Less than a week before the Winter Meetings begin, if we’re counting Sunday’s flight to Las Vegas and scant opportunities for media access, and the Orioles seem to be in the phase of their managerial search where they compile a list of candidates to interview.
Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and his staff have conducted background searches and eliminated names that had grown to more than two dozen, he claimed Thursday night on the “Orioles Hot Stove” show on 105.7 The Fan.
To make a hire before the first day of the Winter Meetings would require a swift interview process and little deliberation. Impossible? Not at all. But it would be a challenge.
I’ve heard the argument that naming a manager isn’t nearly as important as building the analytics department and hiring scouts to bloat the professional, amateur and international departments, with the latter neglected for too many years. I get it. These areas are hugely critical to turning around the franchise and putting it on solid ground. But, I’ll state again, the manager is going to possess the loudest voice in selecting coaches and there’s the obvious risk of losing out on guys who no longer can wait around for the Orioles to call.
Members of the 2018 staff don’t have jobs, but a new manager might want to bring in a completely different crew.
Otherwise, I’m in agreement that the failure to have a manager at the Winter Meetings isn’t a crippling blow to a team’s attempts to conduct the usual business - sitting down with agents and rival executives.
The Orioles aren’t going to be major players in free agency and much of their activity figures to unfold later in the winter, after they hire Buck Showalter’s replacement.
Not having a manager next week would leave the local beat crew to eat alone at the annual luncheon. I wonder if we’d still get invitations.
Maybe they’ll push together two tables and we could have a mid-Atlantic meal with Nationals manager Davey Martinez. It’s free, so money isn’t an issue.
* Fans are obsessed with Brady Anderson’s role under Elias when they aren’t obsessing over Chris Davis’ contract.
Anderson remains in the fold as vice president of baseball operations. I’ve been writing that he’s expected to stay in the organization, whatever his title, and nothing has changed. Including his title.
Elias could more clearly define Anderson’s duties with the team. Could highlight his skills at negotiating contracts and creating and implementing workout and nutritional programs. Could tap into his knowledge of hitting and baserunning. But somehow make it seem more ... defined.
* Jonathan Schoop was non-tendered by the Brewers and became a free agent, leading to media and fan speculation that he could return to the Orioles after a crummy half-season in the National League.
The Orioles and Brewers wanted no part of a contract for Schoop projected to exceed $10 million. He won’t sniff that total in free agency.
We don’t know Elias’ read on Schoop, making it hard to gauge the level of interest. He isn’t going to comment on free agents. And we really don’t know Schoop’s read on the Orioles anymore with Manny Machado gone and Bobby Dickerson not currently on the coaching staff. And with the team in a full rebuild that might mean more losing in 2019 than Schoop can stomach.
Schoop was an All-Star and Most Valuable Oriole in 2017, but we shouldn’t overlook his career .258 average and .294 on-base percentage. He possesses a cannon arm and the strength that enables him to plant at second base and turn double plays, a skill the Orioles lacked this summer, but his range is limited.
Is he the right guy to play second base, especially if it means sliding Jonathan Villar to shortstop?
Toss aside the sentimentality.
* A topic of discussion on Saturday’s “Wall to Wall Baseball Show” on MASN was whether the Orioles go into the Winter Meetings knowing where Villar’s going to play and targeting the other position in free agency and trade discussions, or whether it’s a fluid situation.
The consensus is that it’s going to be fluid. They really want to find a shortstop, but the ideal solution is to acquire someone who can handle multiple infield positions and provide flexibility, also allowing Villar to move around if that’s the desired course.
Villar has most of his experience at shortstop but the Orioles used him more at second base, where I think he should make the majority of his starts. Get a plus defender at short. Stop the steady defensive decline. Help out the pitching staff.
* A scout texted me last night that Bobby Witt Jr. hit for the cycle in the U-18 Pan-American Championships Gold Medal Game in Panama.
By the fifth inning.
The Orioles are expected to take Witt, a shortstop from Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas, with the first overall pick in the June amateur draft, though there’s also a lot of support for Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman.
“I think there are more than two options for this pick right now,” Elias said on Thursday.
Elias believes in taking the best available player, which really benefits the Orioles because they need a shortstop and catcher. Can’t really go wrong here.