After the Orioles’ offseason pendulum swung hard in the direction of subtraction in the early stages, this week’s signing of veteran shortstop José Iglesias is creating a bit more equilibrium without doing much to change the team’s trajectory for 2020 and beyond.
Adding a steady shortstop to an unsteady infield for 2020 might mean one or two fewer losses, and Iglesias will join starting pitcher Kohl Stewart in the addition column for the second year of the Orioles’ rebuild under executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.
Ascribing more to it than that might end up creating expectations higher than the 2020 Orioles will be worthy of.
“I look at it like we need a starting shortstop this year,” Elias said. “We’re very fortunate that José was available and was a good fit for both sides, and we got him, because he makes us better. He makes our whole organization better.
“Even if we’re not winning the division this year, I feel that his presence and bringing him into the organization now and into the future will further our rebuilding objectives. Not everything is going to come from within, and there are certain jobs that need to be done really well on a baseball diamond. Catcher, shortstop, and center field are right at the top of that list.”
At the other two positions, the Orioles could have exciting young players in Chance Sisco and Austin Hays taking steps forward in their major league careers. Sisco has been working with a private hitting instructor this winter, while Hays was among the team’s most impressive players during his September cameo last year.
Otherwise, things are largely the same, and the Orioles will be hoping for improvement from their inexperienced roster to overcome the loss of traded veterans Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Villar.
Those trades will still be what defines their offseason, and Elias drew a distinction between the two.
“We got five young pitchers back [from those trades] that we like, that are part of our future now that they’re in our minor league system,” Elias said. “They’re contributing the accumulation of talent that is our focus right now. Our strategic objective continues to be to bring in as much young talent as possible, but that does not rule us out of looking to bring in veteran talent that makes sense for us, that helps the team, that fits a need, that will radiate out to the rest of the club — which is exactly what we think this acquisition means.
"We’re still mindful of development of the core we’re building internally, of the future, but we are cognizant that we want a stable product on the field. We want a good defense behind our pitching staff. We want good players out there, and José is that. And he makes us better. We’re going to be looking at, even though we’re eyeing the future and we’re doing a lot in the draft and international and player development, and that’s where our focus is building the organization, we’re keeping an eye on the major league talent market as well.”
It will take a larger move, both literally and symbolically, than signing someone like Iglesias that will pull the Orioles off that long-term view and into win-now mode.
The way Iglesias’ contract is structured — with a $2.5 million salary this year and a $3.5 million club option in 2021 that can be bought out for $500,000 after the season — means that they can trade Iglesias by the July 31 deadline, send the buyout money to another team with him, and get more of those prized young pitchers their model likes for less than the $2.5 million sticker price.
That’s a cynical view of the deal, but consider the type of players on the Orioles’ roster who Iglesias joins as a veteran making more than the league minimum. Chris Davis aside, that list includes Alex Cobb, Trey Mancini, Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier, among others.
All of them either have been or will be trade candidates as the team continues to bide its time before legitimate contention, and Elias said conversations on those types of players continue even as the season gets close.
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“We’re going to talk on a daily basis with other teams,” Elias said. “We’ll hear what’s going on, we’ll hear what’s out there, and if something comes along that we feel makes us more talented over the long haul, we’re going to listen to it and entertain. Obviously, as the clock of the offseason winds down, I guess the odds naturally lead towards status quo, day by day. But we’re still out there working. We’re having trade discussions, and we’re also talking to free agents, potentially, for adding more players. There’s still a lot going on. We’re monitoring everything, as we always do.”