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Looking ahead to shaping Orioles' 2020 roster

October 3, 2019

Now that one of the more trying and transitional seasons in Orioles history is in the books, what should be an even more transformative offseason is set to begin in earnest. Changes are sure to come in the first full winter for executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias,

Now that one of the more trying and transitional seasons in Orioles history is in the books, what should be an even more transformative offseason is set to begin in earnest. Changes are sure to come in the first full winter for executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, who spent his first 10 1/2 months on the job laying the groundwork toward revamping the way the Orioles do 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 could feature some shakeup as early as this week. The Orioles largely scrambled to fill Brandon Hyde’s staff after hiring Hyde in mid-December, and many were on one-year contracts in 2019.

They 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), and the organization’s Gulf Coast League affiliate (hitting coach), and Dominican Academy (hitting coach).

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?

Just one: Mark Trumbo. Trumbo’s three-year, $37.5 million deal will expire 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 five days after the World Series to exercise any club options for 2020, or to make any $18.3 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?

Dec. 2 is the deadline for clubs to tender contract offers to arbitration-eligible players for the 2020 season, 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.

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 all likely see Baltimore at some point in 2020; Sedlock remains further behind, but the Orioles were impressed by his bounceback 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. 23-year-old righty Gray Fenter is eligible too, but 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 the 40-man 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 Alex 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 sizeable 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) or reclamation projects on Minor League deals (think Nate Karns).

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