Here's why the Orioles' minor league signings are meaningful

The Orioles' announcement Tuesday of eight deals with minor league players -- all of whom will be at big league spring training in three months -- brought little more than a collective yawn from fans.

The club announced the signings of first baseman Ji-Man Choi, utility infielder Steve Tolleson, right-hander Todd Redmond, right-hander Pedro Beato, left-hander Cesar Cabral, left-hander Ashur Tolliver, infielder Ozzie Martinez and catcher Audry Perez.


And as quickly as you could type out those names, the sarcasm spewed from Twitter. Print the playoff tickets, now. Here comes another disappointing offseason.

And no, the Orioles aren't trying to make you believe that Choi, who has eight homers in 400 Triple-A plate appearances, is going to be Chris Davis' replacement at first base.


Honestly, the fact of the matter is this, it's not just the Orioles. There haven't been very many signings or trades of a significant magnitude around the game, and believe it or not, that's typical this time of the offseason.

Yes, teams are talking to free agents -- we know Scott Boras sat down with Peter Angelos to discuss keeping Davis in an Orioles uniform -- but the real activity doesn't usually pick up until after Thanksgiving.

So the Orioles aren't the only team this week that signed a bunch of guys that most fans have never heard of. This is the time of the offseason when clubs sign five-year minor league free agents to build their organizational depth. It's important.

And building that organizational depth is more important to the Orioles than most other teams. We know they utilize a lot of players, so building that depth is not only instrumental at the minor league level, but it's also critical to sign "what if" players for possible use with the big league club.

Last year's group of minor league signings included shortstop Paul Janish. The team also signed Rey Navarro to a major league deal. Both were signed to add organizational depth. The deals drew no fanfare, but Janish and Navarro combined to start 16 major league games last season (nine by Janish and seven by Navarro) filling in for injured shortstop J.J. Hardy and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

It's likely some from this group will also play a significant role on next year's club. The most likely one is Tolleson, whose blue-collar approach made him a favorite of manager Buck Showalter during his first stint with the Orioles in 2012.

Unlike then, Tolleson is now out of minor league options, so he would have to clear waivers before being sent to the minors.

That wasn't a problem for Redmond, who was designated for assignment by the Toronto the Blue Jays three times and cleared waivers each time. Even though 29 other teams passed on him three times, he still filled a role for the Blue Jays last year and was a contributor for Toronto the previous two seasons.


Choi is a prototypical Dan Duquette reclamation project. He has a career .404 on-base percentage in the minors and is two years removed from hitting 18 homers. That power hasn't translated to the Triple-A level, but maybe a chance of scenery -- and a fresh start -- can help. Choi served a 50-game suspension for a failed drug test in 2014, missed the entire 2011 season with a broken arm and missed most of last year with a broken leg he suffered during the spring training opener. But he's still only 24.

And it is just as important to have players like Perez and Martinez to help anchor player development.

The Orioles have a lot of catchers, and Matt Wieters' return at the top of the depth chart creates a logjam that trickles down to the minors. But at the Triple-A level, you need a catcher who is solid defensively, can hold runners, handle a staff and call a good game. That's what Perez did with Norfolk last year.

As for Martinez, he shored up the middle-infield defense at Double-A Bowie, something that was lacking at the Triple-A and Double-A levels during the 2014 season. The Orioles believe that having Martinez at Double-A and Janish at Triple-A last season helped them develop their younger pitchers at those levels.

Even if Perez or Martinez don't play in the big leagues next season, they could still have an important role.