Another day passes and brings the Orioles closer to the Feb. 11 report date for pitchers and catchers at the Ed Smith Stadium complex. They’ve increased their pitching and catching depth, found their starting shortstop and improved their utility options.
More activity is on the horizon, as I’ve written. They want another starting pitcher, willing to hand out a major league deal and make the corresponding 40-man roster move. A veteran on a one-year contract. And they are checking on available infielders.
Any addition is more likely to come via free agency than trade, though, as you know, things can change with one phone call.
“We’re still working. That’s for sure,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said at the Delmarva Shorebirds Hot Stove Banquet in Salisbury.
“We’re cognizant of where we’re at as an organization. We’re still prioritizing player development, bringing in young talent. And with that in mind, we’re making decisions that prioritize those long-term goals. Giving our young players opportunities to play, auditioning players at the major league level and seeing what we have. But there are certain areas where we want stability. Up-the-middle defense is one of them - catcher, shortstop, center field. We want to make sure we’ve got some good options there and that’s a big reason why we signed José Iglesias, to be that consistent defensive presence at shortstop.
“So we’ll continue to make moves like that where we have a need, where we don’t have an internal option that is obvious that can provide us that type of stability, and I think at this point we’re mostly focused on possibly reinforcing the pitching staff. So we’re taking a look at that. We’ve got a couple weeks left before spring training and there’s still some options out there.”
Asked about free agency versus trades, Elias replied, “I’d say if we’re going to be adding to the major league pitching staff, I think it would be more likely to come from the free agent market.”
Because of the banquet’s location, fans wanted to know which players from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and short-season Single-A Aberdeen could play for the Shorebirds in 2020.
“We’ll see,” Elias said. “I think most of the roster here at Delmarva is going to be the guys that you saw in Aberdeen and I think a lot of players that were on the GCL roster are probably going to return to extended spring training and maybe go to Aberdeen to start the year.
“Two of our higher-profile picks from last year who spent all year in the GCL were Gunnar Henderson (second round), a high school kid we took out of Alabama, and a kid named Darell Hernaiz (fifth round) from El Paso, Texas. Another high school player. And both of them had really nice debuts. But they’re both really young kids.
“They were, like, 17 years old out of the draft, kind of raw, and we’re going to have to wait and see in spring training if they’re in a position to come here or whether they’ll maybe spend the year in Aberdeen like Adam Hall did before he came here. But I look at that Aberdeen roster and it looks like we’ve got a good lineup and good pitching staff coming here next year.”
The Orioles hold the second overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft and Elias noted again that there’s an abundance of collegiate talent.
“It does appear to be an extremely college-heavy group of players right now,” he said, “but pitcher versus hitter, we’re going to look at both.”
A local television “personality,” and I’m using that term because I don’t know him and don’t know whether he has a reporting background, asked back-to-back questions relating to the Astros cheating scandal. Though teams have been instructed to avoid the topic.
“Frankly, we were asked not to comment,” Elias said. “I’m the general manager of another organization right now and that’s the most important thing. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk about something going on with another team.
“That said, and I’ve said this in the past, in my position with the Astros I was in charge of the minor leagues and international scouting and the draft, and that’s where my focus was and I’ll leave it at that for now. But we did a tremendous job in those areas there. I don’t think what’s going on detracts from that work, and that type of expertise is going to be what’s important to the Orioles right now in our rebuild.
“But yeah, it’s tough to watch. I’m glad it seems like an area the league is rectifying and doing a good job with, and I think that’s for the best.”
Elias also fielded the next one in the same smooth manner as Iglesias at shortstop.
Can he assure fans that those practices weren’t brought over to Baltimore?
“Like I said, I’m not going to get into in-depth commenting on the topic, but we’re going to do things the right way with the Orioles. I can assure everyone of that,” Elias replied.
“We want to win the right way and we’re making sure that’s the way we build the organization.”
Fans were allowed to submit questions during Elias’ speech and he handled another one that was a bit more subtle but touched on the same subject.
“Even though it’s someplace I used to work, it’s tough for me as a GM of the Orioles to comment on something that’s going on with another franchise right now,” he said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate. But we are very focused here on having a great culture. We want to win the right way with the right people.
“We’ve brought in so many new people to this organization and kept a lot of really good ones who have been a big part of this organization and I love the blend that we have right now, the attitude up and down the coaching staffs in the minor leagues and just all across the organization, and it’s so energizing. There are so many who left good jobs with other teams to come join this effort and rebuild the Baltimore Orioles, and we’re going to do it the right way.”
Note: The Orioles announced yesterday that they reached agreement with the following international players from the Dominican Republic: Third baseman Albert Calderón, shortstop José Cosma, outfielder Ronnie Martínez and right-handers Yonatan Pineda, Christopher Ramírez, Rafael Ramírez and Luis Sánchez.
Cosma and Martínez were listed on SB Nation’s international tracker as Orioles signings in 2019.
Martinez receives a $235,000 bonus, according to a source.
Shameless plug alert: I’m appearing on “Wall to Wall Baseball” from noon-2 p.m. on MASN.