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Orioles explore new ways to add depth

Bonus pool surplus and waiver claims offer O's access to talent
@JoeTrezz
March 9, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Late Friday afternoon, after all but few had left their Spring Training complex for the day, the Orioles announced a trade. On the surface, it looked minor: Baltimore sending yet another stack of international bonus pool money to Toronto for Dwight Smith, a 26-year-old outfielder who has

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Late Friday afternoon, after all but few had left their Spring Training complex for the day, the Orioles announced a trade. On the surface, it looked minor: Baltimore sending yet another stack of international bonus pool money to Toronto for Dwight Smith, a 26-year-old outfielder who has appeared in just 47 Major League games.

But put in context, the deal provided a glimpse into a two-pronged approach to roster building that Orioles new executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has utilized for months. With the Major League free-agent front relatively quiet, Elias has been busy making under-the-radar moves: turning the O’s excess bonus pool into real-live players, working the waiver wire and churning the back end of his 40-man roster -- all with an eye toward boosting Baltimore’s organizational depth.

“I have a very clear goal for this season, and as I said a little bit earlier, I want to see the overall level of talent, up and down this organization, go up,” Elias said in January, echoing a sentiment he’s made repeatedly. “We just want to see the organization get more talented and get better."

Trading for Smith provides the latest example. The deal marks the third time in as many weeks the Orioles dipped into their excess bonus pool, which, at the turn of the year, sat nearly five times fatter than any other club’s. This is the right to spend money the Orioles had already committed to not spending, so in essence, they were able to add Smith, right-hander David Lebron (from Texas) and righty Xavier Moore (from Minnesota) for free. All profile as high-floor Minor League depth.

So swelled was the Orioles’ pool that even by slicing it nearly in half with these deals, they remain in a position to outbid every other club for Cuban shortstop Yolbert Sanchez, should they choose. Sanchez, the only elite amateur prospect left on the market, worked out for the Orioles in February, but remains unsigned. It’s been speculated he’s waiting for the next signing period to begin in July, when competition for his services would be greater.

The fallout of the Smith deal factors in as well, the second part of the two-pronged approach. To make room on the 40-man roster, the club designated left-hander Josh Osich for assignment, whom they’d added on a waiver claim from San Francisco less than a month ago. Now Osich must pass through waivers before he can be sent to the Minor Leagues, exposing him to the same process that allowed the Orioles to snatch him up in the first place.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because just last week the Orioles re-claimed infielder Hanser Alberto from the Giants -- one week after they’d lost him on a waiver claim to make room on the roster for … Josh Osich. They originally claimed Alberto on a separate waiver claim in Yankees.

Dizzy yet?

In all, the Orioles have made six waiver claims for five different players since the Winter Meetings; four of those players were designated shortly after. Alberto and Jack Reinheimer, who was claimed, added and outrighted within a span of 10 days earlier this spring, were retained by the organization. It’s unclear if Osich will be.

The approach may seem frantic, but the reasoning behind it is simple. Having baseball’s worst record last year earned the Orioles first dibs on the waiver wire, and Elias all but promised turnover when he was hired in November. The pieces he’s added on the margins can help at the big league level, or, if they successfully clear waivers, can help boost the organization’s depth. The Orioles value that.

And if not, little harm is done. This way, the only cost of adding a new player is the gamble of potentially losing the last one.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.