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Offseason checklist: O’s needs and moves

@JoeTrezz
November 4, 2019

The Orioles went 54-108 in the first year of their much-publicized rebuild under the direction of new executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, and they now enter the offseason with their sights set solely on the future. So what are the O’s biggest needs entering 2020, and what

The Orioles went 54-108 in the first year of their much-publicized rebuild under the direction of new executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, and they now enter the offseason with their sights set solely on the future.

So what are the O’s biggest needs entering 2020, and what moves have they made to address them? MLB.com is keeping track here. As the offseason continues, be sure to check back for updates.

BIGGEST NEEDS

Pitching

Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Orioles need it in the rotation. They need it in the bullpen. They need it everywhere. Baltimore owned the Majors’ highest staff ERA in 2019. The club surrendered an MLB-record 305 home runs. The O's played much of the season with three regular starters and no defined roles in the bullpen. To say they need arms is an understatement.

The Orioles are planning to get Alex Cobb back after he missed most of 2019 due to right hip and knee surgery. So that’s one. Baltimore also hopes No. 11 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) Keegan Akin wins a rotation spot out of camp this spring. The O's will also continue to comb the waiver wire and hope something sticks. But to ensure more basic-level competency on the mound, they probably need to at least tiptoe into free agency and aim higher than the one-year deals they gave last year to Nate Karns and Dan Straily, neither of which lived up to expectations. Looking toward the lower tier of market, maybe names like Trevor Cahill, Shelby Miller and Jhoulys Chacín profile as fits.

Middle-infield depth

Baltimore has a dearth of middle-infield prospects in the upper Minor Leagues and must prepare for the possibility that its two regulars from 2019 -- Jonathan Villar and Richie Martin -- may not open '20 with the O's. Villar could wind up with another club and Martin may be in the Minors.

The Orioles are likely to either shop or drop Villar, who is coming off a really good year but may be owed more than $10 million in arbitration. Martin hit .208 with a .581 OPS as a Rule 5 Draft choice as a rookie and seems destined for more seasoning at Triple-A.

Without them, Baltimore’s only players with shortstop experience are Hanser Alberto and recently claimed utilityman Pat Valaika.

Prospects

Because the O's are rebuilding, every move they do or don’t make comes with an eye toward the future, and that means prospects are en vogue. Last year’s drafting of Adley Rutschman and others gave Baltimore an above-average farm system, but the organization wants to climb higher on that list, and the only way to do so before June’s Draft is by dangling Villar and Mychal Givens, and perhaps Trey Mancini and others, on the trade market this winter.

MOVES MADE

Oct. 30: Valaika claimed, five players outrighted

The Orioles' first attempt at acquiring middle-infield depth led them to the waiver wire and Valaika, who played parts of the past four seasons for the Rockies. A natural shortstop with experience at five defensive positions, Valaika enjoyed a 13-homer season as recently as 2017, but he spent most of 2018-19 in the Minors.

The move came as part of the first real roster reshuffling of Baltimore's offseason, the club also outrighting Mason Williams and four pitchers to Triple-A Norfolk: Josh Rogers, Ryan Eades, Luis Ortiz and Tayler Scott. All played minor roles for the Orioles in 2019.

Oct. 1: Sulser claimed

The Orioles concluded the regular season with an open spot on the 40-man roster and immediately filled it with another flier arm, claiming right-hander Cole Sulser from the Rays. A 29-year-old rookie, Sulser appeared in seven games for Tampa Bay in September and did not allow a run. The O's also claimed Eric Hanhold, a right-hander with a similar profile, from the Mets in mid-September.

Nov. 4: Ynoa elects free agency; Cobb reinstated

The Orioles, already searching for pitching, will need to replace the workload provided in 2019 by Gabriel Ynoa, who was outrighted off the roster, rejected an assignment to Triple-A and became a free agent. Ynoa went 1-10 with a 5.61 ERA in 36 games (13 starts) in 2019, his first full season in the Majors. He logged a career-high 110 2/3 innings – the third most on the Orioles’ staff – while bouncing between the rotation and long relief.

Ynoa, 26, is 4-13 with a 5.39 ERA across 55 big league appearances for the O's and Mets, 20 of them starts.

The Orioles also reinstated right-handed Alex Cobb from the 60-day injured list in what was essentially a paper move. Cobb missed all but three starts in 2019 to back and knee issues, underwent hip surgery in June and is expected to be healthy by Spring Training. He takes the 40-man roster spot previously occupied by Mark Trumbo, who became a free agent at the conclusion of the World Series.

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