The Orioles non-tendered one of their most productive and popular players from the past two seasons at Wednesday’s deadline, parting ways with second baseman Hanser Alberto amid a flurry of moves that reshaped their infield and continued to bolster their farm system with an eye toward the future.
Alberto, 28, was the only non-tender for an Orioles club that also traded starting shortstop José Iglesias to the Angels, tendered contracts to its two biggest stars and reached one-year agreements with four other regulars. Alberto, who was expected to command between a $2-4 million raise through arbitration as a first-time eligible player, is now a free agent.
“We absolutely loved having Hanser in every way, shape or form since he got here,” Orioles general manager and executive vice president Mike Elias said. “It was an incredibly difficult decision. On and off the field, he’s been so good."
Multiple times when explaining the decision, Elias pointed to economic restraints of “operating within the economic framework of the collective bargaining agreement and the quirks of the arbitration system,” while indicating the Orioles would be open to bringing Alberto back on a lesser deal. Elias also cited industry-wide financial factors exacerbated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as part of the decisions not to go to arbitration with Alberto or reigning home run leader Renato Núñez, whom the club released last month.
The Orioles played with MLB’s lowest payroll in 2020, the second season of their long-term rebuild plan. Based on arbitration projections provided by the website Cots Contracts, the Orioles saved roughly $8.5 million by parting with Alberto, Núñez and Iglesias, whose $3.5 million team option had recently been exercised.
“I think it’s accurate to say that we’re still in the phase of accumulating talent,” Elias said. “There will come a time when we flip the switch to maximizing wins in the upcoming season, but we are not there yet."
Part of the short-term price was Alberto, a former two-time waiver claim who emerged as one of the feel-good stories of their rebuild’s early years. He hit .305 in 2019 and .283 in 2020, compiling 222 hits, a .735 OPS and one of MLB’s lowest strikeout rates across 193 total games in Baltimore. Alberto batted .394 against left-handed pitching over that stretch, the best in baseball among players with at least 100 plate appearances vs. southpaws.
The Orioles also worked on Wednesday to retain Alberto’s two obvious in-house replacements, striking one-year deals with recently acquired second baseman Yolmer Sánchez ($1 million) and utility man Pat Valaika (terms unknown), as well as catcher Pedro Severino ($1.825 million) and reliever Shawn Armstrong (terms unknown). Additionally, Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander were tendered contracts as expected.
Sánchez, whom the O’s claimed off waivers from the White Sox on Oct. 30, won a Gold Glove with Chicago in 2019 and represents a defensive upgrade over Alberto at second. He can also play third, but he hit just .245/.300/.360 with 32 homers and an 81 OPS+ from 2014-20 with Chicago. Valaika played six positions for the O’s in 2020 while hitting .277 with eight homers and a career-high 114 OPS.
“We did have many infielders in this arbitration class, and it was probably expected we wouldn’t be able to tender all of them at the exact same moment,” Elias said.