There’s no mystery surrounding Orioles’ biggest roster needs

If we’re ranking the Orioles’ roster needs heading into the Winter Meetings, middle infield and starting pitching reside at the top of the list. They can be 1 and 1A. You can stack one on top of the other and not necessarily be wrong.

Too close to call.

The bullpen could use some tweaking and there are depth moves on the horizon, including a fourth catcher to join Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns. But executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias placed special emphasis this week on second base/shortstop and back-end starters when asked again about targeted areas at the Winter Meetings.

“I would characterize those two spots as priorities,” he said.

Cobb-Handing-Ball-to-Hyde-White-Sidebar.jpgThe rotation might have separated itself from the infield yesterday after the Orioles traded Dylan Bundy to the Angels, leaving John Means and Alex Cobb as the only certainties heading into camp. Asher Wojciechowski has been more of an assumption at this point.

Bundy’s departure improves Wojciechowski’s chances of taking the ball every five days.

The Orioles are banking on Cobb reporting to camp healthy after undergoing hip and knee surgeries in Tennessee. He’s supposed to be full-go, and they need him to supply innings and become a trade chip in July.

Cobb wouldn’t mind that scenario. He wants to win.

Elias indicated in last night’s conference call that he’ll need some veterans to plug rotation holes until the young prospects are ready later in the summer. Another sign that the Orioles are prepared to keep left-hander Keegan Akin at Triple-A Norfolk to begin the season. And that’s certainly true with Dean Kremer.

Bundy was a pleasure to cover on the beat. Friendly and accessible. Didn’t fill up the notebook, but provided what was needed and didn’t sugarcoat his shortcomings. And he was incredibly patient with the endless questions about his health and fastball velocity.

He didn’t become a stud No. 1 starter, a huge disappointment as the fourth-overall pick in 2011, but he leaves a big void in the rotation.

The return from the Angels will be criticized by fans who wanted a top prospect or two for Bundy. An unrealistic wish list.

Reliever Isaac Mattson could be on the 26-man roster next season, and the Orioles again focused on improving their depth with a Single-A pitcher and two others who haven’t made their professional debuts. The lower levels of the system keep getting special attention.

The infield competition has to be sweetened. The middle is pretty much down to Richie Martin, Hanser Alberto, Stevie Wilkerson and Pat Valaika. Alberto and Wilkerson didn’t play shortstop this year. Valaika was claimed off waivers from the Rockies.

As with any position, the Orioles aren’t going to get into a bidding war here. The price has to be right for the rebuild.

The Red Sox surprised some industry folks by non-tendering Marco Hernández in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Then they re-signed him, removing a middle infielder from the market.

I’m a much bigger fan of Hernández’s former Red Sox teammate, Brock Holt, who can pretty much play anywhere. Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter always liked Holt, but the Red Sox held onto him.

Holt made $3.575 million this season. Can anyone envision the Orioles paying anywhere close to that amount for a super-utility guy?

Ryan Goins is back on the market after the Orioles attempted to sign him prior to the 2018 season. Goins lost patience with the slow-moving process, left a major league offer on the table and accepted a minor league deal with the Royals.

Yolmer Sánchez won a Gold Glove at second base and the White Sox placed him on outright waivers and non-tendered him. MLBTradeRumors.com projected his 2020 salary to jump from $4.625 million to $6.2 million.

We’re back to wondering just how much the Orioles are willing to spend. He went unclaimed, so other teams were leery of taking on his salary.

The glove fits, but the money could make the Orioles’ quit.

The Braves non-tendered Charlie Culberson, who made “only” $1.395 million this year. He turns 31 in April, but he’s relatively inexpensive and a former first-round pick who plays all over the infield and can move to the outfield corners and pitch in emergencies. However, like so many others who are available, he isn’t the plus defender that the Orioles crave.

I’m expecting the Orioles to meet with Adeiny Hechavarría’s agents at the Winter Meetings. There’s definite interest, and he’d make sense given the team’s needs.

I’ll repeat that José Iglesias brings a poor off-the-field reputation that persuaded the Orioles and some other teams to stay away. Maybe he can repair it. Maybe the Orioles will change their minds this winter. But I know that they passed in the past.

Tim Beckham probably shouldn’t make any plans to come back to Baltimore unless he’s with the visiting team.

Did Ryan Flaherty at least place a phone call before retiring?

He’s in Baltimore this week to attend a wedding, but that’s probably just a coincidence.

Martin remains an intriguing case because he can be optioned and there’s an expectation in the industry that he’ll be assigned to Triple-A Norfolk to work on his hitting and defense - the latter earning poor marks in various metrics. But the counter argument includes how a rebuilding club can afford to further his education in the majors and the Orioles don’t currently have anyone pushing him away from shortstop.

It’s interesting that Alberto made the vast majority of his starts in the minors at shortstop and has made 12 in the majors, but the Orioles didn’t let him sniff the position. Of course, they had Martin and Jonathan Villar to split the load.

Today’s question: What’s your ideal and realistic double-play combination on opening day?

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