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Possible O's moves at arbitration deadline

@JoeTrezz
January 12, 2021

The Hot Stove may be cold, but this is a busy week in Orioles land. The Orioles are holding their annual scouting department meetings this week, while also conducting a minicamp at their Sarasota, Fla., complex for select outfielders. Ryan Mountcastle, DJ Stewart, Yusniel Díaz, Ryan McKenna and Stevie Wilkerson

The Hot Stove may be cold, but this is a busy week in Orioles land.

The Orioles are holding their annual scouting department meetings this week, while also conducting a minicamp at their Sarasota, Fla., complex for select outfielders. Ryan Mountcastle, DJ Stewart, Yusniel Díaz, Ryan McKenna and Stevie Wilkerson are participating in the minicamp, with an eye toward putting work in before reporting again for Spring Training next month.

On the business side, two important deadlines loom.

Friday is the deadline for clubs to exchange figures with arbitration-eligible players, as well as the beginning of the 2020-21 international signing period. Both should generate headlines that impact the Orioles in ‘21 and beyond.

So there is a decent amount going on.

Arbitration day
The O’s got most of their arbitration-related work done in November and December, cutting ties with Renato Núñez and Hanser Alberto, while avoiding arbitration Yolmer Sánchez ($1 million), Pat Valaika, Pedro Severino ($1.825 million) and Shawn Armstrong. They tendered contracts to Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander, but as of this writing, they have yet to strike a deal with either.

That isn’t expected to be too difficult, with Mancini and Santander set to return as the Orioles' two most important offensive players in 2021. But it’s important winter business that needs to be done. If the O’s and either Mancini or Santander cannot agree to a contract by 1 p.m. ET Friday, both sides must put forth a salary figure for the upcoming season and a hearing would be scheduled for February.

Baltimore hasn't gone to a trial since 2017 with reliever Brad Brach.

Mancini is second-time arbitration-eligible after missing the entire 2020 season while recovering from Stage 3 colon cancer. He signed on deadline day last January for $4.75 million. Due to the unique circumstances of his situation, he is one of the few arb-eligible players in baseball unlikely to command a significant raise through the process.

Santander is on different footing as a first-time arbitration-eligible player and the O’s breakout star of 2020. After hitting 20 home runs with a .773 OPS in '19, Santander hit .261 with 11 homers, 32 RBI and .890 OPS in 37 games, before a left oblique injury cut his already-shortened season short. The switch-hitting slugger sat atop the American League RBI leaderboard for long stretches and also improved his defense in right field, per several advanced metrics.

If there was a 2020 All-Star Game, Santander would’ve been the easy top Orioles choice. What does that mean salary-wise, especially given just a 37-game sample? That’s the question (the leading projection is $2 million, per Cots Contracts). Whatever the final figure, it’ll surely be more than the roughly $550,000 Santander earned in 2020.

Last year, the O’s struck a one-year deal with Richard Bleier prior to deadline day, as well as with Alberto, Mancini, Michael Givens and Miguel Castro on deadline day, avoiding arbitration with all their eligible players. They’ve gone to trial just four times since 2011 and 13 times since 1993, when Peter Angelos became majority owner. The Orioles won 11 of those cases.

International signing period
Normally held annually on July 2, the opening of the international signing period was pushed back to January 15 this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That merely delayed what should be a historic day for the franchise, which has pledged to make waves in the international market since Mike Elias took over as general manager in 2018 and quickly recruited Koby Perez as director of international scouting.

Doing so takes legwork, connections and inroads that sometimes require years to make. For the Orioles, progress will soon be plain to see. Multiple reports have them coming to deals with their first two international amateurs in franchise history to seven-figure bonuses, and at least eight others to $300,000 or more.

Those efforts are expected to eat up almost all of the O’s $5,889,600 bonus pool for this period, easily the most they’ve ever spent in the international market. They are also linked as the heavy favorites to land Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernandez, currently ranked the 30th-best international prospect per MLB Pipeline. Hernandez would be the O’s first international signee ranked in Pipeline’s Top 30.

Worth noting
The Orioles are going to need to look elsewhere for veteran catching depth after Bryan Holaday was among the seven Minor League signings announced by the D-backs on Monday. Holaday, 33, hit .161 without a homer in 20 games for the O's in 2020, his only season in Baltimore. The nine-year veteran has appeared in 288 big league games for five teams, earning a reputation as a solid defender and a strong clubhouse presence.

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