The swap of Iglesias didn’t come as a complete surprise. He was one of the few valuable assets on an Orioles roster that GM Mike Elias has repeatedly looked to leverage for younger, cheaper talent. However, Iglesias was owed just $3.5 million for 2021, and he was a known positive contributor at a crucial position on the field. Replacing his value for the upcoming campaign could prove impossible.
It’s not as if the Orioles have a hotshot shortstop prospect knocking down the major league door, either.
Terrin Vavra, one of the players that came to the O’s via the Mychal Givens trade, is perhaps closest to the big leagues, but he isn’t on the 40-man roster and the lack of a 2020 minor league season leaves a lot of unknowns. Rylan Bannon is on the 40-man roster, but he fits better at second or third base. Mason McCoy could be an intriguing option and is considered a solid defender, but again he isn’t on the 40-man roster and he hit an offensive wall at Double-A Bowie in 2019.
If the Orioles do stick with internal options for 2021, there are really only three candidates and all of them have some red flags.
Richie Martin spent more time at shortstop for the 2019 Orioles than any other player on the roster. He had entered that season with elevated expectations after being the top pick in the Rule 5 draft the previous December. And he was a flop. Over 120 games, Martin hit .208/.260/.322 with 54 OPS+ and his defensive metrics were no better. Even worse, Martin missed the entire 2020 season with a broken wrist, although he should be ready to go for 2021.
Ramon Urias may not be as highly-regarded as his younger brother Luis, an infielder for the Brewers, but he has done enough to put himself in a position to play a role for the Orioles next season. Urias had a nice big league debut in 2020, going 9-for-25 with a home run and two doubles. The 26-year-old has shown an ability to handle the bat throughout his professional career, but not enough to justify what is considered a below-average defensive profile. He fits better as a utility player that can play shortstop in a pinch.
Pat Valaika was a surprising force at the plate last year for Baltimore. He hit .277/.315/.475 with eight home runs and a 112 wRC+. That’s not to say there aren’t holes in his offensive game, but it was more than enough for him to earn a contract for the 2021 season from the O’s. The same cannot be said of his glove-work at shortstop. Regardless of which metric you use, Valaika was one of the worst fielding shortstops in the league, albeit in a small sample size.
You get the picture, right? Yes, technically the Orioles do have shortstops on their roster and they each have some upside. But the cons would seem to outweigh the pros and moving forward with only these options could leave the team shorthanded.
Mike Elias knows this, and it sounds like he is going to make an addition of some kind before the team meets in Sarasota next month for the start of spring training.
MASN’s Roch Kubatko reported over the weekend that the O’s have reached out to Jonathan Villar’s representatives, and they are said to have some level of interest in Freddy Galvis, Ehire Adrianza and Daniel Robertson.
Last week, our own Drew Bonifant broke down how old friend Villar would fit on this roster. The speedster had a tough season (.232/.301/.292, 64 OPS+, -0.1 bWAR) split between the Marlins and Blue Jays. But getting him back into the friendly confines of Camden Yards could provide him with a bounce-back opportunity.
Galvis could present the best defensive option of the group. Now 31 years old, the switch-hitter isn’t as gifted with the glove as he once was, but he can still provide a steadying presence in the middle of the infield while hitting just enough to not be a detriment.
Adrianza is another 31-year-old defense-first type of player. But his .191/.287/.270 batting line from 2020 is very Martin-like and he has less of a track record of impressive fielding than Galvis.
Robertson is the youngest at just 26, but that could come with more potential upside. His 2018 season with the Rays sticks out considering his 128 wRC+ over 88 games plus serviceable defensive metrics. He has struggled ever since, though, and only made brief appearances with the Giants last season.
There is no “sure thing” in the mix here like Iglesias would have been. Even if they sign Villar, Galvis or any other free agent, this could still be a group effort all summer long. But the Orioles owe it to what is likely to be a young staff of starting pitchers to put together the best defensive infield they can muster. That means signing at least one veteran shortstop to push the rest of the unit forward.