Four roster questions facing new Orioles general manager Mike Elias

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Given his background as a scouting director and the meticulous planning that likely went into his candidacy and presentation for the Orioles general manager job he ultimately won, Mike Elias won't need the contrived and likely uneventful deadline that comes Tuesday night when rosters must be set ahead of next month's Rule 5 draft for an inventory of the farm system and the major league roster he's inherited.

Yet after he's announced Monday alongside John and Louis Angelos as the team's new boss, that's where his attention will go, if it hasn't already. The candidates are right-hander Dillon Tate, catcher Martin Cervenka and left-hander Luis González. Only Tate would merit consideration in any other organization, and if the other two are lost in the draft, the Orioles will kindly take the $50,000 apiece and move on.

But the deadline is a marker that signals that offseason business is rolling along, with Thanksgiving coming and the runup to the winter meetings soon after.

Here are some of the roster-related discussions Elias will be having with the holdover Orioles staff in the front office once the formalities of the Rule 5 roster freeze are finished.

Is there really this much consternation over $6 million for Tim Beckham and Caleb Joseph?

Absent anything else, most of the discourse around the Orioles since the season ended has consisted of hand-wringing on whether to tender contracts to infielder Tim Beckham and catcher Caleb Joseph, who are due arbitration raises to $4.3 million and $1.7 million, respectively.

On a team with a projected current payroll of a shade over $70 million, that's not the biggest combined hit, even for two players who disappointed in 2018. Joseph was streaky on either side of stints in the minors, and Beckham switched positions multiple times to accommodate Manny Machado's wishes and then his departure, and missed two months with a groin injury.

While the Orioles are terribly thin at both positions on their roster and don't have a ready-made replacement, it's also about the opportunity cost of not keeping them. What are the odds that, if Joseph sticks around and plays well enough to be dealt to a team needing a steady backstop midseason, they can get a low-level prospect who can deliver $1 million in long-term value? Better than if they nontender him and lose a catcher for nothing who other teams have often coveted.

Same goes with Beckham, who will be more expensive but has shown he has a good month or two in him when he gets going. If a stretch like that happens in May or June, his relatively low salary and club control will help bring back similar value.

If the Orioles really want to shed salary, that's their prerogative. But with 31 pre-arbitration players on their 40-man roster, it's not as if there's money needed to pay the rest of the roster.

How early is too early to talk trades of controllable pieces at the winter meetings?

The few veterans under contract are the ones the Orioles will likely try to move as things get going at the winter meetings, though they might require a couple months of baseball to re-establish their values going forward. That might not be required for the younger players they share the roster with, including Dylan Bundy, Trey Mancini and Mychal Givens.

None of those three is at his highest value after up-and-down 2018 seasons, and it might not suit the Orioles to move them just yet. Trading away players who fans have become even moderately attached to isn't the best opening strategy for a new regime, but if there's a team that sees the opportunity to overpay for someone whose price tag will be even higher after a good first half of the season and with multiple suitors in a pennant race, maybe now is the time for the Orioles to listen.

Mancini isn't in arbitration yet, while Givens and Bundy are just arriving there. It's not inconceivable they could be a part of the next playoff team in Baltimore before free agency, but if Elias’ plan already indicates they won't be, they won't do much good around here and deserve to be set free.

Does anyone want this international bonus slot money?

The Orioles will do well to spend what's left of their massive haul of international bonus slot money accumulated last year, but with the market mostly tapped out of top-end prospects and the man who served as their de facto international scouting director, Cale Cox, not brought back when his contract expired last month, that will be difficult.

Elias brings a background in international scouting and might know of some hidden gems that other teams haven't signed yet, but it looks as if the pool the Orioles have is going to become stagnant.

Somewhere out there, there's a team that's working on its July 2019 agreements and needs a sweetener for a trainer to secure a coveted prospect. If that means bigger bonuses for some of that trainer's lesser prospects who are eligible to sign this year, they can use that to their advantage.

The Orioles have had good return on some of their international bonus trades, including Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Paul Fry and Yefry Ramírez. Perhaps the stock of bonus pool they have leftover could net a player like that.

What about bringing Adam Jones back?

It might not be the most prudent move for a young club that's teeming with outfield prospects to bring in a veteran like Jones at that position, and the fact that his 10-and-5 rights to refuse a trade would remain intact don't guarantee the club any way to move him, if they so choose. But if the market doesn't develop for Jones, the Orioles would be wise to have a number they're comfortable with to bring their longtime center fielder back to provide at least a familiar face to a fan base that's about to be in for a long couple of years.

The reception to Elias among the public has been warm, and it will only require a slight adjustment for fans to go from liking their manager more than most of the players to liking their general manager more than most of the players. But Jones transcends those dichotomies, and if the Orioles are in the market for a veteran anywhere on their roster, why not ask?

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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