The Orioles are down to one vacancy on their major league coaching staff.
In his Zoom conference call this afternoon, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said Chris Holt will be the primary on-field pitching coach as the replacement for Doug Brocail.
Holt also will retain his duties as director of pitching - an arrangement that had been expected for a while and is unique in baseball. His new title is “pitching coach/director of pitching” as his reach keeps expanding across the organization.
Darren Holmes, formerly the bullpen coach, is now the assistant pitching coach. He’ll remain in the ‘pen during games.
“We will be rearranging internal roles there on the pitching side,” Elias said.
The Orioles also need to replace third base coach José Flores, who doubled as infield instructor.
“We’re looking at a whole number of options within and (outside) the organization and we’ll see where that goes,” Elias said.
The Orioles had eight coaches on their staff this season and Elias expects the same number in 2021, which would bring an outside hire for third base.
“But we leave our options open for things if our search doesn’t pan out the way we envision or we have some conversations internally where we decide to structure things a different way” he said. “I don’t want to rule that out.”
During a call that lasted 25 minutes, Elias made some general comments before taking questions.
“Our organization and our front office are fully focused on typical offseason business as might occur this time of year, despite the very atypical circumstances we’re dealing with this year,” he said.
That includes roster construction now that the free agent market is open and conversations with rival executives about “roster crunches and the trade market are picking up in earnest,” Elias said.
“I expect they’ll do so even more next week when normally the general managers meetings would have been occurring,” Elias said. “I think all of us will try to simulate that level of conversation next week despite the remote circumstances.
“From a baseball operations staffing standpoint, there’s always work to be done there. This is definitely an unusual period of time and hiring climate, but we do have needs and will be looking to fill those as we get through the winter. I remain very hopeful and we’re making every effort to keep our great baseball operations staff that we put together over the last year and change intact as best we can. We’re taking everything day to day and week to week in this industry, but we’re making our best efforts to keep everyone online and busy.”
On the minor league side, scouting and front office, Elias said the Orioles are keeping their eye on some “smaller positions here and there.” Checking around the industry.
The Orioles picked up shortstop José Iglesias’ $3.5 million option yesterday, a decision that Elias said wasn’t difficult in spite of the economics.
“José was tremendous for us in a very limited period of time,” he said. “He’s got a track record dating back beyond that. I think he’s a perfect fit for what we need right now. If he had not had the quad strain, which really occurred that first series in Boston just because he was running the bases so much and hitting so many doubles and we were coming off that abbreviated spring training.
“I think he would have been in the MVP conversation for the 60-game season had he played a lot of shortstop. I think he’s just a great fit for us. He’s been a good influence and he can help us in a lot of ways.”
The Orioles waited until yesterday to make the Iglesias news official, with the deadline looming at 5 p.m.
“With any type of roster decision, there are always advantages in this business to using the time that’s afforded to you by the rules and by contractual rights because circumstances change so much,” Elias said. “And that’s even more the case this year with COVID and the rules changing and the things evolving on an economic front on a daily basis. So I don’t think anyone in the organization was surprised we exercised that option and we’re really looking forward to having him back next season.”
The 40-man roster increased to 35 players, leaving ample room to protect prospects in the Rule 5 draft. However, more subtractions could be made depending on future signings and waiver claims.
Mancini is recovering from Stage 3 colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy treatments that ended on Sept. 21.
“It’s going well,” Elias said. “We’ve all got our fingers crossed. I think it’s going as well as it possible could have gone since we got that horrible news in March. I think any of us would have traded anything to get to Nov. 2 and be where we’re at with him right now. He’s doing well, he’s getting his strength back, he’s slowly getting into baseball-ish type activities and it’s been incredible.
“We have great doctors and access to just incredible medical resources with the Orioles and I think it’s helping get the best outcome we possibly could. But we’ve still got some work to do.”
Infielder Yolmer Sánchez, a Gold Glove winner at second base with the White Sox in 2019, was claimed off waivers Friday and could make the club in multiple roles.
“Yolmer Sánchez is a very good player and I can see him helping us in a number of ways,” Elias said. “He can move around all three infield spots, he’s a plus defender, certainly at second and third, and probably a pretty good shortstop. We have a little less info to go on there, but from what we’ve seen, we think he can help at that position as well. I can also see him battling for a primary job, so there’s a lot of ways that he fits and helps the team.
“That said, this is the time of year when interesting players come on waivers and teams claim them and there’s a lot of offseason left. We’ll just have to see where this lands. But when he did appear on waivers, we were very interested and excited to claim him. And from a business standpoint, with any of these guys on the arbitration track, we just have to see where this goes. Things change, moves are made and this business throws new information at you every day and things can change. So we’re just navigating the offseason as we normally would, but I can really see him being a great fit for this club.”
The middle infield is an area that the Orioles have tweaked since Elias’ arrival in the winter of 2018, through every conceivable market, and has been a point of emphasis. Obtaining Sánchez and retaining Iglesias indicate again that the Orioles prioritize defense and seek upgrades.
A few other points from today’s call:
* It won’t be much longer before the Orioles announce the players to be named later in the Hector Velázquez and Tommy Milone trades. Elias said he received indication today that it may happen “on the sooner side.”
“Our transactions are thrown into flux with the COVID rules and all that,” he said, “but I think we might get that here soon.”
* Elias has no updates on a 2021 minor league season and where the affiliates will be based. His preparation ranges from a full season to “something that starts a little differently.”
“The talks at the league level are still ongoing and we haven’t received official word about the overall structure,” he said. “There’s info that trickles out of those discussions, but until any of it is certified, it wouldn’t be responsible to talk about it publicly. I know they’re talking about it and making good progress.
“I will say that I am very optimistic and hopeful and we’re all very motivated to have much more on the player development side than we had this year, no matter what occurs.”
* Elias also didn’t provide an update on outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second-overall pick in the 2020 First-Year Player Draft who missed the fall instructional camp due to a non-sports medical issue.
“It’s been our policy with non-physical injuries and medical matters that we don’t specify what it is and ultimately it’s up to the player,” Elias said. “We’re looking forward to seeing him in Sarasota next spring, but unfortunately it just didn’t lineup for him to participate in our camp.”
* Elias doesn’t have a number of players he intends to protect in the Rule 5 draft that he’s going to share with the public, but he noted how the Orioles have a lot of prospects that require it.
“I think at this point we have the 40-man space and our planning indicates that hopefully we’ll be able to be pretty aggressive in adding these guys and be protective of our prospects with what we’re trying to do in terms of a rebuild,” he said. “I think we’re fortunate that the group we have to add is a pretty big league-ready group. These aren’t guys like in A ball or even high-A. These are Double-A, Triple-A players that are fairly polished, and so when they do get added to the 40-man roster, they’ll be pretty functional members of that roster, if not right away then very soon. So that always makes the decisions easier.
“It’s tough when you have to add somebody from a real low level of the minor leagues and then carry them on the roster for a couple years whittle away at their minor league options.”
* Elias doesn’t know what to expect from the free agent market, but he sees a “very functional group” when examining his own roster. Guys who have set roles or are due auditions and need an open path.
The Orioles could sign a veteran starting pitcher or two on major league or minor league deals. The bullpen is fairly set, but Elias also could upgrade the unit with a veteran signing. The 40-man roster is going to hold six to eight outfielders who are “high quality, that are interesting young guys, players with options,” Elias said. The infield remains a work in progress.
“I feel like this is a group that’s not full of holes right now,” Elias said.
* Fans received an email today from the Orioles that contained a statement from Elias pertaining to ownership’s commitment to keep the team - an obvious response to a recent Baltimore Sun article stating that potential bidders are lining up in case the Angelos family decides to sell.
“When I joined the club as General Manager in November of 2018, it marked the beginning of a journey to build the next great chapter of Orioles baseball, a journey that is driven by the tremendous support of fans like you,” Elias wrote. “I grew up in the region, visited Camden Yards with my family, and admired the 2012 to 2016 run when the Orioles won more games over those five seasons than any other American League team. After years of working in MLB as a scout, scouting director and developer of Major League talent, I received the chance to join the storied franchise that I loved, and I was all in.
“Two years later, while there is still work to be done, our talented baseball operations team - with your support - has made significant strides as we build a foundation that will ensure renewed success for years to come. We have worked diligently to accelerate the player development system; invest in the club’s international scouting presence in the Caribbean, Asia, and worldwide; and expand the team’s analytics department. After 22 months, I am proud to report to you that MLB Pipeline ranks our farm system 8th-best in baseball in developing talent, and we are now full of top-tier prospects that we believe will soon make their way to Camden Yards.
“Our historic franchise has been a pillar of the Baltimore community for more than half a century, and our partnership group - consisting entirely of hometown, Maryland natives who act as stewards of this community’s ballclub - is committed to building upon that lasting legacy for the next generation and providing our baseball operations department with the most modern technology and other resources necessary to build a championship-caliber team and return back to our recent winning ways.
“Orioles Chairman & CEO John Angelos stated in the summer of 2019 that the Orioles will remain in Baltimore for ‘as long as Fort McHenry is standing watch over the Inner Harbor.’ I signed on as your GM to amplify that vision by making it our entire organization’s mission to assemble a baseball executive team that features some of the best talent in the industry, including Brandon Hyde, Sig Mejdal, Matt Blood, Eve Rosenbaum, and Koby Perez, among so many others, who are responsible for building one of the best player development programs in professional sports.
“The Orioles Senior Leadership Team that manages the club’s business operations - made up of six veteran executives, each of whom has worked in MLB for many decades - possess a combined 100+ years of experience in the sports industry, and we are all committed to winning games, bringing fans back downtown to Camden Yards, and rebuilding our community. Despite the difficult circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball successfully completed the 2020 season right through to an exciting World Series, and that achievement should be credited to the diligent efforts of the great people on and off the field, led by Commissioner Manfred, the MLB Players Association, and the stewards of all 30 MLB Clubs. This would not have been possible without all of the front office management and staff, medical personnel, athletic trainers, conditioning coaches, interns, volunteers, and world class athletes on our front lines who made the 2020 season a reality. Most of all, that success is a tribute to the members of every baseball community, from Maryland to California, that - like so many years in the past - gave their time and support in this most challenging year to sustain the game of baseball here in Baltimore and across our nation, now and long into the future.
“While we know this year has brought about a great deal of uncertainty, please rest assured that there is nothing uncertain about the future of your Orioles in Baltimore, or of the organizational commitment of our Chairman and CEO, the partnership group, the Senior Leadership Team, our entire professional staff, and our 26-man team to stay the course for decades to come as we succeed on and off the field in leading the way for our Baltimore community.
“The future of Birdland is bright, and the Senior Leadership Team and I are looking forward to sharing the next phase of this journey with you as we bring winning baseball back to Charm City.”
Asked today about the reasoning behind sending out the letter, Elias said, “With aspects of uncertainty that float around out there about our franchise from time to time, we thought it was the right time for fans to hear from me, to know the level of commitment that exists across all corners of our organization to reviving winning baseball in Baltimore and downtown Baltimore. To getting back to a point where we’re bringing 75 million fans through the city as has been done here over the last 25 years or so. And it seemed like a good time for that from a number of angles.
“We want the fans to know how important this is to us. It’s very personal to me. We want this to work. There’s a lot of hard work going into this. I see a lot of great signs with what’s going in our farm system, on our major league team, with the people that we have here building toward this effort and just with the talent that we have in the organization and that’s coming in the organization. But it’s a tough division and a tough business. The Rays were in the World Series and the Yankees came close and the Jays were in the playoffs and we’re going to have a fight on our hands. But we’re going to get there.”
* Baseball America released the names of players who became minor league free agents, which included the following Orioles: Cristian Alvarado, Danny Barnes, Malquin Canelo, Martin Cervenka, Brian Gonzalez, Tyler Herb, David Hess, Francisco Jimenez, Ty Moore, Luis Ortiz, Brady Rodgers, José Rondón, Dwight Smith Jr., Richard Ureña, Jesmuel Valentin and Andrew Velazquez.