Last game marks beginning of free agency

The World Series is over and the 2019 season officially has been put to bed. Long past a reasonable hour.

Players will begin hitting the free agent market instead of fastballs. It’s one of the most important early developments of the offseason.

Trumbo-Strikes-Out-Gray-sidebar.jpgThe list of Orioles pending free agents usually has more meat on it. Mark Trumbo stands alone this year unless the club decides later to non-tender players who remain eligible for arbitration.

The discussion over which free agents could be re-signed is muted at the moment.

The media workload is lighter.

Trumbo isn’t walking through that door in spring training. He’s playing for another team or retiring. There’s no scenario that brings him back unless he’s visiting friends and former teammates.

The Orioles won’t look to negotiate a new deal at a drastically reduced price. They need pitching, both for the rotation and bullpen. They need middle infielders, no matter what they decide to do with Jonathan Villar and Richie Martin, and they began to address it yesterday by claiming Pat Valaika off waivers from the Rockies. They’re expected to bring in another catcher.

Carrying someone to spend most games as the designated hitter is the lowest priority.

The roster has been loaded with corner outfield/infield/DH types, and there’s a new twist with Ryan Mountcastle knocking on the door. He’s been converted to first base and left field, and the DH slot allows the Orioles to keep his bat in the lineup.

Mountcastle could begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk, but he’s going to make his major league debut in 2020 if healthy.

Trumbo’s leadership will be missed. He was a solid clubhouse presence, a guy the younger players could approach without apprehension. He didn’t intimidate. And he didn’t duck the media, making himself available on a regular basis.

Waiting for us to enter the clubhouse, while he remained on the injured list, to take questions about Chris Davis’ dugout confrontation with manager Brandon Hyde was just one of the many examples.

The surgically repaired knee and the market will let Trumbo know whether he’s done playing.

* The Pirates’ search for a new general manager could include two men with ties to the Orioles - including one who never worked for them.

Brian Graham was interim GM in September 2007 after the Pirates fired Dave Littlefield and earlier served as their senior director of player development. His contract with the Orioles expires today, after a season spent at home following his dismissal on Nov. 30, 2018 as director of player development.

Graham wants back in the game.

Tony LaCava hasn’t left it, continuing today as Blue Jays senior vice president of baseball operations and assistant general manager. He’s a Pittsburgh native who checks off a lot of boxes for the Pirates.

LaCava seemed for a time to be a finalist for every job. The rising star executive. And his chance to be the guy in charge arrived in Baltimore, with the Orioles choosing him in 2011 to succeed Andy MacPhail as president of baseball operations.

There was a delay in the announcement, LaCava changed his mind and the process continued until the Orioles settled on Dan Duquette from a list of candidates that also included Jerry Dipoto, Scott Proefrock, Dan Jennings, John Stockstill, De Jon Watson and Allard Baird. The latter removed himself from consideration.

I’ve often wondered if LaCava regretted his decision.

Here’s what he told after turning down the Orioles:

“I really enjoy my job in Toronto and I have a GM that I work with (Alex Anthopoulos) who’s like a brother to me. We’re very, very close. We have a really good dynamic between us. I wasn’t looking to leave, I wasn’t looking for any other jobs. I’m content and happy and committed to what I do.

“Obviously, GM jobs are special and unique, and when one opened, I felt I had to explore it. And I have to tell you, I was impressed with the interview process. Louis Angelos and Mr. (Russell) Smouse and Mr. (Peter) Angelos and John (Angelos) and Buck (Showalter) was there for part of it. I enjoyed our baseball conversations. I thought they were good. And I think they have a really strong idea of what they want to do and I think they’re committed to doing the right stuff.

“I just really want to see it through in Toronto because I’ve put in nine years there and it’s a great dynamic. The GM and I are very close and it’s a really great place to work right now. This is what I wanted to do.”

* And speaking of the Pirates ...

I can’t hear “Game 7 of the World Series” without thinking about them. The 1971 and ‘79 heartbreakers during my days as a fan.

The downside of being this age includes memories of the ‘71 Series and the way Steve Blass and Bruce Kison completely shut down the Orioles.

Kison later worked for the Orioles as pitching coach and scout. I grew to forgive him.

The home team won the first six games, the complete opposite of this year’s Series. The Orioles dropped Game 7 at Memorial Stadium, with Blass holding them to four hits in a 2-1 loss.

The ‘79 Pirates were the last team to win a Game 7 on the road until the Giants in 2014 in Kansas City. Willie Stargell hit a go-ahead two-run homer off Scott McGregor in the sixth inning, the Pirates added two more runs in the ninth and the song “We Are Family” still makes me break out in hives.

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