Because You Asked - The Return of the King

The first mailbag of the 2021 offseason is upon us. Keep breathing normally and suspending disbelief.

Many topics are impossible to answer on this date - and some are impossible on any date - but I’m not above fudging it like a Keebler cookie.

What’s important is that you keep asking and I keep answering and you keep ignoring my responses and asking again and I discover a new sequel.

Also important is that I remain a mailbag rebel. Let the length overflow. Let the lack of style be our style.

Let there be Roch.

Also, my mailbag walks in the other direction when it sees your mailbag coming.

Are the Orioles ready to spend money on players?
Well, they have to receive their salaries. Otherwise, they’d file a grievance.

We’re off to a good start here.
Let me try again. They won’t be the talk of the Winter Meetings, assuming there’s a new collective bargaining agreement in place. They aren’t going to flash wads of cash. Asked on Sept. 30 whether the Orioles would be in the bidding for the most expensive shortstop on the free agent market, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias replied, “I can’t rule anything out, but we’re going to be very cognizant of who we are and where we are, and I do think that the time for the Orioles of making the largest splash at the Winter Meetings is not right now. But I’m not going to close the doors to anything.” OK, I’ll do it. They aren’t spending a lot on any position. Not yet.

So, if they’re not spending money, the shortstop on opening day already is in the organization? Jorge Mateo or Ramón Urías or Pat Valaika or Richie Martin?
I wouldn’t go that far. Freddy Galvis was signed as a one-year placeholder and lasted until the trade deadline. The Orioles could do the same thing, perhaps even Galvis himself. But they’re very intrigued by Mateo’s skill set and will consider him for the middle infield. Urías could be the primary shortstop or second baseman, or a utility player. So, yes, there are in-house options for sure. But I’d expect the Orioles to bring in at least one infielder, whether via free agency, the waiver wire or trade.

Who’s the backup catcher on opening day?
I’m wondering more about the starter. You know what I’m talking about. Austin Wynns is a backup possibility based on his work behind the plate. Manager Brandon Hyde values it. The arm, the ability to block pitches, how he handles a pitching staff. But the Orioles sign or claim a catcher every offseason. I’d certainly expect them to do it again. The question is, which outsider would find the Orioles appealing if opportunities to start will be limited. You know what I’m talking about. Has to be someone who’s cool with the role of mentor.

Thumbnail image for Nevin-Swings-Whit-ST-Sidebar.jpgDid Tyler Nevin get his home run ball in Toronto?
Yes, he did. I don’t know how, but he’s got it.

What’s the rationale for sending Yusniel Diaz to Arizona Fall League when he’s 25 and played there four years ago? Just curious.
He only had 253 plate appearances because of injuries and this is a way to provide more. He needs the work - at the plate and in the outfield. He seems to have regressed, but the tools are there and shouldn’t go back on a shelf. But I’m impressed that you have the correct age when, at the time you sent this question, he was a day shy of his 25th birthday.

I was hoping Heston Kjerstad would get some AFL ABs.
Stomach muscles? And this isn’t a question.

Why isn’t Heston Kjerstad getting at-bats in the AFL? Jerk.
Let’s focus on the first part. Kjerstad is taking batting practice, a nice progression after being shut down again due to the effects of myocarditis. But he must not be ready for intense game action. The Orioles will have him working out in the fall instructional camp. That seems like plenty, given what he’s gone through and the need to be careful with him. This isn’t a hamstring or groin. We’re talking heart.

Did you ever see Heart in concert?
The Bad Animals tour at the old Baltimore Arena. But let’s stick to baseball.

Is Roch your real name?
So much for that idea. Yes, that’s my real name. It isn’t short for “Rochester,” though as a kid I used to love seeing “Roch” on the Orioles schedule for games against the Triple-A affiliate.

Would Nick Markakis consider the batting coach position? Would the Orioles consider him for it?
Markakis, I’m sure, has zero interest in a coaching job in baseball unless he can do it from a tree stand. He hasn’t shot down the idea to me, but he just seems like a guy who wants to spend all of his time with his family when he isn’t hunting. I think he’d make a terrific hitting coach, but his philosophy might not be what the Orioles are teaching. And the organization has shown a tendency to move away from former players.

Who’s going to replace Gary Kendall as manager at Triple-A Norfolk?
Buck Britton just has to say “yes.” And why would he decline?

What are Chris Holt’s roles? Does he have too many responsibilities? Overseeing minor league pitching and the major league staff?
He does the usual stuff as a pitching coach and also implements the pitching program that stretches through the organization. The lowest to highest points. Overseeing the development plans for every pitcher. He’s pulled away from the daily minors work, but remains in contact with the coaches and gets to games and affiliates when he’s able. It’s a big responsibility, especially with the equipment used by the more modern pitching coaches. He hauls more cameras to the field than most photographers. But the Orioles wouldn’t have added another title if they didn’t think he’d hold up.

Will Adley Rutschman be on the opening day roster?
There it is. I don’t know. I was a lot more confident about it a few months ago, but a potential work stoppage has to factor into the decision. Players on the 40-man roster can’t play anywhere. And maybe the Orioles want him to get a few more at-bats in Triple-A. But I know that’s a tough sell. He sure seems ready. The jump to Norfolk produced a clean landing.

Will there be a work stoppage?
A strike is a horrible outcome. It doesn’t benefit either side. It alienates fans who already are finding reasons to stay away. A disastrous scenario. So, yes, it’s certainly possible.

Who are the Orioles taking with the first draft pick?
Already? I’ll just say that Mock Draft 6.0 will have a sixth different name.

Are they looking for a specific position?
That isn’t how it usually works. It’s the best player available. It just worked out really well that they needed a catcher and Rutschman was on top of their board. But they could go in any direction, and that includes college or high school. Top college guys include LSU corner infielder Jacob Berry, Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee, Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung and Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada. Top prep talent includes outfielder Elijah Green, right-hander Dylan Lesko, left-hander Jackson Ferris and middle infielder Termarr Johnson. Also, outfielder Druw Jones, son of former Braves All-Star outfielder Andruw Jones. It’s just way too early to start digging. But I’ll selfishly endorse Jones for the father-son story angle.

Congrats on the wedding. You signed up at Bed, Bath & Beyond, right?
I didn’t know if we’d have enough time.

How was your wedding?
Didn’t happen. I tested positive for COVID-19, after receiving a positive rapid test, followed by a negative PCR, followed by a positive PCR at a different location. Of course, the second positive result arrived after the huge tent was installed in our backyard. Caterer can’t refund our money because he claims the food prep already began. Emily lost her deposit for hair and makeup. Oh, and I have COVID - which basically has been some cold symptoms. Slight cough, congestion. Isn’t it ironic? It’s like COVID on your wedding day. It’s a canceled caterer when you’ve already paid. It’s a good beef tenderloin that you just can’t eat.

Who would have thought?
It figures.

Weird transition here, but is Brandon Hyde back as manager next season?
Yes. The Orioles already picked up his option. In fact, they did it over the winter and kept it a secret.

Do you agree with the decision to keep Hyde?
Absolutely. Way too many people want to judge him based on his record in a rebuild. That’s crazy. Or they criticize his “bullpen management.” Meanwhile, he struggled all summer to find guys he could trust. Wake me when he can choose among Zack Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens outside the ninth inning, etc. He had no choice except to put guys in high-leverage situations who didn’t belong there or who began to struggle so much that they had to be removed. Problems that are compounded when starters leave games early. A combustible combination. And sloppy play in the field wasn’t due to a lack of preparation. This team does as much or more early work than the others. I’ll say again that the Orioles play hard for him. They universally support him. He hasn’t come close to losing the clubhouse. For upper management to say it isn’t about wins and losses and then let him go because of the losses would make absolutely no sense. I’ll join the chorus of people saying I’d like to see what he could do with a more competitive roster.

Will Ryan Mountcastle win Rookie of the Year?
I don’t think so. I’m not saying he’s undeserving, I just think there are too many excellent choices and he’s getting lost in the stampede. The .309 on-base percentage, 0.9 WAR and minus-1.5 dWAR will be held against him. I’m guessing that it’s Rangers outfielder Adolis García.

Will Cedric Mullins win Most Valuable Player?
No. He should be in the top 10, but he isn’t going to win it. Shohei Ohtani will have the award named after him before long. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will finish second. I see Mullins on the back end of the ballots.

What about Trey Mancini for Comeback Player of the Year?
Should be a landslide. I don’t care about his September power outage or whatever. He didn’t play in 2020, underwent chemotherapy treatments for Stage 3 colon cancer, had a full spring training, played in 147 games and finished with 33 doubles, 21 homers and 71 RBIs. And he was runner-up in the Home Run Derby. I don’t want to hear about another player’s injury in 2020. Mancini beat freakin’ cancer. Top that! You can’t.

How is Mancini spending his offseason?
Playing winter ball. I’m kidding. In Laguna Beach with girlfriend Sara Perlman and happy to disappear for a while. He understands the media attention. No one is more accommodating. But he wants and needs a break. No more retellings of his diagnosis and long road back. He really hopes to turn the page in 2022.

Will Chris Davis ever come out of retirement?
No. His hip won’t allow that to happen. A degenerative condition. And, while I still pretend that this is a serious question, I think he’s had enough of the failures and booing.

Have you watched “The Sandlot” yet?
Bits and pieces. I guess I would have enjoyed it back in the day. Whatever day that was. It just doesn’t do much for me at my age. And I’m pretty easy to please. A bag of pretzel nuggets and Netflix or Hulu usually do the trick.

When do we win more than we lose? I’ll hang up and listen to your response.
Hey, this isn’t radio. It’s a conversational mailbag. No timeline on this dang rebuild, but I don’t expect a .500 season or better in 2022. They may not avoid 100 losses. But they’ll be more enjoyable to watch with some top prospects on the major league roster, and better days are ahead. At some point.

Have you heard any names to watch for some of these coaching vacancies?
I have not. The Orioles are a long way from finalizing a list of candidates. There’s going to be speculation on the major league side regarding former Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, who has ties to Hyde. Triple-A Norfolk hitting coach Tim Gibbons is a fast riser who’s handling those duties with the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL. Keep an eye on him as an in-house candidate.

How many major league free agent contracts you foresee the O’s giving out?
Not many, that’s for sure. Maybe they spend a little more on a starter rather than go the minor league reclamation route again. Emphasis on the word “little.” More likely an infielder like they did with Galvis and Maikel Franco.

Is there significant concern among the Orioles’ player development about Kyle Stowers’ high strikeout rate?
Nope. Everything coming off his bat is loud. He rolls out the barrels. There will be strikeouts, but not to a degree that has anyone losing sleep or doubting whether he can hit in the majors.

How does the uncertainty in the CBA affect the timing of offseason moves?
It could freeze the industry. Makes me wonder whether some executives will want to get as much business done as possible before the current CBA expires. Or would that be unwise without knowing what lies ahead? I don’t know. I just work here.

Kremer-Delivers-White-NYY-Sidebar.jpgWhat’s the feeling in the organization about Dean Kremer? Is it primarily concern or do coaches see reason for optimism that he can still be a big league rotation piece?
The Orioles still believe in him and are trying to figure out why his command disappears. They still like his stuff. They’ll keep working with him. They’ll hope that he wins a job in the rotation in spring training, perhaps nestled in the backend of it. There’s no reason to give up on the guy. He’ll turn 26 in January. He once led the minors in strikeouts. This organization prides itself on its advanced methods for working with pitchers and the positive results. Well, here’s a nice little project.

Have the Orioles finished with releasing baseball operations personnel or are there more to come?
There could be hires and fires happening behind the scenes that haven’t leaked, but if you’re talking front office, they seem to have the desired people in place.

What is the bigger sin in professional sports, swinging 3-0 when you’re up by five in the eighth inning, or running a play for six yards in the last minute of the fourth quarter while leading by 21 points?
Neither. It’s calling timeouts in the final minute while down by 21 points. I don’t have an issue with swinging 3-0, but apparently it’s a huge deal. I don’t get it. Maybe swinging leads to a ground ball and bails out a struggling pitcher and speeds up the game. Just don’t try to steal or bunt.

Will we see both Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez in Baltimore next year? If so, who debuts first? Who has the bigger impact?
They are both expected in Baltimore in 2022. Rutschman first because he’s already played at Triple-A. Hard to predict who will have the bigger impact. They’re widely regarded as the top position and pitching prospects in baseball. Rutschman obviously will appear in more games because catchers tend to do that compared to starting pitchers. My deep analysis. But an ace, as Rodriguez profiles to be, can prevent losing streaks from reaching 14 and 19 games - just a few random numbers I pulled out of the air. A stopper like Mike Mussina was before leaving Baltimore.

Will Buck Britton be managing the O’s in 2023 or 2024?
Maybe neither. Reaching Triple-A doesn’t mean you’re on deck to manage in the majors. Gary Allenson didn’t do it. Bobby Dickerson didn’t do it. Ron Johnson didn’t do it. Kendall didn’t do it. Britton obviously is held in high regard. But so is Hyde, so let’s stop trying to nudge him out of his seat.

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?
Owl have to ask somebody.

That’s a thinker. And it’s probably flying over a few heads.
I’m not done. I found a Tootsie Roll Internet site that contained the following: A group of engineering students from Purdue University reported that its licking machine, modeled after a human tongue, took an average of 364 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. Twenty of the group’s volunteers assumed the licking challenge - unassisted by machinery - and averaged 252 licks each to the center. Not to be outdone by a Big Ten rival, a chemical engineering doctorate student from the University of Michigan recorded that his customized licking machine required 411 licks to reach the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.

Is Mountcastle strictly a first baseman now?
And occasional designated hitter. His last start in left field came in June. He’s no longer an outfielder.

Will the Orioles have a hitting coach next year or just pocket the salary?
The former.

Will the O’s sign a free agent for $5 million a year or more?
That seems excessive for them at this point in their rebuild. But maybe they’ll pay for my unused wedding tent.

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