The following nugget won’t cause your head to snap back in disbelief or bring tremors or have you rushing off to tell your friends. It’s been an assumption that’s backed up by multiple people in the industry as the GM meetings closed this week.
The Orioles won’t be major players in free agency.
Slow your heartbeats.
There’s been no indication that the Orioles will be “heavily involved” in free agency, as one person worded it. They met with agents at the GM meetings. They won’t avoid it altogether. But they won’t be on tippy toes reaching for items on the higher shelves.
They could uphold their tradition with a few later signings, one of former executive vice president Dan Duquette’s patented moves. Let the market play out, wait for some prices to go down, hunt for one-year or minor league deals, sell players on the club’s ability to out-opportunity the rest of the field.
The Orioles won’t ignore that avenue, but they aren’t going to rack up a lot of miles. That’s fine. The person hired to run the baseball operations department can take the baton from director of player development Brian Graham and reconnect with various representatives in Las Vegas.
There are lower-tier free agents who absolutely can benefit this club. Infielders will be a priority.
Every hole on the roster can’t be filed with in-house talent. Unfortunately for the Orioles and the rebuild, an executive who’s familiar with the personnel in the organization said he doesn’t see many viable trade pieces that are going to be “franchise changing.” And this isn’t an uncommon perception.
Manny Machado could have been one of those impact players on the market, but not after drawing so close to free agency. No team would part with an elite pitching prospect. The Orioles settled for quantity, though the five-player package in return including promising outfield prospect Yusniel Díaz and starter Dean Kremer, who led the minors in strikeouts this year.
The potential short-term signings referenced above could be flipped at the non-waiver trade deadline, roster upgrades becoming possible pieces to push along the rebuild. The Orioles will need to get creative if they aren’t going to increase payroll or engage in blockbuster deals.
A new front office leader can gauge ownership’s desire or willingness to part with the likes of Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Mychal Givens, the latter likely to break camp as the closer if he stays.
The Orioles can’t live through another starter shortage that made September one of the most challenging periods of manager Buck Showalter’s career, but they’ll listen on anyone. Bundy, Givens and Cobb are under team control through 2021, the latter carrying the heftiest price tag after agreeing to a four-year, $57 million contract in spring training.
Cobb, who can block trades to 10 teams, has $43 million remaining on his contract. There’s deferred money, which also is becoming more common with the Orioles. Another year removed from elbow surgery and a normal spring could make him more appealing on the trade market.
At least one team was willing to give Cobb a three-year deal over the winter, which prompted the Orioles to offer a fourth.
Ask just about anyone in the industry how the Orioles should approach their rebuild and you’ll get feedback on the importance of using available cash to build up the scouting departments. With special emphasis on Latin America.
The foundation must be rebuilt and funding is needed to do it.