The Orioles started off their offseason by clearing some space on the 40-man roster, announcing on Thursday afternoon that four of their players have cleared waivers and have been outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. Those players are David Hess, Branden Kline, Kohl Stewart, and Andrew Velazquez.
With these four players being removed from the 40-man roster, the team has 32 players on the roster. They also subtracted two yesterday when Bryan Holaday and Wade LeBlanc became free agents upon the conclusion of the World Series. There are still two 60-day injured list players who have to be added back onto the 40-man: Trey Mancini and Richie Martin. There is no injured list over the offseason.
The quartet of players who were outrighted today were all on my “won’t lose sleep if they come off the 40-man roster” list that I covered yesterday. These are players whose performance over the past couple of seasons don’t point to their being a meaningful part of the future of the Orioles. With so many prospects to protect by adding to the 40-man roster, there’s less opportunity for holdover dead weight.
A player can be given an outright assignment, which means he is removed from the 40-man roster and sent to the minor leagues, once in his career. After that, he can decline the assignment and become a free agent instead. Kline was outrighted in February, but he seems to have accepted the assignment. The other three had not been outrighted before.
Hess, however, has the required six years in the minor leagues to become a free agent, so he is free to sign with any team that sees a place for him. He posted a 5.86 ERA at the MLB level over the past three seasons. Hess only appeared in three games for the 2020 Orioles.
Kline also appeared in three games, allowing just one run in five innings. Added to his 2019 struggles, he has a 5.48 big league ERA overall, and he’s 29. Players mostly are what they are going to be by that point.
Stewart never got the chance to pitch for the O’s, as he took up the option to step away from the 2020 season due to being diabetic, an elevated risk group in the pandemic. With the number of players who emerged as near-future options in both the rotation and the bullpen over the 60-game season, there’s not as much chance to have Stewart be a reclamation project at the MLB level next season.
Velazquez played in 40 games for the O’s this season, 30 of which saw him appear at shortstop. There was playing time for him with the injury problems that occasionally plagued Jose Iglesias. But he only batted .159/.274/.206 and there are prospects to be protected, so off the 40-man roster he goes.