Baseball’s winter meetings are here once again. The 2020 edition of the annual event began on Sunday and will run through Thursday, concluding with the Rule 5 draft. While there is no guarantee that a blockbuster deal will happen this week, the meetings do provide an opportunity for the brain trusts of many different clubs to develop the basis for future negotiations.
While the Orioles are likely to stay away from any big name free agents or trade candidates this off-season, that does not mean they will be inactive. In fact, this could be a busy week for the rebuilding organization.
Mike Elias is in the midst of his second off-season at the helm of the O’s. So far, the GM has traded away the team’s best player from last year (Jonathan Villar) and one of their most steady starting pitchers (Dylan Bundy). These moves have created two more holes on a roster that wasn’t exactly teeming with talent at the time.
There is no ambiguity to these transactions. The Orioles are tanking in 2020. The goal is not to compete, but to simply survive and earn a high draft pick in 2021 while putting the cheapest team possible on the field. The roster is so lacking in major league depth that it has created opportunities for players that normally wouldn’t have a shot at the big leagues. That won’t change next season.
With that goal in mind, let’s dive into the 2020 winter meetings and take a look a few realistic goals that the Orioles can accomplish this week:
Make a Rule 5 selection
This one should be pretty simple. The Orioles 40-man currently sits at 37, so they have room to add a few players. Last year, they drafted Richie Martin first overall and then added Drew Jackson later via a trade. Neither move proved fruitful in 2019 as Martin made it through the season, but looked over-matched the entire time while Jackson was offered back to the Dodgers only a few days into the season.
The O’s will pick second this year. There is no consensus top selection like Martin was a year ago, but there is plenty of talent. Over at MLB Pipeline, they compiled a list of high-ranking prospects that went unprotected. Just because a player has been a professional for a number of years does not mean that they are ready for the big leagues, but the O’s are in a position where they can take a gamble. Whomever they pick will certainly improve the roster’s current level of talent.
Improve the shortstop situation
While Martin saw a ton of innings at shortstop last season, that is unlikely to continue in 2020. The 24-year-old struggled at the plate, hitting .208/.260/.322 over 309 plate appearances. What’s more worrisome, though, was his performance in the field. When the Orioles picked him, he was lauded as a defensive whiz. After 785 innings at shortstop last year, Martin graded out with -4.2 UZR and -8 DRS. That’s not great, but not necessarily indicative of future performance. He would do well to spend some more time in the minors and refine his skills.
Two free agent names have frequently popped up in regards to the Orioles shortstop situation: Adeiny Hechavarria and Addison Russell. The former would be a logical, low-cost addition while the latter is undeserving of a job as a Major League Baseball player. Hechavarria split 2019 between the Mets and Braves, hit .241/.299/.443 and earned a 1.6 defensive rating.
Find a trade partner for Mychal Givens
Givens has been on the trade block for long enough now. It’s time for the Orioles to move their side-arming reliever. He is coming off of the worst season of his career (104 ERA+, 4.50 FIP, 0.6 bWAR), but he should still have plenty of value as he will be under team control for two seasons and has shown enough ability earlier in his career for other clubs to be intrigued.
While no other reliever on the O’s current roster has the track record of Givens, there should be enough talent to make up for his potential departure. Hunter Harvey is ready for a bigger role. Paul Fry has shown flashes. Tanner Scott and Branden Kline are better than their stats indicate. And someone is likely to emerge in the spring. If the team wants to get as much as possible for Givens, it would be better to move him sooner rather than later. While a trade may not become official this week, it would be wise to put the wheels in motion for one to occur sometime this winter.
Add to the starting pitching depth
The Orioles currently have three starting pitchers on their roster: John Means, Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski. That’s being generous considering Means has just one season as a big leaguer under his belt, Cobb’s health is always a concern and Wojciechowski is far from established. The team needs more options.
Keegan Akin, who was just added to the 40-man roster this off-season, has a shot to make the club in the spring. Dean Kremer is more likely to debut later in the summer. After that, it’s a crap shoot. David Hess is still around (somehow). Miguel Castro might be able to start in a pinch. But besides that, the best option may be to try out a Rays-esque opener strategy. Regardless, the Orioles need to add pitching talent to the roster, whether it is via the Rule 5 draft, spring invites or low-risk major league deals. The current crop of arms feels inadequate to get through a 162-game season.