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The Orioles’ biggest moves of the offseason may already be behind them

Nothing particularly interesting has happened for the Orioles since the season ended, and there could be even less action between now and spring training.

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Teams won’t begin reporting to spring training for another two months. None of the top free agents have found homes for 2021. Some clubs still don’t even have their front office fully situated. The off-season is still rather young, and yet the Orioles may have already finished most of their work.

The O’s entered the “winter” with relatively few holes on their roster considering their current goals (improve in the minors, lose a lot in the majors). Since the season ended they have traded away Jose Iglesias, creating an additional hole to fill. But even still, that left them with a fairly short “to do” list:

  • Add back-end starter options
  • Figure out shortstop situation

O’s general manager Mike Elias may have sorted out the first task through the Rule 5 draft. The team selected two right-handed pitchers, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells. Following the picks, the team’s director of pro scouting, Mike Snyder, had the following to say about the pair:

“Both of these guys fit an attractive archetype as strike-throwing starting pitchers with a deep repertoire. In both cases we have excellent performance and a very appealing pitch mix,”

On Sceroler: “We were attracted to the four-pitch mix. It’s a good fastball, good traits and flashes of power. He leverages the curveball downhill. Throws the slider for strikes and for chases and he can get a lot of awkward swings on a plus-splitter.

On Wells: We’re drawn to the full assortment of weapons he has...He’s a starter who works all four quadrants of the zone with the fastball. He features two interesting breaking balls and a plus-changeup. He executes them well and throws them for strikes.

Snyder refers to both of them as “starters” and he adds that Sceroler has a “four-pitch mix” while Wells possesses “the full assortment of weapons.” For now, it would seem the team is hoping that one of them finds a spot in the club’s rotation.

After all, as Rule 5 picks, both Sceroler and Wells will have to stick in the majors for the whole season or else be offered back to their original organization. While the bullpen could be an option as well, the rotation may actually be the less competitive unit.

For those of you hoping the Orioles would keep up their seemingly annual tradition of signing an over-the-hill veteran to compete for the fifth starter spot, fear not! The selection of these two Rule 5 picks should not prevent the team from adding another arm or two in the months to come. And they wouldn’t necessarily need to clear space on their full 40-man roster to do it.

Staying in the pitching arena for a moment, let’s talk trades.

It’s common for rebuilding squads to sell off their proven veterans in exchange for younger, cheaper players with (hopefully) more upside. The problem for the Orioles is that, following the the slew of deals last offseason (Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Villar) and the recent trade of Iglesias, they have very few of those types of players in their employ.

Perhaps the most obvious trade candidate is Alex Cobb. The 33-year-old righty is entering the final season of his contract. He posted solid numbers in an abbreviated 2020 (4.30 ERA, 106 ERA+, 1.338 WHIP) and could be a valuable back-end starter on a competitive team. So, let’s make a deal? According to Elias, not so fast.

“He’s serving a very important role on our team stabilizing our rotation with the young guys, mentoring the young guys, and we’re planning on keeping him all year and would be thrilled if he contributed and is healthy again like he was last year and stabilized the entire rotation that way”

“I think anytime you’ve got a veteran pitcher pitching well, healthy and is essentially on a one-year deal, that’s going to attract a lot of interest. I think it would be beneficial for us to go into the season with Alex if that’s the way that it shakes out and having that front end spot in the rotation fortified with his ability and veteran presence. I can see a lot of positives there.”

Elias has almost certainly shopped Cobb around this offseason. But a quote like that would seem to indicate that he thinks the veteran is more valuable to the Orioles on their roster than he would be as a trade chip at this moment. That’s probably true, and it could change, but it points towards him being on the team’s Opening Day roster.

Beyond Cobb it’s tough to see which players could be on the move. Trey Mancini would certainly be attractive to a slew of teams but given that he is coming off of treatments for colon cancer it would seem most likely that he remains with the O’s as well. There could be other trade options out there, but they aren’t apparent.

As for the shortstop situation the likely outcome is pretty boring. The internal options of Richie Martin, Pat Valaika and Ramon Urias aren’t particularly inspiring, but it’s quite possible that each of them gets a start at the position at some point in 2021. Just like the back-end starter discussion from before, the fact that the team’s 40-man roster is full should not prevent the team from adding a veteran option.

You can forget about Marcus Semien and Ha-Seong Kim; they are going to get multi-year deals elsewhere. Instead look for the O’s to add a cheap, defense-first option. There are a handful of them out there, and no, you are not going to be excited about them.

This is the sort of 2020-21 offseason that was always expected of the Orioles. The front office doesn’t feel they are ready to compete just yet, and therefore they won’t be spending much on the big league roster. It’s not fun. It’s not exciting. But it is consistent with the proposed plan of the Elias regime.