Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Sunday that he’s optimistic the club will be able to sign another free-agent starting pitcher in coming days, correlating with the flurry of activity over the past 24 hours as pitchers try to find homes with spring training full-squad workouts beginning this week.
Duquette said the team is still seeking a starting pitcher and a left-handed hitter, saying the latter will likely also be acquired through free agency rather than a trade. That would seem to squash the notion that the Orioles are in the mix to trade for outfielder Corey Dickerson — who was abruptly designated for assignment Saturday night – by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Dickerson would give the Orioles the left-handed batter they’ve coveted all offseason to balance a lineup that has just one lefty hitter, first baseman Chris Davis, and the Rays have been willing trade partners with the club, consummating deals at the trade deadline in each of the past two years, including last year’s swap that brought infielder Tim Beckham to Baltimore.
However, Dickerson would represent much of the same for a feast-or-famine Orioles lineup that is too often prone to deep slumps. Dickerson struggled mightily in the second half of last season, and his OPS after the break was .690, compared with .903 in an All-Star first half. Plus, the Orioles’ outfield need is in right field, and most of Dickerson’s experience has been in left, where Trey Mancini is projected as the starter. That might not be as big a concern, though, because there was some consideration in the offseason to give Mancini a look in right field because the Orioles have some left-field prospect depth in the minor leagues.
Former Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman remains unsigned. The Orioles were one of three teams he was considering as of Sunday afternoon, according to an industry source, as he attempts to settle on a deal within the next two days.
Tillman threw in front of the Detroit Tigers on Saturday, according to another source, and he has also been connected to the Minnesota Twins, but a reunion with the Orioles — the club he averaged 14 wins with over a four-year span from 2013 to 2016 before last year’s forgettable season — will remain possible until Tillman lands elsewhere because of his familiarity with the organization as hopes to use a one-year deal to boost his stock and test free agency again next offseason.
Several free agents found homes over the past few days after a slow offseason, and dominoes will continue to fall in coming days, especially for players who could be joining new teams. Most clubs are well into workouts where pitchers are learning defensive drills and throwing bullpen sessions.
“Depending on who it is, I don’t care when they get [here], It’s better sooner than later obviously,” Showalter said. “But Dan and I have been talking about some guys that are out there and kind of handicapping it and kind of ranking it, so to speak. The first you look at is your needs and what that person needs to bring. The first thing I’m doing is looking within the camp. But healthy competition [is good], especially if it’s nonroster, you’re not totally committed to something. Those things sometime have a way of being real close it seems like and then for every one you actually do, four or five of them fall through. It happens, whether it’s a physical, whether it’s someone else making a better offer. So it’s hard for me to put [the word] imminent around anything from my perspective because I know how often those things get blown up at the 11th hour, and rightfully so.”
Susac misses Sunday’s workout
Five days into workouts for pitchers and catchers, Andrew Susac was sidelined with a possible staph infection Sunday.
Susac — who was acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers on Feb. 2 to compete for a backup spot behind starter Caleb Joseph — was absent from Sunday’s workout and is expected to miss three or four days, Showalter said.
“I’m not sure if it’s a staph infection or not,” Showalter said. “But we want to make sure it doesn’t get to that. I think the doctors were concerned about it today. It’s gotten a little worse, so obviously that’s not something you want to mess around with.”
Susac has had a history of injuries. A 2011 second-round pick of the San Francisco Giants, he played just 61 games last season between the majors and minors and had three stints on the disabled list, including opening the season on the DL with a trapezius injury.
“It’s been a challenge for him,” Showalter said. “He’s a good player, but just staying on the field has been a real challenge for him. I’m hoping this is just a temporary setback, but it also tells you how much in demand it is with everybody. Guys come off the board quickly.”
Without Susac, the Orioles were working to add one or two catchers to the major league camp roster. They will need at least six to account for Saturday’s split-squad game unless one player is available for both games, which is something Showalter said he would prefer not to be the case.
Susac, 27, was brought in to compete with top prospect Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns, who was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, for the Opening Day backup catcher spot.
One replacement catcher would likely join the camp, and the other would move back and forth between major league and minor league camp.
One likely candidate to join big league camp is catcher Martin Cervenka, who was selected from the Giants in the Triple-A phase of December’s Rule 5 draft. Stuart Levy would have been another possibility, but he is out until March after ankle surgery. Other possibilities are Armando Araiza, who was re-signed this offseason as a minor league free agent after spending most of last season at High-A Frederick, and Daniel Fajardo, who spent most of last season at Low-A Delmarva.
Showalter said it is unlikely the Orioles will acquire a catcher from outside the organization. The remaining free-agent catchers available — a list that includes Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Ruiz and Geovany Soto — are veterans who would appear to require major -league commitments.
“I know our guys are going to be keeping their eyes and ears peeled as that goes forward,” Showalter said. “We’re a little thin there.”
Not showing your hand
Showalter indicated that he will likely avoid pitching some of his veterans — among then relievers Darren O’Day, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens and starters Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman — in Grapefruit League games against division opponents or the Twins, the Orioles’ first opponent of the regular season.
That would seem to be why Bundy is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater in Saturday’s split-squad afternoon road game instead of pitching against the Twins at home in the nightcap. Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. will start that game.
The Orioles face all five division opponents — the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Rays and Toronto Blue Jays in Grapefruit League play, so those pitchers could end up logging most of their spring training innings in minor league games rather than Grapefruit League contests.
Around the horn
Utility infielder candidate Éngelb Vielma isn’t expected to make it to camp in time for Monday’s first full-squad workout because he’s having visa problems, Duquette said. … Right-handers David Hess, Yefry Ramírez and Michael Kelly will each pitch two innings in Thursday’s intrasquad game. … Right-hander Mike Wright was selected to start Friday's Grapefruit League opener against the Tampa Bay Rays at Ed Smith Stadium. … ... Sunday’s workout included a drill — run by Showalter — in which pitchers came off the mound to field swinging bunts on the first base side with a timed clock that allowed them just 4.4 seconds to make the play at first base. … Sunday marked the first workout day in which pitchers didn’t throw bullpen sessions.