The normal Winter Meetings would have wrapped up yesterday following the Rule 5 draft. The virtual version, however, keeps rolling along.
No checkout times, stops at the front desk or luggage to be dragged through the lobby and toward the exits, where fresh air is breathed for the first time in four days.
What I miss most is my annual lap around the lobby after filing my Rule 5 story. The sense of calm as media and executives race to the airport. The thought in my head that whispers, “Well, you made it through another one.”
I did bump into agent Scott Boras one year - not literally, of course - and we chatted about the Orioles’ interest in Prince Fielder. I didn’t have my notepad or recorder. A rookie mistake committed by a veteran. So I tried to remember key parts of the conversation to later use as background.
What have we learned so far this week?
Nothing that’s going to rock your baseball world.
* The Orioles have maintained their streak of selecting a player on waivers during the first day of the meetings. Third baseman Rio Ruiz in 2018, pitcher Marcos Diplán in 2019 and pitcher Ashton Goudeau in 2020.
Goudeau, 28, made his major league debut this summer with the Rockies. He allowed seven runs and 15 hits in four relief appearances covering 8 1/3 innings.
He still pronounces his name “goo-DOE.” The Orioles were waiting on him.
More interesting to me was the decision to outright Austin Wynns after he cleared waivers, leaving only two catchers on the 40-man roster. Wynns hasn’t played in the majors since 2019, but the Orioles kept him in the organization.
They’re expected to sign another catcher to a minor league deal to increase the depth and camp competition. Bryan Holaday remains on the free agent market and is seeking a better deal.
* The prime items on the winter shopping list remain a starting shortstop and starting pitcher, the former becoming necessary after the José Iglesias trade to the Angels. We received confirmation through executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias in a Zoom conference call.
Of interest here is how the Orioles could sign an infielder in free agency who isn’t strictly a shortstop. For my money, which isn’t spent on the team, Freddy Galvis makes a lot of sense at a reduced price. But the point is that Elias could take a player who more freely moves around the infield than Iglesias.
* The trade market hasn’t closed for the Orioles, but they seem more likely to walk the aisles in free agency.
The chips that Elias was most comfortable moving are gone. Iglesias and relievers Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro. He couldn’t find a partner for Hanser Alberto, a non-tender at the deadline. Renato Núñez was granted his release.
Elias indicated that he’d rather hold onto starter Alex Cobb, perhaps revisiting trade possibilities over the summer. He didn’t show any interest in entertaining offers for outfielder Anthony Santander.
* The Orioles could hand out a major league contract, as they did with Iglesias and pitcher Kohl Stewart the previous offseason. They aren’t tied to minor league deals.
However, Elias indicated that one-year contracts, perhaps with an option, are the ceiling. Again, nothing that should come as a surprise.
The Orioles remain in rebuild mode. They aren’t making long-term commitments. And this is important when trying to guess their winter and spring transactions.
* Elias said a new third base coach should be hired by the Christmas holiday.
He’s still expected to be an outside hire or a promotion from the minors rather than a current coach who’s shifted to third base - which could have reduced the staff.
* The Orioles have a nice batch of outfielders, but they don’t consider it a logjam that needs to be pried loose.
Elias made it clear that the Orioles have room, especially with first base and the designated hitter spot providing alternatives.
* It should be everyone’s life goal to find someone who looks at them the way that the Orioles look at the Rule 5 draft.
The selection streak stayed intact with yesterday’s additions of pitchers Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells in the major league phase. Makes total sense for a rebuilding club that is more equipped to at least attempt to carry a young prospect.
I was floored, however, that the Cubs selected right-hander Gray Fenter. He was bypassed last year and hasn’t pitched above low Single-A. I figured he was safe with no minor league season.
The Orioles really like Fenter and reliever Zach Pop, taken by the Diamondbacks and then traded to the Marlins for a player to be named later. Pop projects as a powerful back-end-of-the-bullpen arm and he’s recovered from Tommy John surgery. This one could hurt, too.
However, the Orioles couldn’t protect everyone and they’re counting on teams being unable to carry Pop and Fenter through an entire season.
Speaks well of the farm system that they lost two pitchers in the first round. The price of improvement.
“It’s unfortunate both of those guys were taken,” said director of pro scouting Mike Snyder in a Zoom conference call. “They both have good potential. We talked about both of them, we talked about others. This is really a testament to having a deep system. We added six prospects in the offseason, a seventh at the end of the regular season in Bruce Zimmermann, and ultimately you can’t protect them all. It’s a positive in that we’re making strides that this is a relevant topic of conversation right now.
“We’ll be rooting for them, but we’ll also cross our fingers and hope that the teams who selected them aren’t able to carry them all season and we can get them back at some point in 2021.
“I think we would certainly welcome them back with open arms.”
Wells is listed at 6-feet-8 and 265 pounds. He didn’t pitch last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery in May, and Snyder expects him to be fully healthy in spring training.
Sceroler also intrigues with his four-pitch mix and he provides a nice local angle as the nephew of former Orioles pitcher and current MASN analyst Ben McDonald.
“You always have to be careful with players in other organizations, so I guess I’d say regardless of the family situation, we would have made the pick either way,” Snyder said.
“Anytime there’s big league bloodlines, it does give us comfort that the player maybe has a little bit better feel for what to expect. How to carry himself, what it takes to succeed at the big league level.”
* It became official this week that the Single-A Frederick Keys no longer are going to be affiliated with the Orioles. They’re the contracted minor league team, as long rumored.
The Orioles noted in their press release that they’ll continue to collaborate with the community of Frederick, where the club has worked with Major League Baseball and Prep Baseball Report (PBR) to bring the MLB Draft League to its residents.
So the good news is that Frederick will have baseball in 2021 if conditions return to normal. But for now, they aren’t in affiliated ball. And that’s got to be crushing for the fine people who work for the Keys and a fan base that stacks up against anyone.
Short-season Single-A Aberdeen is invited to move into the Carolina League. Triple-A Norfolk, Double-A Bowie and low Single-A Delmarva are invited to remain in the fold.
“Invited” apparently is an important distinction. Hard to imagine that any team would politely decline.
Also, we learned that the Orioles likely will field two short-season teams based at their spring training site in Sarasota, Fla. In the past they’ve fielded one Gulf Coast League entry.
* The Orioles currently hold the 66th selection in next year’s draft due to their placement in Competitive Balance Round B. The order can change based on trades and future free agent signings.
The club now owns the fifth, 40th, 66th and 77th selections in the Top 100.