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Checking in on where former Orioles are landing in free agency

Most of the attention when it comes to baseball’s free agency and hot stove season is centered around that winter’s additions and who might be able to help a club the following spring.

Plenty can be gleaned, though, about a team and where it’s going by where their former players end up as well.

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This offseason, slow as the progress in team-building by MLB clubs may be, there have been some interesting landing spots for former Orioles who are testing the free agent market and trying to latch on elsewhere.

And after a rash of former Orioles ended up pitching in Korea and Japan last year — a move that with the stability of guaranteed jobs and full salaries proved to be prudent in 2020 — many of them are domestic.

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Two months into the offseason, here are some notable landing spots for former Orioles and whether they’re better

David Hess

Baltimore Orioles pitcher David Hess.
Baltimore Orioles pitcher David Hess. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

A few years ago, someone like Hess landing with a pitching-progressive organization like the Tampa Bay Rays and coming from a more traditional team like the Orioles would have meant the possibility for big improvement.

As it were, Hess was caught in the middle of the old guard and the new in that he was brought along well enough to get him to the big leagues, but he was major league caliber from the time the new methods arrived, so instead of getting to develop in a new way he was mostly asked to take his lumps in the majors.

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A fresh start certainly will help Hess, and if there’s a team that can finish off his development and get the most out of him, it’s going to be the Rays.

Andrew Velazquez

Baltimore Orioles second baseman Andrew Velazquez, left, turns a double play.
Baltimore Orioles second baseman Andrew Velazquez, left, turns a double play. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Velazquez came to the Orioles as a spring training waiver claim and ended up getting a fair shot at shortstop while José Iglesias was dealing with his lingering quadriceps injuries this year, though he didn’t hit much in those opportunities.

Now, the Bronx-born infielder — who happened to be one of the youngest on the market — is going to his hometown New York Yankees on a minor league contract. It could be a depth move, but if he gets his chance to play in the majors there, it’s almost a guarantee that a memorable moment will follow.

Dwight Smith Jr.

Baltimore Orioles' Dwight Smith Jr. (35) runs to third base.
Baltimore Orioles' Dwight Smith Jr. (35) runs to third base. (Michael Owens/AP)

From the time he was claimed off waivers in spring training in 2019 to the moment Ryan Mountcastle was called up to the big leagues in August 2020, Smith was the Orioles’ primary left fielder. He had his ups and downs, but did a job for a team with the idea that it wasn’t going to be his job forever.

Smith signed a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds, and a switch to the National League in the old style with double-switches and more opportunities off the bench might suit him better.

Richard Ureña

Richard Urena of the Baltimore Orioles.
Richard Urena of the Baltimore Orioles. (John Bazemore/AP)

Ureña never appeared for the Orioles after being an offseason waiver claim and coming to spring training this year, but that’s notable in itself. He was a well-regarded young player with the Toronto Blue Jays and clearly had a role with the Orioles entering camp, but by the end of the first week of camp he was doing drills with the players clearly ticketed for the minors and seemed to have made a poor impression.

He didn’t get invited to the secondary site at Bowie, either, and signed on a minor league deal to go back to the Blue Jays this winter.

Luis Ortiz

Starting pitcher Luis Ortiz #59.
Starting pitcher Luis Ortiz #59. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Speaking of homecomings, the former first-round pick of the Texas Rangers went back there on a minor league deal after a lost 2020 with the Orioles. Acquired as part of the Jonathan Schoop trade with the Milwaukee Brewers in July 2018, Ortiz struggled in his major league time — most recently in 2019 — and wasn’t in the mix this year.

Brian Gonzalez

Gonzalez never made the big leagues after he was the Orioles’ first selection in the 2014 draft as a third-rounder, though he seemed to come close in 2020 as a reliever. Gonzalez went to rework his body and delivery at the renowned Driveline Baseball facility with fellow left-hander Bruce Zimmermann this offseason and earned rave reviews from player development staff on his transformation this year.

Still, when he hit minor league free agency, the opportunity elsewhere seemed too alluring. He signed a minor league deal with a spring training invite early in the fall, a sign that there was quick interest in him. He would have been in a tough battle for a big league role with the success of Paul Fry and Tanner Scott, but all sides would have likely savored him getting a chance here.

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