Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias doesn’t know whether Richie Martin, last year’s shortstop, is ticketed for Triple-A or will break camp in a utility role. There are too many days leading into the opener. Too many variables.
Elias suggested a few possibilities that are tied to the signing of veteran shortstop José Iglesias, the one certainty being how Martin is going to benefit from any arrangement.
“I think (the signing) is going to be good for him and his development in that we’ve got a veteran primary shortstop now that can spell Richie, can help teach Richie how to play shortstop at the major league level, but allow him to be where he needs to be, to play when he needs to play, to get the at-bats when and where he needs to get them for his personal development and not for making sure that the team has a shortstop out there,” Elias said this afternoon on a conference call with media.
“Last year, when you take a guy straight out of Double-A in the Rule 5 draft and stick him in the American League East, it’s not necessarily the smoothest development curve, and Richie did great. Kept his head above water. He played great defense for us. He showed us some tools. But this will allow him to get back on a natural development track, take some of the pressure off us relying on him to play shortstop and then give him somebody to look up to. And in many cases, I think play next to. It will probably be a good thing for him overall.”
The Orioles signed Iglesias to a one-year contract that pays $2.5 million with a $3.5 million option in 2021 that includes a $500,000 buyout. Total value of the deal can reach $6 million.
“We are thrilled with the acquisition,” Elias said. “Bringing in a veteran shortstop, let alone one with a resume of accomplishments that José Iglesias brings to us was a major priority for us this offseason. We feel in particular his defensive capabilities will bring a tremendous amount of stability to our club. We expect a lot of young pitchers from our minor league system to be graduating to the major league club, and having his glove behind them is going to be a huge part of their development.
“Just the ability to bring a guy like José in here for the next couple of years ... we think will be a huge part of our success in executing our rebuilding process, and it’s a big part of our plan. So, really happy that he’s here, that he’s a part of things. You look at what he’s done over the last several years and he’s among the most steady and accomplished shortstops in Major League Baseball the last few years. He makes us a lot better and he’s going to be a great influence on all our young players, but particularly the young infielders that we have in this organization - Hanser Alberto, Richie Martin, those that are coming up through the minor leagues the next couple of seasons.”
Elias also mentioned how Camden Yards is a “great place to hit” and predicted that Iglesias will have “some of his best years here with us.”
The Orioles had other choices on the free agent market and explored a few potential deals before targeting Iglesias.
“I think just his overall talent,” Elias said. “The combination of his offensive capabilities and of course the glove that he’s famous for and the track record that he’s had, a long track record, put him in a tier above anyone else that was available on the free agent market.
“I think that we were in a good spot here in having one of the more attractive open shortstop jobs, because we have a clear path to being a starter. If you’re a guy like José, that’s what you are, so that’s what you’re looking for. And this is a fun place to play. A fun clubhouse. There’s some young energy on the field and a great ballpark, so I think he was attracted to that situation from his standpoint.
“For us, the combination of what he can do with the bat, with a great glove and the assuredness that you get from a guy with a lengthy career like his going back to 2010, there’s just a lot to like. And I think a lot of catchers and shortstops who come up for their defense, who are known for their defense, a lot of them over the course of their careers, the bat kind of gets better with age because of all the experience playing in the major leagues. And last year José had one of the best seasons of his career.”
Offering the $3.5 million option was an important component in securing Iglesias.
“I think it’s great,” Elias said. “For us to have the ability to have a guy like José in our system for more than one year is a tremendous plus in our favor when we’re looking at a deal like this. And in particular in our situation, we’ve got a strong farm system. We have a lot of talent on the way. But most of the talent is right now in the upper levels in the outfield or on the pitcher’s mound and the infield is an area all around where I think we’re going to have a lot of opportunity. And adding a stable infielder to the mix, especially one who is a great shortstop like José is, it’s just going to stabilize the infield situation for us the next couple years as these young players - whether it’s Richie or other guys - start sticking their head up here and getting their first experience at the major league level.
“I just think José is a stabilizing force there. It’s going to be big for everybody.”
It’s going to impact Martin more than anyone else after he totaled 117 appearances at shortstop and made 89 starts. He didn’t play any other position.
Asked about Martin’s status in 2020, Elias said, “We don’t know yet.”
“As it stands today he’s got a great shot at making the team. There is a 26th roster spot, it’s got to be a position player. We don’t have an obvious infield utility player that can play some shortstop right now other than Richie, so it puts him in a good spot to compete for playing time on the club.
“That said, we plucked him straight from Double-A, he’s never played in Triple-A before. We were unable to put him in Triple-A last year so we could keep him in the organization per the Rule 5 requirements. Now we will have the ability to use his minor league option and send him to Triple-A if and when needed, so I think all that’s on the table. But I can’t wait to see what he looks like in spring training, and he absolutely has a good chance of breaking with the club if that’s how things fall.”
Today’s announcement appears to contradict previous moves made by Elias, who traded infielder Jonathan Villar to the Marlins and starter Dylan Bundy to the Angels.
A veteran is coming to Baltimore instead of leaving it. Money has been spent.
“The moves we made earlier in the winter, trading Villar, trading Bundy, we got five young pitchers back that we like who are part of our future now, that are in our minor league system, that are contributing to this accumulation of talent that is our focus right now,” Elias said.
“Our objective continues to be to bring in as much young talent in as possible. But this does not rule us out of looking to bring in veteran talent that makes sense for us, that helps the team, that fits the need, that will radiate out to the rest of the club, which is exactly what we think this acquisition means. So we’re still mindful of development, of the core that we’re building internally, of the future, but we are cognizant that we want a stable product on the field. We want a good defense behind our pitching staff. We want good players out there, and José is that. He makes us better.
“Even though we’re eyeing the future and we’re doing a lot in the draft, internationally and player development, and that’s where our focus is, building the organization, we’re keeping our eye on the major league talent market as well.”
Iglesias turned 30 this week and is one of the older players on the team. Slotting him into a leadership role on a rebuilding club seems like a natural and comfortable fit.
“I’m in the stage of my career where I can really enjoy it,” he said. “Number one, somebody did it for me when I was younger and it’s my time now and I’m really excited about the challenge of making my teammates better. And I know that division really well. Great ballpark, like Mike said. Great stadium in Baltimore. I’m really excited for the opportunity to lead by example and do the best I can do for the organization and for the guys as well.”
Defense tends to overshadow his contributions at the plate, but Iglesias owns a career .273 average - though only a .315 on-base percentage - and hit a career-high 11 home runs last season with the Reds.
“I feel like, personally, I understand myself better,” he said. “Not trying to do too much, not trying to impress anybody. Put up quality at-bats, not focus on results.”
Reds first baseman Joey Votto offered some solid advice to Iglesias during their lengthy conversations in the clubhouse and dugout.
“I learned so much from him and he made me so much better,” Iglesias said. “I’m just in a great stage in my career where I understand what needs to be done on a baseball field.”
The Orioles still have other areas to address on the team, including the rotation. Elias didn’t offer any assurances that he was done removing veterans from the roster. The first full-squad workout isn’t held until Feb. 17. Opening day is March 26.
“I think it’s the same status that it has been,” Elias said. “We’re going to talk on a daily basis with other teams, we’ll hear what’s going on, we’ll hear what’s out there, and if something comes along that we feel makes us more talented over the long haul, we’re going to listen to it and entertain.
“Obviously, as the clock of the offseason winds down, I guess the odds naturally lean toward status quo day by day, but we’re still out there working. We’re having trade discussions and we’re also talking to free agents and potentially signing more players. So there’s still a lot going on. We’re monitoring everything as we always do, and even though the season’s getting closer that’s still the case.”