Did Orioles manager Buck Showalter tip his hand at the Winter Meetings about the construction of his bench?
Not the names. The number of players.
Showalter pointed out during his media session how it’s becoming more popular for teams to carry 13 pitches, which leaves three players in reserve roles. That’s a tricky proposition for the Orioles, who must keep Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander for the first 44 days.
They want to find a left-handed hitter. They want to improve their defense. Exactly how would it work?
The topic came up as a reporter wondered how the defense could be upgraded if Manny Machado moved over to shortstop. (We took a break from the trade talk.)
“I’m not committed to Manny going there, but there’s some other things we’re pursuing, especially in the outfield,” Showalter replied. “I thought Trey (Mancini) came leaps and bounds. He’s actually turned into a pretty good outfielder. I know what we’re going to do in right field is a question. For instance, where Mark (Trumbo) would fit into the equation.
“The problem is, if you look at our schedule and the way the game’s going, most people are going with 12 pitchers. So now you’re talking about a catcher and you’re talking about Santander. So you’re talking about one spot left. The premium on that guy being very versatile ... and I think the value of that player in the game today is becoming real, real valuable to teams.
“Most teams are able to develop somebody like that from within. We’re not quite there yet.”
It doesn’t add up for me. The third bench player would have to be a left-handed hitter capable of playing all three outfield spots and the infield.
Did Ryan Flaherty’s ears just perk up?
But seriously, it would be easier to find a utility infielder and a left-handed hitting outfielder, and go with a four-man bench. The Orioles have discussed Jon Jay the last two offseasons - he’d be an ideal fit for the latter role - but they don’t appear to be in on him.
Showalter wants to provide more rest for Jones next season, increasing the importance of finding the right player for the third spot if he’s leaning toward going with a short bench - even if it’s for a short time.
Austin Hays is going to find it more difficult to make the club out of spring training. He can back up in center, but he’s not a left-handed hitter and he’s not going to handle infield duty.
A four-man bench might not make the road that much easier for Hays as long as Santander is in the picture. I talked to a scout at the Winter Meetings who’s watched Hays and thinks the kid is headed toward stardom, but the need for a left-handed bat and a utility infielder could make it too crowded for the former third-round pick.
Backup catcher, Santander, utility infielder and left-handed hitting outfielder/designated hitter. There’s a chance for Hays to work into a platoon in right. There’s plenty of time to sort it out.
Meanwhile, Mancini isn’t hanging on every word that filters out of the hot stove.
Some players track all of the offseason rumors and activity. Others insist that ignorance is bliss and they happily reside in a state of oblivion.
“I’d say I’m somewhere in the middle, probably more so leaning toward I don’t pay much attention to it, but I will check,” Mancini said last week on 105.7 The Fan.
“Every couple days I’ll just look and see if anything big happened. If you go on Twitter and something big happens, it will show up immediately on your feed. I’m a lurker on Twitter. But I kind of err on the side of not paying that much attention.”
Players aren’t asked to cast a vote, but they’d favor reloading over rebuilding.
“If you have the means to do it, usually as a player that’s your mindset,” Mancini said. “Obviously, more goes into it than that, but you always want to win. It is a great group of guys here that we have. That’s always your mindset as a player.”