With Spring Training almost here, one of the issues that will face many teams is what to do with players who are out of minor league options. These players would have to clear waivers in order to be demoted to the minors, and that means that some players who have a lot of promise will be available either cheaply via trade or via waivers. The Orioles, who have the #1 waiver priority in the American League, are in a prime position to add a player who is out of options, a strategy that worked to their advantage last season with Felix Pie, and which led to Jason Hammel's being dealt to the Rockies for next to nothing, where he emerged as a quality starter.
Because of how waiver priority works, the Orioles have a better shot at out of options players in the AL, so beginning with them, here are some names to keep an eye on this spring:
Brandon Wood, SS/3B, Angels: Wood is currently the leading candidate to be the starting third baseman for the Angels and is unlikely to be demoted. But, with the Angels a contender, if Wood does poorly in spring training, they may turn to Macier Izturis or a trade. In that case, despite what it will say about Wood's likelihood to hit in the majors, Wood would be a clear target for the O's. He would certainly represent more upside in the utility infield role than Robert Andino or Justin Turner.
Dustin McGowan, RHP, Blue Jays: McGowan is coming off labrum surgery that cost him half the 2008 season and all of 2009. But before the injury, McGowan was a live arm, throwing a 94-96 mph four seamer that topped out at 98. Now two years removed from his excellent 2007, McGowan will be trying to come back from injury in a crowded Blue Jays rotation and could end up being the odd man out. He'd be another candidate for a long man in the pen with the upside of a #3/#4 starter if he can recover fully.
Fausto Carmona, RHP, Indians: Carmona is another starter who had a great 2007 and has been a mess ever since. The Indians lack the Blue Jays plethora of starting options, so Carmona probably isn't going to lose his spot without looking really terrible. But if Cleveland decides to give up on him, Carmona still has potential as a reclamation project for Rick Kranitz.
Joaquin Arias, SS, Rangers: Arias was originally dealt to the Rangers as the third player in the Alex Rodriguez/Alfonso Soriano trade. Now 25 and the owner of a career minor league OPS of .698, Arias no longer projects as a starter in the majors and certainly is no threat to Elvis Andrus for the starting job. But Arias still does a lot of things well - playing second, short and third with speed and contact ability. He'd represent an upgrade over Andino and give the O's a pinch runner on the bench for close games, and is still young enough that he might break out and be a decent starting shortstop for a season or two. He had an excellent winter in the Dominican as the starting shortstop and #2 hitter for the DWL league champion.
Luke Hochevar, RHP, Royals: Teams tend to be funny regarding busted #1 overall picks. Hochevar is a member of a crowded rotation picture even without the crazy idea of starting Kyle Farnsworth, with Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies, Robinson Tejada and Cuban free agent Noel Arguelles all in the running for a starting spot. Hochevar had a maddening 2009, going 7-13 with a 6.55 ERA despite a couple of absolutely dominating starts. Hochevar clearly needs a change of scenery, and KC may choose to deal him while he still has a little value as opposed to waiting until he has none. Or they may hold on to him until he proves he can't start in the majors, because teams are funny about #1 overall picks. But with Hochevar coming before Dayton Moore, they may be ready to part ways with him, and since Moore is one of the last crazy Bill Bavasi-types running a major league team, I think we should try to deal with him as often as we can.
In the National League:
Homer Bailey, RHP, Reds: Another former top prospect, Bailey probably will emerge from ST with a spot in the Reds rotation due to Edinson Volquez's Tommy John surgery last season. The youngest player in the NL when he made his debut, Bailey didn't impress in his first two attempts at the majors, and struggled early in 2009 before improving a lot down the stretch, even winning NL player of the week last October 5th. While he is a longshot not to make the Opening Day roster, Bailey would certainly be a trade candidate rather than someone the Reds would take a chance on losing via waivers.
It is a short list, but all the above names are ones for the Orioles to keep an eye on this Spring. While most figure to make their current team, getting just one of those players for a below-market price would be a nice infusion of talent to our roster.