The cost in arbitration was too rich for the club, but they’d like to bring him back on a friendlier deal and expect to maintain contact with his agent.
They’re also going to be busy finding a replacement for José Iglesias, who was traded tonight to the Angels for minor league pitchers Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias indicated that he’ll keep checking the free agent market.
Elias also talked about the organization’s expanding collection of minor league starters, the ongoing emphasis on building a talent pipeline rather than seeking a quick-fix and much more during his 24-minute Zoom conference call with the media.
Elias was made available after the Orioles announced that they signed catcher Pedro Severino, infielders Yolmer Sánchez and Pat Valaika, and reliever Shawn Armstrong to one-year deals, and tendered contracts to outfielders Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander.
Negotiations will resume with the representatives for Mancini and Santander.
Alberto was non-tendered after slashing .283/.306/.393 with 15 doubles and three home runs in 54 games. His salary was expected to rise from $1.65 million to around $2.3 million.
“This is a juncture of the offseason and it’s a long offseason and it’s not over,” Elias said. “We have absolutely loved having Hanser in every way, shape and form since he got here. He’s a terrific player. I expect that he’ll have opportunities and interest, but part of our job is to operate within the economic framework of the collective bargaining agreement and the rules that are in place, and the quirks of the arbitration system. You saw today a lot of really good players around the league get non-tendered as part of this process.
“He’s somebody that we continue to have interest in pursuing. We feel this is a great home for him and continues to be and we will continue talking to him. I think that the interest is mutual, but it’s now his right to explore opportunities and we’re going to have to compete for him. But he’s somebody that’s meant a lot to this team and we hope we’re not closing the door on him.”
Sánchez is an in-house candidate to replace Alberto after agreeing to a $1 million deal.
“We didn’t have him last year, so there’s not a lot of internal familiarity with our coaches,” Elias said. “I don’t think anybody in our organization’s ever really had him, but stellar reputation. Not just on the field and particularly defensively, but versatility and also leadership, makeup, hustle. I think he’s going to be really fun to watch. But certainly at least for now with Alberto not in the organization at present and Iglesias gone, I do think he comes to the forefront a little bit with stabilizing second base.
“He can also play third if needed. He’s a very good defender, a very versatile defender. We did have many infielders in this arbitration class and probably expected that we weren’t going to be able to tender all of them at the exact same moment, but we’ll see what happens here in the next weeks and months.”
Alberto was productive and popular. Removing him from the roster was a painful process.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision,” Elias said. “On and off the field, he’s been so good. To have a waiver wire pickup turn into a top-of-the-order hitter and a starting second baseman, that’s uncommon. But unfortunately, the arbitration system and the way it’s set up, there are a lot of arcane rules that I’m not sure fans fully understand. ... Our job is to study the market for baseball players and do the best we can within the market dynamics that exist.
“Like I said, this offseason’s not over and we’re going to continue to stay in touch with him because we know he’s such a great fit here.”
Trades were explored and didn’t produce a partner.
“Anytime we get to the point of non-tendering a player or releasing a player, we exhaust his market to the best of our abilities over a long span of time,” Elias said.
Elias said it was “kind of coincidentally” that the Orioles traded Iglesias on the same day that Alberto was non-tendered.
“Another hard guy to lose,” he said.
Iglesias will make $3.5 million next season after the Orioles picked up his option.
“We continue to view the accumulation of talent as a priority and the reality is when you are in a phase like we are, anytime you sign a free agent, it’s in the back of your mind that the trade possibilities exist with that player,” Elias said.
“He’s not a player that we would have traded lightly, but we knew there were some open shortstop jobs around the league, we knew he was very attractive for his offensive and defensive and leadership skills that he put on display here with the Orioles. And I think we got two quality arms from the Angels. One of whom, in particular, is somebody that we’ve been focused on since he was in the 2019 draft, Garrett Stallings, one of the best pitchers in the Southeastern Conference that year. Went in the fifth round. We were impressed with him then and while he has not officially played professional baseball because he was shut down after throwing 100 innings at Tennessee, which the Angels do with their draft picks, and then the minor league cancellation is here, we got to scout him in person and also video and data this year through their instructional league. He also appeared briefly at their summer camp when they had some spots open up due to some players leaving camp on their team.
“I think it’s another great starting pitching prospect to add to what’s becoming a very impressive stack up in our system. We’re getting all that we can get. I’ve said before that I don’t know that I would trade our starting pitching in the minor leagues right now for anyone else’s and this makes me feel even stronger that that might be the case. So we’re looking forward to working with him. We’re sad to see Iggy go, but this is the business of getting this organization to a long-term period of sustainability.”
So who plays shortstop in 2021?
“I think we’ve got work left to do there,” Elias said.
“Part of the risk with a trade like this when it comes to the stability at the major league level that we desire is we’re now looking for infield upgrades. There are a lot of good players out on the market and we’ll have a chance to explore those and try to be opportunistic and smart again like when we found Iggy. So we’ve got some work to do. It does make our job this offseason a little harder. I feel like there’s going to be other moves necessitated because of this trade, but to us it was more important to get the young pitching prospects back and when we look at the market we figure we’ll have some opportunities to reinforce the group that we already have on the roster.”
Shedding Iglesias’ $3.5 million and Alberto’s salary that could have exceeded $2 million could provide some payroll flexibility moving forward.
“We’ll see,” Elias said. “I think it will depend on the player and the opportunity and the possible deal that we’re able to strike. This isn’t a situation where there is an exact number that I know what it is and we’re going to get there no matter what. We will monitor the market and do what we feel is the right fit for putting together a group at the major league level that helps achieve our goals, which is continue to take steps forward, get some more young talent in this organization and see our young guys that hopefully blossom into stars continue to improve and develop at the major league level.”
The rebuild process forced Elias into trading Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy last December, and he’s released Renato Núñez, traded Iglesias and non-tendered Alberto during the current offseason.
“It’s very difficult and you get attached to these players when you have them, but the business that we’re in, there are contract structures and players near the end of their stint with the teams,” Elias said. “Either coming up on the last year or they’re going into a phase of arbitration where either our team or others are not willing to enter into that process with them. And it makes sense in every case you’re able to, especially when you’re rebuilding, to try to see some long-term value coming back as these guys near the end of their stints with the team.
“At the times of the trades last year and even this year, we don’t feel we’re close to our ultimate goal yet in terms of setting up where we want to set up and getting to the level we want to get to. And unfortunately, when you’re in that situation, this is what you do. Our farm system is on the rise, the young talent we have on the major league team, guys that are rookies or still in the first couple years of their career but are looking really promising, that list is growing and those players are growing and that’s what we want to see. But we can’t keep every player around, as much as we love them, just with the way baseball is set up. So we’re executing this plan within the framework of the economic structure that’s been around a long time in baseball and with an eye on leaning toward acquiring talent that we can keep and grow here toward the next playoff team.”
There won’t be playoff talk regarding the Orioles in 2021. The industry will dismiss them again.
“I think it’s accurate to say we’re still in the phase of accumulating talent and trying to rise to the top of young talent,” Elias said. “We want to have the best young talent in baseball. I think we’re going to need that to compete in this division. The baseline that we have, while it’s improving and improving rapidly, there’s still room to go. We’re setting a really high bar for where we want the foundational structure to be for our farm system and you see and admire the work the team in our own division, the Rays, that are able to self-sustain because they do such a good job of scouting and player development.
“We’ve had some catch-up to do and we’re now seeing the farm system and the young talent on the major league roster, too, rising to the level of getting toward the top of the league and that’s what we want to see. We’re also still making up for a lack of normal level of international signing activity with his organization for a long time. I think that’s part of, when we do trades like this, we try to get a young international player tossed in every time we can. ... We haven’t been at that level and that’s going to continue to sting here for a few years.
“There will come a time when we flip the switch to maximizing wins, but it’s our judgment that we’re not there yet. This is not fun to subtract from your major league team, but that’s what you do when you’re below .500 and rebuilding and we still are.”