The annual deadline to add players to the 40-man roster means different things to different clubs, but for a team as focused on fostering organizational depth as the Orioles, it's important for several reasons.
They aren't one of the clubs with more players to protect from the Rule 5 draft than spots to protect them, but they are a team that covets its own talent and wants to ensure that anyone in its farm system with a major league future has it in Baltimore.
So Monday's deadline to protect players will be a big day for the Orioles, though some of this year's most-pressing pieces of business were already finished after they added catcher Chance Sisco and left-hander Tanner Scott to the major league roster in September.
As for the rest of the candidates, there's one true lock and a handful of players with great cases to be protected. Here are the five primary options to add, as well as the case for and against adding them.
The case for: A first-round amateur draft pick in 2013 who dazzled over his first year as a professional but has dealt with a myriad of elbow injuries and had Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 2016, Harvey showed over the final two months of this season that he was fully healthy. His fastball was up to 97 mph in his final rehabilitation start for Low-A Delmarva, and he showed by the end of the year the plus breaking ball that he carried into pro ball. By all accounts, Harvey's on the verge of becoming an elite prospect again, so even if he's going to need some time to build his innings, having him do it while on the 40-man roster can't hurt.
The case against: In a vacuum, there's no real reason not to do this other than to resist the temptation to call him up in June when they need a long reliever. Adding him to the roster will create the urge to call him up before he's ready, but it beats losing him.
The case for: Hess had to repeat Double-A Bowie in 2017, but finished with a 3.85 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP, giving him a sub-4.00 ERA in three of his four professional seasons. With a fastball that tops out at 97 mph and can sit around 93 mph deep into games, Hess has the durability to be a starter along with a four-pitch mix, and the Orioles see him as a starter going forward. Rival evaluators, however, see his future in the bullpen, and if another team has to put him there after making him a Rule 5 pick, he could make an easy transition.
The case against: Hess has a respectable career strikeout rate of 7.19 per nine innings, but none of his secondary pitches has emerged as a true strikeout pitch, which could hinder his major league future. Additionally, there's a sense that Hess could be more valuable to a pitching-starved organization like the Orioles than another team, so rolling the dice — even with a future starting pitcher — could be worth the risk. It would be more worth it if they had roster constraints, which they don't in this case.
The case for: The Orioles didn't have the need to add Wynns last year when he was first eligible, but that could change now with Caleb Joseph and Chance Sisco the only two catchers on the major league roster and Wynns having enjoyed a breakout year at Bowie. He hit .281 with a .796 OPS and 10 home runs there while playing standout defense, and it's his mitt that will make him valuable to both the Orioles and those who might target him in the Rule 5 draft. He might not hit much at the major league level, but many evaluators have a major league grade on his defense at a premium position, which is worth keeping around.
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The case against: Wynns might be another case of someone who is more valuable to the Orioles than he is to someone else, as a Wynns-type player is one many organizations likely have. His bat could also limit other teams from seeing him as worth keeping on the major league roster for an entire year.
The case for: A 25-year-old Dominican left-hander, Gonzalez battled injuries in 2016 but ran his fastball up to 95 mph out of the bullpen this year for High-A Frederick en route to a 2.72 ERA and a 1.02 ERA. Then, he didn't allow an earned run in 9 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League. While he's still growing into a relief role and is basically a fastball/slider pitcher at this point, there's value in left-handed relief — especially for the Orioles — and that could be worth protecting and getting a look at in spring training.
The case against: At least before the trip to the fall league, Gonzalez wasn't highly rated by many outside the organization. He was a fringy starter and is old for a High-A reliever, and either way, a good fastball isn't enough to get someone on the major league radar in other organizations.
The case for: The Orioles have a glaring need for what Wilkerson brings — a utility infielder who can bring some speed and make an impact off the bench, especially with Ryan Flaherty now a free agent. Wilkerson broke out at Frederick and Bowie this year, hitting .305 with a .798 OPS while playing five positions, then hit well in the AFL. If the Orioles believe he's going to be their bench infielder coming out of spring training this year, they'll need to add Wilkerson to ensure that he sticks around.
The case against: Of Wilkerson's multitude of positions, the most important — shortstop — is the one he struggles the most at. And that's what distinguishes a major league utility player. With that in mind, other teams might wonder where the value is in someone like him. More relevant in this scenario, and more so than a backup catcher or a swingman arm, is that most clubs have their own Wilkerson-type players and don't need the Orioles'.