San Diego — As the San Francisco Giants showed Tuesday, a team doesn’t have to completely forsake its major league roster to build toward a player-development minded future.
In one of the first and most interesting trades of this year’s winter meetings, the Giants acquired infielder Zack Cozart and the entirety of his roughly $12 million salary, as well as 2019 first-round draft pick Will Wilson, from the Los Angeles Angels for cash considerations.
The move allowed the Giants to add a prospect while taking on salary, and served the Angels’ win-now mentality by freeing up budget space for a high-profile free-agent signing.
Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, speaking Tuesday at the winter meetings, seemed to regard the trade and those of its kind as interesting. But even if it could help the Orioles both in the present and the future to replicate it, the interest seems to stop at the conceptual stage.
“I think that when you can do that stuff and have it make sense from a number of angles, it’s smart,” Elias said. “It’s something that we’d take a look at if it came along. But there are budgetary considerations and San Francisco has a pretty large amount of space in their budget right now, from all indications. I think that’s something they were able to do.”
The implication there is that the Orioles, whose 2020 payroll is down near $60 million after trading Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy this month, do not.
Asked whether there was room in the budget from the Angelos family ownership to make those types of hypothetical moves, or whether they would be taken on a case-by-case basis, Elias said: “I think that case-by-case, it would have to be something that we would take to them [ownership for approval]. It’s not something that I would say we’re actively out there chasing down right now.”
While relatively unique, the idea of packaging a prospect with a pricey veteran is a sound one. MLB draft picks, save for the competitive balance picks after rounds one and two, cannot be traded, but the restrictions on trading recently drafted players no longer exist. In the NBA and NFL, which have salary caps, teams often package contracts with future picks to shed payroll to teams with more cap space.
Trading prospects to do so, like the Angels did, is in a similar vein, and such a move certainly would open up the possibility of Elias building toward his goal of adding young players to the Orioles’ system. And given that the Orioles won’t be spending big on major league free agents, even with holes in their rotation and middle infield to fill on the 2020 roster, it opens a new method of talent acquisition.
Some teams have the capacity to do all the things the Orioles are trying to do — draft and develop well, sign internationally, utilize a robust analytics and data infrastructure — while still fielding a competitive major league team.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Elias has made clear often why they’re investing in what they are, and making the types of long-term decisions they’re making. This hardens the notion that none of that will overlap with investment in the major league roster until the organization is good and ready.
Last year at these meetings, Elias used the phrase “shift gears towards maximizing major league wins” to characterize what the Orioles will do once all their developmental and technological investments start to produce results.
That could mean another year of what’s essentially major league triage. Elias did say that the expertise of director of pro scouting Mike Snyder, who focused on the Asian market in years past, has the Orioles monitoring players coming from professional leagues in Japan or Korea. He said that they’re “a different type of player” in that the ones returning to the United States are typically “somebody who’s had some type of renaissance.”
“There are guys we’ve talked about,” Elias said. “I don’t know if we’re going to make anything happen, but we keep our eye on it.”
Otherwise, he’s continued to say that the team’s focus is on adding starting pitchers and infielders. It’s fair to presume that they won’t be expensive ones.
And as Elias seemed to indicate, adding payroll, even with the benefit of adding minor league talent, wasn’t something they were pursuing, and the “budgetary considerations” might be behind that.
Stewart progressing well after surgery
Outfielder DJ Stewart, who had microfracture surgery on his right ankle in October, is progressing well in his recovery and will have an abbreviated spring training, Elias said. With Trey Mancini already a given in right field, Elias said that not having Stewart won’t necessitate having an extra corner outfield body in camp with Dwight Smith Jr., Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle and Yusniel Diaz noted as players who will get more chances.