In case you somehow missed the only noteworthy news Birdland had to offer this week, the Orioles signed a legitimate Major League free agent. Baltimore inked veteran shortstop Jose Iglesias to a one-year deal with a team option for 2021.
The move filled the club’s largest non-pitching related need heading into next year. After the Birds dealt Jonathan Villar, they found themself very short on middle-infield depth. Richie Martin, last year’s Rule 5 pick, remained on the roster solely due to the requirements that came with a Rule 5 draftee. Should any team begin a season with a guy they would have loved to send to Triple-A last season?
Thanks to Iglesias, the Orioles won’t have to. Martin could still find his way to Baltimore at some point, but the move allows Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde to decide what is best for Martin’s development long term. It also will help the team in 2020.
As Drew Bonifant pointed out, the move is easy to get behind. Iglesias hit .288 last season and posted a .724 OPS. While Iglesias’s offensive numbers clearly eclipse Martin’s .208 and .581, the O’s new acquisition will also serve as a defensive upgrade. His eight defensive runs saved and 1.4 defensive WAR represent consistency. Martin flashed some leather last year, but he still has some work to do.
Iglesias will have an opportunity to be a leader in a dugout filled with young, developing players. I don’t know enough about the 30-year-old to describe what type of leader he will be, but Baltimore would settle for the Havana native playing hard and delivering on a daily basis. Any vocal leadership would come as an added bonus. For what it’s worth, Iglesias has already said he’s “excited to lead by example and do the best I can do for the guys and the organization.”
By signing Iglesias, the Orioles showed they are not completely opposed to upgrading the team in the short term. Iglesias won’t change the narrative for the 2020 Orioles, but a reliable shortstop will certainly help a developing pitching staff. Would Elias and Co. go outside the organization to fill any of the team’s other needs?
Baltimore does appear to be set at a few positions. Trey Mancini, Renato Núñez, Chris Davis and Ryan Mountcastle take away any need for a first base/DH type. The Orioles may bring in another catcher for depth on a minor league deal, but Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco, and Austin Wynns should have a lock on the Major League role. Obviously Iglesias should have shortstop locked up.
Anthony Santander should be the everyday left fielder. Austin Hays may only have 128 MLB at bats, but the center field spot will be his to lose next season. Unfortunately, Mancini figures to see more time in the outfield lawn next year. The Orioles could easily make a play for a fourth-outfielder type, but there’s no guarantee he would beat out Dwight Smith Jr. for a roster spot in the spring. Still, a Major League outfielder would help the team. Will the O’s pull the trigger? It’s hard to see.
Hanser Alberto and his above .300 batting average will have a spot in the lineup, and the Orioles should be eager to see if he can come close to duplicating last year’s totals (outside of a platoon). With Alberto at second, that leaves only one spot.
Rio Ruiz slashed .232/.306/.376 last season in 127 games. He’s listed as the starting third baseman on the Orioles depth chart, and there’s a chance he’s the guy come late March. Would the Orioles explore other options at the hot corner?
Todd Frazier would serve as a similar stop gap to Iglesias, and at 33 years old a one-year deal is in play. Frazier slashed .251/.329/.443 and tallied 21 home runs in 499 plate appearances for the New York Mets. However, at this point in his career, Frazier may have the desire to play for another contender. Still, he’d fit the bill.
The Nationals swept up Asdrúbal Cabrera and Starlin Castro, and Josh Donaldson is certainly out of the picture. The club could always look to bring in a utility player, but Stevie Wilkerson and Pat Valaika are in-house candidates for that role. Alberto also played 66 games at third base last year.
The Orioles could survive without adding another position player. The rotation? Yeah, that needs some work. But Baltimore could survive with Ruiz and Alberto splitting time at the hot corner. Nevertheless, the Birds adding Iglesias showed they’re not allergic to the free agent market. Will they make another move? Should they? I guess we’ll see.