Looking ahead to shaping Orioles' 2020 roster

November 1st, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Change was a major theme for the 2019 Orioles under new executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, assistant GM Sig Mejdal and manager Brandon Hyde, et al, and it will continue in the new regime’s first full winter at the helm. More are sure to come after the organization spent the past calendar year laying the groundwork toward revamping how the club does business in many areas.

For Elias and the entire front office, it figures to be a busy offseason. Let’s break down the basics, now that it’s upon them:

What’s the first order of business?
Addressing the Major League coaching staff, which the Orioles have already begun to do. They must find replacements for Howie Clark (assistant hitting coach), Arnie Beyeler (first base/outfield coach) and John Wasdin (bullpen coach), whose contracts were not renewed at season’s end. All were on one-year deals. (Pitching coach Doug Brocail’s team option for 2020 was exercised.)

The O's also need to fill several coaching positions in the Minor League ranks. Vacancies currently exist at Class A Advanced Fredrick (manager, pitching and hitting coach), Class A Delmarva (hitting coach), the organization’s Gulf Coast League affiliate (hitting coach) and Dominican Academy (hitting coach). The organization also plans to add five development coaching positions, one at each of its top five affiliates.

What’s the priority?
This is the season for big league coaching jobs to change, so that probably gets finalized first. But while the Minor League searches could extend through the winter, they’re more the long-term priority for an organization dedicated to overhauling its player development operation. For the offseason as a whole, that’ll remain the focus along with beefing up their analytics and international scouting departments.

Which players are free agents?
Mark Trumbo’s three-year, $37.5 million deal expired at the conclusion of the World Series, and he does not factor into Baltimore’s future plans. The question is whether Trumbo, at age 33 and coming off serious right knee surgery, can find another job this offseason or will retire.

Which players have options? What’s the dollar figure and impact on payroll? When does it need to be decided on?
Teams have until Monday to exercise any club options for 2020, or to make any $17.8 million qualifying offers to their own potential free agents. The Orioles don’t have any such offers to make and no options to exercise.

Who might be a non-tender candidate, and when does the club have to make that decision?
The Orioles must tender offers to all arbitration-eligible players by Dec. 2., or they become free agents. The Orioles have seven arbitration-eligible players: Trey Mancini, Jonathan Villar, Hanser Alberto, Mychal Givens, Dylan Bundy, Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier. (Mancini, Alberto, Castro and Bleier are first-time eligible.)

The most obvious non-tender candidate is Bleier, whose ERA ballooned to 5.37 in his first year back from lat surgery. He didn’t pitch nearly that poorly. Bleier suffered from some of the widest batted ball gaps of any reliever in the game, struggles tied at least partially to batted ball luck and defensive positioning. But despite entering 2019 with a 1.97 career ERA, Bleier’s age (32) and down year make his roster status tenuous.

Might the Orioles cut ties with Givens? It’s possible. He’s in line for a raise on his $2.5 million salary despite the most trying season of his career. But it’s more likely the Orioles tender him a contract they are then motivated to move on the trade market. The same goes for Villar, who should get a sizable salary bump and would be a free agent after next season. MLB TradeRumors projects Villar will warrant $10.4 million in arbitration, which would make him Baltimore’s third-highest paid player behind and .

When is the deadline for clubs and arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary figures?
Jan. 10.

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
There are four locks and a few bubble guys. First, the locks: Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Cody Sedlock. Mountcastle, Akin and Kremer will likely see time in the Majors at some point in 2020; Sedlock remains further behind, but the Orioles were impressed by his bounce-back 2019 season.

The toughest choice will be Ryan McKenna, who plateaued at Double-A Bowie this season but remains the club’s No. 13 prospect. Righty Gray Fenter, 23, is eligible too, but he's more of a dark horse, despite his dominant season at Delmarva.

When is the deadline to protect prospects?
Nov. 20. Eligible players are those who were drafted out of college in the 2016 Draft, or those drafted out of high school or signed as international free agents under the age of 19 in 2015. Yusniel Diaz is not eligible, despite having just completed his fourth Minor League season. That has to do with his age when he signed; the Orioles can therefore wait until next year to protect him.

Do they have a crunch for roster spots? How might it be resolved?
The Orioles have waiver priority and are expected to significantly churn their 40-man roster this offseason, as they did all season (particularly on the pitching side). As of now, they have 22 pitchers and eight outfielders on the 40-man; expect them to trim those numbers and cycle players on and off often.

Trumbo’s vacated spot will immediately go to Cobb, who is expected to be healthy by spring after missing most of 2019 due to right hip surgery. The Orioles also need to reinstate Josh Rogers from the 60-day IL; decisions could involve him, Cody Carroll and Luis Ortiz, who all had mostly lost 2019 seasons.

There are also a sizable number of pitchers who appeared in the Majors this season who the Orioles probably feel comfortable pushing through waivers, like they did to Chandler Shepherd when claiming Cole Sulser this week. On the position player side, Mason Williams and Cedric Mullins seem most vulnerable at the current juncture.

Will they be active in free agency? What kind of help do they need? Who might they target?
For hints on how active the Orioles will be on the free-agent market, look into Elias’ comments when asked about the subject recently.

“We’re taking a broad, strategic, organizational view here,” Elias said. “Winning a couple extra games is not the end goal here.”

Translation: At this point in their rebuild, the Orioles are not looking to wade heavily into the free-agent waters and take on significant financial investment involved in doing so. Their activity will likely come only at the fringes of the market, perhaps on fliers for low-cost veterans (think Dan Straily and Nate Karns) or reclamation projects on Minor League deals. Dealing Villar would give them an additional need for shortstop depth.