It’s a foregone conclusion that the Orioles will not be players for this offseason’s crop of marquee free agents. During a rebuild there’s a zero percent chance we see someone like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper signed to a lucrative multi-year deal with Baltimore.
But that doesn’t mean the Orioles can’t still be active in the free agent market. That action just may not involve large dollar amounts or the big names we are all familiar with. It’s hard to guess what route Orioles General Manager Mike Elias will take, but he has dropped clues in the media recently.
As Roch Kubatko reported on December 2, “Elias was interviewed by MLB Network Radio over the weekend, and he stated that the Orioles will be ‘active’ in free agency, but later in the winter.”
That phrase may seem familiar to O’s fans, seeing as it was a frequent strategy of former executive Dan Duquette. Practically every offseason, he would let the big sharks — like the Yankees and Red Sox — feed in free agency, and then stick around until the end to collect the leftover scraps.
It’s a logical strategy in the sense that the Orioles will never be able to compete with the kind of money that big market teams throw around. Lying in wait during free agency has also allowed for several bargain deals for the Birds in the past.
But the question then becomes, how active should a rebuilding team like the Orioles be in free agency? On any squad, it’s important to have veteran leadership around to show the young guys the right way to go about their business. But at the same time, you don’t want to block the development of an up-and-coming talent with a veteran who doesn’t have a future with the team.
Another question is, will/should the Orioles tank the 2019 season in hopes of acquiring another number one overall draft pick? And if they do choose to tank, what is the most effective way to go about doing so? Is it with youngsters or cheap veterans?
Playing youngsters would give the team a chance to evaluate what they’ve got sooner than later and help determine who has a bright future in the majors. This would paint a clearer picture of what positions are set going forward and what positions require more attention.
On the flip side, the Orioles run the risk of overexposing their young players by promoting them to the big leagues too soon. Impatience like that has been known to stunt many a promising career.
Elias will need to take the time to evaluate the Orioles’ minor league talent and determine who is actually ready to contribute at the major league level, because his opinion may differ from that of the previous regime.
Players like Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart and Steve Wilkerson finished the 2018 season on the big league club. But will they be handed spots on the 25-man roster next year or will they have to compete for it? There are also other young players like Ryan Mountcastle and Yusniel Diaz, to name a few, who may make their major league debuts some time next year depending on how things unfold.
There are numerous potential holes in the lineup that need to be filled. With Adam Jones gone, the Orioles have an opening in right field. They may also have an opening in left field depending on where they choose to play Trey Mancini. Renato Nunez played a lot of third base toward the end of last year, but his spot is not assured going into 2019. And depending on where Jonathan Villar plays, the O’s will need another middle infielder.
At his introductory press conference, as chronicled on Pressboxonline, Elias said the following in reference to the Orioles system: “There are a lot of good players here...There are more coming. As a scouting director I’m familiar with a lot of the players in the minor league system. There are some future stars in the system and some really good pitchers. There is more than enough here to work with.”
So while Elias stated he likes some players the O’s already have at his introductory press conference, he was not specific at the time about which ones exactly. But more recently, he sent a out an email to season ticket holders in which divulged a bit more, saying “A lot of our future core is already here...Homegrown players like Trey Mancini, Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, and Cedric Mullins will soon be joined by others.”
While constructing the roster for 2019, Elias seems likely to infuse a mix of young players and veterans, fostering existing players’ development while still being active late in free agency. It’ll be up to him to find the right mix between the two. But I, for one, hope that he tends to lean towards the young players we already have in the system.