SAN DIEGO — Orioles manager Brandon Hyde tried to avoid using the term “rebuild” in public or with his players last year, but that doesn’t mean he’s ignorant to the fact that the team is in the thick of one.
So when, in the span of three days, the team traded infielder Jonathan Villar and starter Dylan Bundy, he’d had plenty of time to prepare himself for that.
“I think I’m really realistic, and I’ve seen good players get traded away in situations like ours,” Hyde said during his media session Wednesday at baseball’s winter meetings. “I know that anything’s possible.
“I knew especially the second halves that both those guys had, that there would be interest from other teams. That’s great for them, and I’m really happy for them and happy that they put themselves in that position. [Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias] liked the return that we were getting back. I knew that that was definitely a possibility when I took the job a year ago — not quite a year ago. But that’s part of it.”
The trades will leave a significant gap in the team Hyde will helm this season; Villar played in all 162 games last season, and Bundy’s 161 ⅔ innings were most by an Orioles pitcher. They’ll be playing for the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels in 2020, respectively.
In terms of replacements, Hyde knows there’s a lot of offseason left for that conversation to be had. He said he was happy with the offensive progress shortstop Richie Martin made in his Rule 5 season, and that Hanser Alberto could get some time at shortstop as well, though he noted that both players’ roles with the team are contingent on the kind of additions the team can make.
Elias said the Orioles had productive meetings with representatives for some of their infield targets Wednesday, though it’s unlikely anything is finalized before Thursday’s departure from San Diego.
He said both the starting pitching and infield needs could rise to the level of requiring a major league contract, should that be what it takes to get their target, though especially on the pitching side, there are more avenues. There are also many more vacancies.
Elias said this week that All-Star John Means and a healthy Alex Cobb are givens for the rotation, while right-hander Asher Wojciechowski had “right of first refusal” to a starter’s role given what he did in 2019. After that, prospect Keegan Akin has a full year of Triple-A experience and could get a long look this spring, even if it’d be unlike this front office to force the issue in calling up a player when there are alternatives.
Elias also mentioned some of the pitchers outrighted off the roster who started games in 2019 as depth options as well, a group that includes Tom Eshelman, Chandler Shepherd, Ty Blach and Luis Ortiz.
Discounting those options as more emergency types, the Orioles report to spring training with pitcher and catchers in two months with far fewer than Hyde’s ideal amount of starting rotation candidates.
“I think normally, you’d like to have eight to feel comfortable about breaking camp six weeks after the fact,” Hyde said. “Having eight guys that have an opportunity to be in the rotation is an ideal number, or right around there.”
Elias said that’s a good goal, though they could come from any venue.
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“I think very many of them will be [non-roster invitees], so even though they’re competing in spring training, they may not be a part of the organization at the end of spring training,” he said. “And I also think the Rule 5 draft could throw an entrant or two into that. I think that is a good number that we’re kind of gunning for. We also have some of the guys who were in Triple-A last year that are going to be competing for those jobs.”
There were face-to-face meetings with free-agent pitchers in San Diego Wednesday, Elias said, in which they pitch their opportunity in person.
“People know we’re a rebuilding club, a young club, but we do have a large avenue for innings and rotation jobs,” Elias said. “And that’s attractive. We’ve got a good team of pitching coaches and a fun group to be around. There are some positives there if you’re a free agent kind of looking for a one-year deal, there’s some opportunity here.”
Otherwise, Hyde said it will be another spring of roster competition, though there are more answers at some positions than this time last year. Chris Davis remains the first baseman, and Trey Mancini will man a corner outfield spot. Austin Hays should have the inside track to the center field job, while Hyde said Anthony Santender just scratching the surface of his talents. Rio Ruiz returns at third base, in all likelihood.
All those returners should expect more of the same from Hyde and his staff in 2020.
“I think we’re still going to talk about improving our club, competing on a nightly basis,” Hyde said. “I didn’t want to use that word [rebuild] because I just want our players to try to compete and try to win every night, and really focus on that, and really focus on getting better every single day. We have a lot of work to do. We know that, so that’s where we are right now.”