As Christmas draws near, there's typically a flurry of offseason activity before the baseball industry unofficially shuts down for the holiday between Christmas and New Year’s.
The Orioles put a new starting catcher under their tree already. And despite reports to the contrary, the signing of Welington Castillo marks the end of the Matt Wieters era in Baltimore. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette was succinct in wishing Wieters well in his new home during Friday’s conference call to introduce Castillo.
There hasn’t been a rush to sign the three remaining sluggers on the free-agent market, and that includes Mark Trumbo, who the Orioles would still like to retain. But Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are all tied to draft pick compensation, and with this being the final year in which teams forfeit a first-round pick to add a qualifying offer free-agent, teams are thinking long and hard before signing them.
In pursuing Trumbo, the Orioles have to consider that re-signing him would cost them an additional pick in next year’s draft after he declined their $17.2 million qualifying offer.
That’s a little bit of a backwards way of thinking, but that’s also the way the free-agent market has played out for hitters this offseason, with teams locking up accessory pieces to shorter deals rather than big-ticket free-agents like the sluggers aforementioned.
Earlier in the offseason, it was perceived that it was Encarnacion – coming off a 42-homer, 127-RBI season – who would dictate the market. But he’s still on the board, as are Bautista and Trumbo. That’s uncommon for this time in the offseason.
And now, it seems a player like slugger Chris Carter, non-tendered by the Brewers after his 41 homers led the National League, could have a bigger say in the market than the others, because his services will be cheaper and not cost a team a draft pick. And if a team can’t find a common ground with one of the remaining big-three, it can just turn to Carter as an alternative.
The Orioles haven’t appeared to take that route yet, but if their discussions with Trumbo continue to lag, it’s a sure bet they will.
Since all of the top free-agent closers came off the market earlier this month, the hot stove has been running cool. There hasn't been much progress, but this is usually the week when it heats up again, with teams wanting to fill holes and players wanting to find homes before the new year.
Whether the Orioles fulfill their wish list before Christmas seems unlikely at this time. They still need a corner outfielder who is a defensive upgrade, preferably one with speed, and are always looking to add pitching depth, especially in the bullpen.