Wondering about free agents and arbitration-eligible players

With COVID-19 stalling the start of the baseball season until July 23 and 24 and owners tallying the lost revenue, it appears to be a most unfortunate time for a player to be entering free agency.

The usual big spenders might be keeping those checkbooks closed. Especially if they find it more difficult to calculate income in 2021.

Service time counts in 2020 no matter how many games are played, which inches outfielder Mookie Betts closer to the market entrance. Does it become harder to break the bank in a pandemic?

Might take a much bigger hammer than usual.

The counter argument could be that some players will be judged more on past performance than a truncated season with all of its oddities. It could be tougher to hurt their value with fewer games, especially for someone like Yankees infielder D.J. LeMahieu, who stacked up career highs last summer and placed fourth in Most Valuable Player voting in the American League.

Like so many other things, it’s going to come down to money. Who’s willing to spend it. Who has it to spend.

The Orioles are in the midst of a rebuild and won’t be carrying many pending free agents into opening day. They traded infielder Jonathan Villar to the Marlins on Dec. 2 after exposing him to waivers the previous week. He wasn’t going to be inside the Sarasota clubhouse unless visiting friends.

Shortstop José Iglesias has the potential to become a free agent over the winter if the Orioles decline his option and give him a $500,000 buyout. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias likes the idea of being able to keep Iglesias for a second season while the organization tries to develop middle infielders, but the veteran also is a potential trade chip.

Pitchers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone can hit the market if the Orioles select their contracts next month, as expected, and dump them into the rotation. They signed minor league deals, with Milone arriving in camp in February.

Players who are eligible for arbitration can become free agents if they’re non-tendered and it’s probably not a good time for them, either, as teams try to reduce payrolls.

Castro-Delivers-Back-White-Sidebar.jpgReliever Richard Bleier was a quick signing in December, accepting a $915,000 offer on Dec. 2. The Orioles had six other eligibles at that point, including Villar and starter Dylan Bundy, who was traded to the Angels two days later for four minor league pitchers. The club reached agreements with outfielder Trey Mancini, infielder Hanser Alberto, and relievers Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro.

Mancini is in an interesting salary situation after signing for $4.75 million in January. He won’t play this year after undergoing surgery on March 12 to remove a cancerous tumor from his colon.

I’m not sure exactly how it works when a player has to sit out the season, but the Orioles are more interested in having him healthy again as he continues his chemotherapy treatments.

The club will have lots of arbitration-eligible players this winter beyond the names mentioned above. The current list, which obviously is subject to change depending on possible trades and releases, also includes outfielder Anthony Santander, infielders Renato Núñez and Pat Valaika, catcher Pedro Severino, and pitchers Asher Wojciechowski, Shawn Armstrong and Hector Velázquez.

Only Santander can be viewed as a player who appears to be embedded in the rebuild. Núñez has the potential to join him after hitting 31 home runs and driving in 90 runs last season, but he’s primarily a designated hitter and the Orioles could use the spot for someone like prospect Ryan Mountcastle, who otherwise would be wedged in the outfield.

Wojciechowski has a shot to stick in the rotation beyond this abbreviated season. It’s an extension of last year’s audition. But the Orioles want prospects pushing him and others.

Severino is keeping the seat warm for Adley Rutschman. Plain and simple.

Rutschman will be assigned to the other camp next week. Whatever we’re calling it. Players who aren’t working out at Camden Yards.

The Orioles are deciding where to funnel the overflow. I’m expecting them to use Bowie, but Aberdeen also has been under consideration.

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