BALTIMORE -- What kind of offseason will it be for the Orioles? As the team headed into the home stretch of its third 100-loss season in four years, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias spoke publicly Thursday ahead of Baltimore's home finale against Boston.
Here is what Elias had to say regarding a variety of topics regarding the team, its present and its future:
Topic: The club’s top prospects
Skinny: Catcher Adley Rutschman and right-hander pitcher Grayson Rodriguez, MLB's top position player and pitching prospects per MLB Pipeline, will be invited to Major League Spring Training next year, Elias confirmed. Will they have legitimate shots at making the team? That will be the main storyline when the Orioles report to Sarasota, Fla., in February, after Rutschman and Rodriguez both excelled in 2021. Rutschman will finish the year at Triple-A Norfolk, and Rodriguez finished at Double-A Bowie.
Elias: “They're going to be at Major League Spring Training. Unless something happens, it's almost certain to be the case. Once you’re at Major League Spring Training, you've got a chance to show your stuff and make the team. We're going to have to see how that goes from there. But both players had spectacular years. They're two of the better Minor League talents in the entire sport. We're very excited about them. They're on schedule despite losing a full season with the pandemic.
“Grayson has not pitched in Triple-A yet. I don't think it's 100 percent necessary to pitch in Triple-A. So it doesn't preclude anything, but that's going to be a consideration. Adley has spent a short amount of time there as well, and played really well there. We're just going to kind of consider all factors.”
Topic: Targeting pitching in free agency
Skinny: With three games remaining, the Orioles are likely to finish with the highest ERA in team history (if the season ended Friday, it would tie the ninth highest in modern baseball history) in a year they used 15 starters and 42 total pitchers. There were bright spots, notably John Means’ no-hitter and strong finish, Tyler Wells emerging as an impact reliever and Cole Sulser’s breakout in middle relief. But few of the youngsters Baltimore tried out separated themselves, and the O’s struggled nightly not only to compete on the mound, but often to field a full staff. By season’s end, both the rotation and bullpen had turned over almost entirely, leaving many question marks for 2022.
Elias: “I think it would be very overly optimistic of us to assume we have enough pitching to compete in our division just by bringing back returning players. But that said, we are very interested still and very encouraged by a lot of the guys that are on this 40-man roster, even though a lot of them had a lot of rough stretches in the middle of the summer. I think we've seen some encouraging finishes for some of these guys in September, whether that's in the Minors or in the Majors. This group, by and large, is still part of our future plans … But we need to get more talented in a lot of areas, and pitching is certainly at the top of the list. So we're going to be looking at external reinforcements for sure.”
Topic: Financial support from ownership
Skinny: The Orioles have cut payroll by about $100 million since 2018, and they have not given out a multiyear free-agent contact during Elias’ tenure. They do not have one player under guaranteed contract for '22.
Elias: "I think that we will continue to have full financial support for executing our strategy of getting this team back to the playoffs in a realistic, viable, sustainable way. And to the degree that comes in the form of fortifying our roster with with free-agent investments, that we want because they're strategic, that will be there.”
Topic: Heston Kjerstad’s development
Skinny: The No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 Draft recently resumed baseball activity after missing over a year due to a heart condition called myocarditis. Kjerstad, who will turn 23 on Feb. 12, has yet to play in a professional game.
Elias: “I think we're all definitely -- including him -- concerned about it. He missed a year and a half of plate appearances. There are some mitigating factors there, hopefully. A lot of players missed plate appearances in 2020. He was a pretty polished college hitter from a big conference, and he's got a great head on his shoulders. He's kind of jumped back into the mix of things and is a real natural hitter. It’s not a cage-crafted swing. So hopefully all that allows him to catch up eventually, but I'm sure there's going to be some curve to that and we're obviously going to be patient with him and supportive.”
Topic: Future for Means, Mancini and Santander
Skinny: The Orioles could have as large as an eight-man arbitration class, headlined by John Means, Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander. The team has entertained trade proposals for each in the past, while also characterizing Means and Mancini in particular as long-term pieces. Mancini is a free agent after next season, while Santander and Means are under club control through 2023 and '24, respectively. Might any be dealt this winter?
Elias: “We like all those players. They are talented guys. Many of them have a lot of control left that would make us more apt to put them off limits. But I've said a number of times, we're not doing our job as a baseball front office if we're not entertaining conversations on our guys, by and large. So we will do that. I'm sure it'll include a lot of guys from that group. But it doesn't mean that we're going to pull the trigger on anything.”