With just about all of the potential Orioles already in Sarasota, Baltimore has the pool of players it needs to select an Opening Day roster. There’s always the possibility of a spring-signing, but the Orioles would need to see a true bargain to pull the trigger. There won’t be a reunion with Manny Machado, and Adam Jones doesn’t appear to be walking through the Ed Smith Stadium doors.
The Orioles brass has already extended contracts to a few MLB veterans that could make the team. While none of these signings really move the needle nationally, any of them could become legitimate contributors on a rebuilding O’s squad with several holes to fill.
Are these guys worth getting excited about? That’s really up to you. Several fans will have their eyes focused solely on the young guys, and that’s completely understandable. The Orioles top prospects are a lot sexier than a few guys looking to revitalize their careers, but the vets will likely get the first crack at big league action. If you’re still interested in this season, a few guys are worth getting to know. So who could be making an impact for the Baltimore Orioles in 2019?
On a club this bereft of pitching, the starting rotation seems like the only logical place to start. The Orioles inked Nate Karns to a one-year deal that could reach seven figures with incentives. Karns would have one more arbitration year remaining after this season, and the Orioles hope an $800,000 investment could buy them two years of a cost-controlled starter.
Kansas City acquired Karns prior to the 2017 season in exchange for Jarrod Dyson. He pitched to a 4.17 ERA in just over 45 innings before heading to the disabled list in mid-May. Karns eventually underwent surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome. He did not pitch in 2018.
Karns injury-riddled medical record certainly played into the lack of interest he garnered this past off season, but the Orioles are happy to have a hurler that struck out nearly four-times the number of batters he walked in 2017. Karns threw a live batting practice on Wednesday, and should be ready to go when the club heads north barring a setback.
Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb are the only three certainties in Baltimore’s rotation. A healthy Karns likely slots behind the three as the fourth starter. David Hess will duke it out with several other young arms for the final spot.
Whether the Orioles are competing or not, someone has to take the ball every fifth day. A healthy Karns can do that, and prevents the Orioles from rushing up a pitching prospect like Dillon Tate or Hunter Harvey to fill a spot. It’s certainly difficult to refer to an injury-plagued 31-year-old as an innings eater, but the show must go on.
A productive Karns could prove to be one of the most valuable Orioles in 2019. Obviously his efforts would go a long way every fifth day, but the only way he makes a long-term contribution to the Orioles future is if he drums up some trade value. If Karns can produce in the AL East during the first half, a fringe contender would certainly take a chance on a cost-controlled arm.
Entering the offseason, the most clear hole on this team was at shortstop. Once the Orioles deemed Tim Beckham too expensive, it became clear that Jonathan Villar could not play two positions at once. The Orioles left the Rule Five draft with Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, and both will play their hearts out this spring in pursuit of a Major League job.
Unless both Rule-Five guys earn a spot on the 25-man roster, Alcides Escobar will likely break camp with the team. The Orioles signed the 32-year-old to a minor league deal, and his experience could provide him an edge in the middle infield competition.
Martin and Jackson have never faced Major League pitching, and while Escobar hasn’t exactly handled it well recently, he is a former Gold Glover who has the ability to play multiple positions.
MASN’s Roch Kubatko shared quotes from Escobar that expressed his current mindset. The former Royal said he’s happy to be with the Orioles, to be surrounded by young players and said he would serve whatever role the club asked of him. Escobar said he felt comfortable playing 162 games or serving as the utility man. He also said he’s happy to mentor the young Birds.
While the Orioles may have several young outfielders, they decided to throw a veteran into the mix with 33-year-old Eric Young Jr. Young barely hit .200 in 41 games for the Angels last year, and it’s been five years since he recorded a league-leading 46 stolen bases, but his on-base percentage sat at .336 two years ago in Los Angeles.
With Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins all but locks to start in the outfield, there’s still a spot up for grabs in right field. Young could fill that hole, or serve as a fourth outfielder until Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz or another young gun comes for his place on the roster.
Carlos Perez will try to make a case to be the backup backstop. Mike Yastrzemski needs to generate some buzz before he’s passed over once and for all. Jace Peterson will turn 29 in May. There’s no shortage of players looking to have a meaningful spring.
Expectations are not high in Baltimore, but the thought of a bounce-back year for any of these players provides fans with a hint of optimism this March. Eric Young Jr. is not going to lead the Orioles to the playoffs, but he might run down a few balls in right field. Nate Karns won’t win the Cy Young, but it sure would be nice to swap him for a prospect in July. Honestly, it would be nice to see him make it through a year with his arm still in one piece.
Sometimes it can be difficult to find a feel good story on a team that won 47 games last year and may not win many more in 2019, but you’ve got to look somewhere. Prospects will dominate the headlines during the rebuild, and they absolutely should, but maybe the old guys can entertain us all a bit before the All Star break.