Toronto for the wild card game. He’s been working out in California with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, who would like to see the rookie get steady at-bats with the Orioles this season.
Mancini homered in three of his five major league games and is a career .306/.357/.472 hitter in four minor league seasons.
“I love the guy,” Anderson said last week. “The guy can mash. Hits everywhere he goes. As the pitching gets more elite, he’s got a swing that works. Doesn’t try to hit the ball to right field, doesn’t try to put the ball. He sees the ball well and hits the ball all over the field for power and average. That’s what you want out of young hitters and hitters you expect to contribute in the future.”
Mancini hasn’t played the outfield and the Orioles don’t presently seem inclined to experiment with him in spring training, but the plan could change. Otherwise, he’d have to be used primarily as the designated hitter.
Anderson isn’t opposed to putting Mancini in the outfield.
“I would like that,” he said. “I think it would be good for him, it would be good for us to have that option open.
“In my opinion, he’s a pure hitter. You go through anybody that’s played in the big leagues, how many of them are career .300 hitters in the minors? Not many. He’s got a hitting skill. He’s an athletic guy and of course I’d like to see him be able to play multiple positions.”
It’s been suggested by many, including myself, that Mancini could platoon at DH with Pedro Alvarez, who remains on the Orioles’ radar. But I’ve heard a counter argument that Mancini can handle right-handed pitching and shouldn’t be restricted to part-time duty.
Mancini batted .283/.359/.442 against left-handers at Triple-A Norfolk last summer and .278/.346/.422 against right-handers. He hit 11 of his 13 home runs versus right-handers.
Mancini batted .355/.385/.527 in 245 at-bats against right-handers at Double-A Bowie in 2015. He’s never appeared to be overmatched since the Orioles chose him in the eighth round of the 2013 draft out of Notre Dame.
Catcher Chance Sisco also continues to hit. The Orioles are prepared to break camp with Welington Castillo as their starter and Caleb Joseph or Francisco Pena as the backup, though they also like Audry Perez. They will give Sisco more time to mature at Norfolk - he turns 22 next month - and continue to hone his skills behind the plate.
“He’s gotten a lot better and he’s going to continue to get better,” Anderson said. “He’s going to hit. We know that. He’s a really sensible level-headed person who works hard. His strength levels have gone up quite a bit this offseason and he’s moving better. All these things will help him behind the plate.
“Also, there’s certain levels in the minor leagues - this isn’t an excuse or anything for any catcher - but if you have the skills, and he has the hand-eye coordination and soft hands, catching at the major league level is sometimes easier because the pitchers are hitting their spots. You don’t line up low and away and they yank one up and in over your head for a passed ball.
“The precision which major league pitchers have is much greater than it is at the low levels of the minors. And you see that in how catchers are able to set up and be a lot more calmer with their targets without having to worry about pitchers missing by three or four feet.”
As the payroll continues to climb and the Orioles have core players approaching free agency, they need guys like Mancini, Sisco and Joey Rickard on the roster who won’t occupy much of the budget. And it’s clear from talking to Anderson that he believes the trio can make significant contributions. High production at a low cost.
Note: The Orioles will announce later today which players are appearing at FanFest on Jan. 28 at the Baltimore Convention Center and also provide details on the autograph sessions.
Vouchers for autograph sessions will go on sale Wednesday at 10 a.m.
The Orioles will continue an autograph policy designed to support youth charitable endeavors through OriolesREACH and enhance fan engagement with shorter wait times. Children ages 4-14 will have a specially-designated Kids Only player autograph station that’s free of charge and will operate continuously throughout the day.
All other stations will require the advance purchase of autograph vouchers exclusively at www.orioles.com/fanfest for $20 each, with all of the proceeds benefiting children’s charities through OriolesREACH. Since instituting the autograph policy in 2011, FanFest has raised more than $700,000 for the Orioles Charitable Foundation.
There will be 250 vouchers available for each autograph session, guaranteeing that every fan purchasing a voucher for a particular session will receive an autograph from each of the players at the station. The Orioles will make every effort to keep to this autograph schedule, but reserve the right to change or substitute individuals as necessary.
Fans will be able to print their vouchers at home and must present them to the attendant at the appropriate autograph session, shortening the amount of wait time in autograph lines. Fans must be in line for their autograph session no later than 30 minutes after the session begins. Autograph vouchers are not eligible for refunds or exchanges.
If vouchers are still available on the day of the event, they will be available for purchase at the ticket sales location at FanFest. Autograph seekers are encouraged to purchase vouchers in advance. There’s a purchase limit of two autograph vouchers per person per session time. Fans redeeming autograph vouchers must be at least 4 years old and may only redeem one voucher per person per session time.
Season plan members can enter FanFest beginning at 10 a.m. and the first 250 in attendance will receive a voucher to participate in a complimentary autograph session.
Every fan must also purchase a ticket to enter FanFest. Tickets are available online at www.orioles.com/fanfest, via phone at 1-888-848-BIRD, at the Oriole Park Box Office and at the team store at the York Galleria in York, Pa. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children 14 and under and adults 60 and over. On the day of the event, FanFest tickets will be sold at the Convention Center and the Oriole Park Box Office. Season Plan Members have received complimentary tickets via email.