The Orioles’ middle infield will look a whole lot different in 2021. Baltimore shook up its infield alignment significantly prior to Wednesday’s non-tender deadline, trading shortstop José Iglesias to the Angels for a pair of pitching prospects as part of a flurry of moves that included non-tendering second baseman Hanser Alberto.
Right-handers Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto are the players coming back to Baltimore in the deal, the Orioles’ latest move in a years-long rebuilding effort to restock their Minor League system and second in a span of a calendar year with the Angels. The O’s previously acquired four pitching prospects from Los Angeles last December for Dylan Bundy, netting No. 29 prospect Kyle Bradish and fast-rising reliever Isaac Mattson in that package.
“We continue to view the accumulation of talent as a priority, and the reality is when you are in a phase like we are, anytime you sign a free agent [Iglesias], it’s in the back of your mind that the trade possibilities exist with that player,” Orioles GM/executive vice president Mike Elias said. “There will come a time when we flip the switch to maximizing wins, but it’s our judgement that we’re not there yet. This is not fun to subtract from your Major League team, but that’s what you do when you’re below .500 and rebuilding, and we still are.”
The move comes roughly one month after the Orioles exercised their $3.5 million team option on the soon-to-be 31-year-old Iglesias, who before arriving in Baltimore was best known as one of baseball’s most acrobatic defenders at shortstop. He then enjoyed a career year at the plate in 2020, batting .373/.400/.556 with 17 doubles, three homers and a .956 OPS in 39 games as Baltimore’s everyday No. 3 hitter. Iglesias also rated as a plus fielder despite playing through various lower-body injuries that limited him to 22 defensive starts.
An All-Star for Detroit in 2015, Iglesias is a lifetime .278 hitter with 35 home runs and a .700 OPS in nine seasons with the Red Sox, Tigers, Reds and Orioles. He figures to replace longtime shortstop Andrelton Simmons in Los Angeles.
“He’s not a player that we would have traded lightly, but we knew there were some open shortstop jobs around the league, we knew he was very attractive for his offensive and defensive and leadership skills that he put on display here with the Orioles,” Elias said. “And I think we got two quality arms from the Angels. One of whom, in particular, is somebody that we’ve been focused on since he was in the 2019 Draft.”
That is Stallings, a 23-year-old former fifth-round pick out of Tennessee who is now the Orioles’ No. 26 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. Considered a polished strike-thrower with four pitches and plus command, Stallings did not pitch for the Angels in 2019 after surpassing the organization’s pitch-count rules for recent draftees while in college, then he was limited to the team’s summer and instructional camps in '20. He is seen as a potential back-end starter at the big league level.
Pinto, 19, signed out of Venezuela before making three Dominican Summer League appearances for the Angels in 2019. Together, Stallings and Pinto are the latest additions to an Orioles farm system that’s risen into one of baseball’s 10 most highly regarded in recent years on the strength of its pitching depth. Half of the O’s Top 30 Prospects are hurlers, including two -- No. 10 Dean Kremer and No. 15 Keegan Akin -- who enjoyed successful big league debuts in '20. At least three others -- No. 9 Michael Baumann, No. 11 Zac Lowther and No. 19 Alexander Wells -- seem on track to debut in '21.
“I think it’s another great starting-pitching prospect to add to what’s becoming a very impressive stack up in our system,” Elias said. “We’re getting all that we can get. I’ve said before that I don’t know that I would trade our starting pitching in the Minor Leagues right now for anyone else’s, and this makes me feel even stronger that that might be the case. We’re sad to see Iggy go, but this is the business of getting this organization to a long-term period of sustainability.”