SARASOTA, Fla. - The shelves on the free agent market continue to empty slowly. Players and agents wait for the buyers’ rush, or baseball’s version of Black Friday
The former Orioles aisle includes designated hitter Pedro Álvarez, outfielder Nolan Reimold, catcher Steve Clevenger and pitcher Steve Johnson, the Baltimore native and former St. Paul’s standout who appeared in 16 games with the Mariners last season. Pitcher Alfredo Simon also is unsigned.
There’s been no connection between the Orioles and Reimold this spring despite the club’s efforts to stockpile outfielders and Michael Bourn’s removal from the competition due to a broken finger. The Orioles don’t expect Bourn to be ready before the middle of April.
Reimold probably will have to accept a minor league offer at this point. A few teams expressed interest earlier in the winter, but the Orioles weren’t in the mix. They still haven’t contacted his agent.
The Orioles don’t have a spot for Álvarez, but they’re still intrigued by him. It’s hard to fathom the veteran slugger having to settle for a minor league deal and it’s the only way that the Orioles would consider bringing him back.
They’ve been known to hold onto someone who falls into their laps.
Craig Gentry’s arrival and the defense and speed that he offers make it more likely that Mark Trumbo gets the vast majority of his at-bats as the designated hitter. Much can change, of course, because it’s only March 4, but the idea that Trumbo will platoon with Seth Smith in right field may be fading. We’ll see.
I honestly don’t know why Johnson stayed on the market for so long. He’s only 29, is healthy, has experience as a starter and reliever, averages 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in the majors and is the type of pitcher that pretty much every team seeks at least at the Triple-A level for depth purposes.
Being out of options works against Johnson in some cases, but it’s not a complicated process to designate him if necessary and try to get him through waivers. He seems like a solid insurance policy.
The Mariners were a tad aggressive with Johnson last season because their bullpen had no flexibility. Without optionable pitchers, the Mariners used Johnson on May 23, 25, 27, 29, 30 and June 1. His last four appearances came on June 9, 11, 12 and 14.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
Johnson posted a 0.79 ERA in 10 relief appearances in May over 11 1/3 innings. He walked seven batters, but also struck out 15. At Triple-A Tacoma, he was 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA and 0.909 WHIP in 22 relief innings and struck out 26 batters.
Angel Pagan is still a free agent and the Orioles had him on their board at the Winter Meetings. They also had concerns about his durability and whether he’d pass their physical. I assumed that a team would have signed him by now, but he’s there for the taking.
The Orioles have been linked to outfielder Marlon Byrd on numerous occasions, including a few years ago at the Winter Meetings when they actually had no interest. Let’s just assume they’re still not in on him.
Doug Fister would be a nice depth piece for the rotation, but would it require a minor league deal? Some members of the organization like him. That much is certain.
Meanwhile, the Orioles travel to Port Charlotte today for their first meeting with the Rays. It’s the second-shortest trip on the schedule and there’s no rush-hour traffic. Let us rejoice.
Manager Buck Showalter is using this spring to evaluate more of the minor league players who are brought over to the Ed Smith Stadium complex. He always makes certain to have extras for games - the “just in case” guys - but it’s especially needed with the various injuries and players leaving for the World Baseball Classic.
Showalter missed Ryan Mountcastle’s game-tying two-run homer Thursday in the split-squad game in Sarasota, but he watched it on tape yesterday morning.
“You know what he got for it? He got a, ‘Get on the van and head to Tampa,’ ” Showalter quipped. “No. I was looking at his face when he popped up the first time. Trying to act like it’s not a big moment, but it is for him. And to come back and respond.
“It’s kind of like when a guy gives up a home run and he gets back in the strike zone and gets the next guy out. That was good to see.”
Showalter also checked out video of left-hander Brian Moran, who retired the Twins in order in the 10th after Mountcastle extended the game past regulation. The Orioles selected Moran, former outfielder B.J. Surhoff’s nephew, from the Braves in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.
“I’ve been trying to see him all spring,” Showalter said. “He’s as advertised. That’s an interesting look. I think we’re down to four or five we want to see. I’m hoping to do it in person.”
Outfielder DJ Stewart, the 2015 first-round pick out of Florida State, also has come over from Twin Lakes Park. He’s no longer batting from a pronounced crouch.
“He’s a little more upright hitting-wise and he looks in better shape than the last time I saw him, just by eyeballing him,” Showalter said. “He’s been working hard. I know he’s been over here a couple times with Brady (Anderson) and done some other things this offseason. I’m expecting him to have a big year this year down below and really get on the map.”