The business beyond evaluating players in exhibition games, organizing workouts and keeping everyone safe includes daily checks of the free agent market and discussing how to set up the alternate camp site and how to fill it.
The Orioles haven’t dismissed the idea of adding to their spring training roster, with pitching always a priority, but they are shifting their focus to the waiver wire as cuts are made in the coming weeks and tracking which minor leaguers have opt-out clauses in their contracts.
They’ve run into the same deterrent in free agency with starter candidates entering rush mode to get ready for opening day. Finding innings for pitchers in camp already requires some creativity with shortened games and an abundance of arms. Late signings will be challenged to move in front of the line or anywhere near it while standing behind the eight ball.
It makes more sense, as usual, to grab a potential upgrade who’s already been throwing in someone else’s camp.
The same logic can apply to a position player, though it’s unclear where the Orioles would prioritize unless there’s an injury. They aren’t hurting for outfielders, appear set at catcher and seem content with their infield options, at least publicly.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias claimed catcher Pedro Severino off waivers from the Nationals on March 23, 2019 and he’s situated again as the primary starter, with Chance Sisco the favorite to back up and Adley Rutschman doing some distance hovering at Double-A Bowie.
Alex Cobb signed a four-year, $57 million contract on March 21, 2018, but the Orioles were transparent in their pursuit of another starting pitcher. The late agreement sabotaged Cobb’s first season.
The Phillies traded pitcher Alec Asher to the Orioles on March 28, 2017 in a cash transaction. He wasn’t sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring.
If the Orioles bring in an outsider this month, he’s unlikely to be one of the current free agents. But they aren’t necessarily done doing business.
So what about the month-delayed start for Triple-A Norfolk?
The Orioles are expected to gather players again at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, though at a lesser number. Maybe somewhere in the 25-28 range.
Logic dictates that the vast majority will be Triple-A players getting ready for their season, with lower-level prospects working out in Sarasota.
“I think we knew that it was a real possibility,” said director of player development Matt Blood, who’s currently in the Dominican Republic to oversee a program set up earlier this month at the academy.
“The messaging from Major League Baseball has been pretty clear that they want to have a minor league season this year and I’m getting that sense, that they’re going to do what they can to have a minor league season, and that’s great. But the fact that there’s a little delay in Triple-A and an alternate site I don’t think is necessarily surprising and I think it will be an effective process for the month of April.”
Prince George’s Stadium makes the most sense after such a smooth operation last year. It’s convenient and proven to work.
“I think a lot of the infrastructure is already in place and so the whole setting of that should be pretty easy from our standpoint,” Blood said.
“In terms of the players, that hasn’t been finalized.”
Elias and Blood will iron out the details this month, including whether the Orioles can arrange games against nearby teams such as the Nationals and Phillies.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s only a month, and they’re still going to be training and practicing, and I think we showed last year that we could still develop and be productive in an alternate training site environment, and that’s not going to change,” Blood said. “I think we’ll just keep doing that and then whenever the season does start, we’ll start playing (minor league) games.
“I’m really not that worried about it. I think whatever the rules are, we’ll take advantage of them.”
Lowther benefited from his work last summer at the secondary site, though he was a late addition to the player pool, and isn’t bothered by the notion of returning to it.
“I definitely think just the small instructional groups that we have to be in when we’re at an alternate site, it helps no matter what,” he said. “You’ve got high-level coaches there with high-level players in such a small group that it’s very individualized with the work that you’re doing. You’re able to kind of hone in on some things that the game’s not going to let you do day-to-day. So when you have just that streamlined practice, these coaches know the direction I want to go and they’re going to help me get there, and that’s really the only goal at the time.”
Said manager Brandon Hyde: “Benefits of last year were, I think you saw the guys came to us from our alternate site more prepared, were ready, had nice years. I felt like guys got better down there, so I give a lot of credit to our development staff and the guys that were down there getting those guys ready and working on the things that we talked about before the season started back up.
“I think you look down the line, a lot of guys that were there and came to us performed, so I thought it was a nice development camp.”