Baltimore Orioles

Orioles’ upcoming decision on José Iglesias’ option could set tone for whole offseason

For the Orioles' rebuild, it’s relatively inconsequential among the potential long-term decisions that must be made this offseason. But in terms of how it reflects upon the outlook for the coming months and the 2021 season, perhaps none will be a better barometer.

From the World Series' conclusion Tuesday night, the Orioles have five days to decide whether to pick up shortstop José Iglesias' $3.5 million option for next season. The alternative is paying a $500,000 buyout to send Iglesias, who will turn 31 in January, into free agency.


In a normal offseason, the $3 million difference is a small price to pay for a player who hit .373/.400/.556 after signing with Baltimore for $2.5 million last offseason. But the coronavirus pandemic has wrecked teams' finances; the Orioles are among the bevy of organizations that have laid off or furloughed several employees to reduce the financial hit.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said during his end-of-the-season media session that the pandemic will bring unknown complications this offseason, leaving the organization unable to budget in ways it normally would. With no fans in the stands throughout the 2020 regular season, plenty of expected revenue was lost.


He was later asked about Iglesias' option, and although he declined to give insight on the club’s thinking, he did praise the player.

“I think his impact on the team has been plain to see this year,” Elias said. “He’s really helped us, and we love having him.”

Among the 203 players with at least 150 plate appearances in 2020, no player had a lower percentage of his plate appearances end in one of the three true outcomes — a walk, a home run or a strikeout — than Iglesias. Put alternatively, no one put the ball in play more often, yet his .407 batting average on balls in play was the highest in the American League and one of only four in the majors that exceeded .400.

His average exit velocity of 86.4 mph and hard-hit rate — the percentage of balls put in play at 95 mph or harder — of 37.1% were his highest since Statcast data was introduced in 2015. In his 35 starts, he never hit outside of the top third of Brandon Hyde’s lineup, leading the team in average, doubles and on-base percentage, despite walking only three times.

The Orioles signed Iglesias to be a consistent veteran presence in their infield, but an injured left quadriceps nagged him throughout the season, limiting him to 22 starts at shortstop in the 60-game season and 15 as the designated hitter.

With Iglesias as their starting shortstop, the Orioles were 11-11. Otherwise, they went 14-24, and there’s not a clear replacement for him next season if he doesn’t return. After Rule 5 draft selection Richie Martin had a .581 OPS in 2019, he missed 2020 with a broken wrist while Andrew Velazquez posted a .480 OPS. Pat Valaika, an arbitration-eligible player, was effective with the bat but struggled defensively; his negative 4% success rate added as a shortstop was tied for the worst in the majors, according to Statcast.

Baltimore Orioles Insider

Baltimore Orioles Insider


Want to be an Orioles Insider? The Sun has you covered. Don't miss any Orioles news, notes and info all baseball season and beyond.

Regardless of alternatives, Iglesias' production was undoubtedly worth that $3 million difference in normal circumstances. If the Orioles decide not to pay Iglesias and give someone else a roster spot, likely for the league minimum, the cost of the option becomes closer to $2.5 million. If Iglesias continues to produce and gets traded next summer, the financial impact becomes even lower, just as it will if the pandemic leads to another shortened or reduced-attendance season and thus more prorated salaries.

If the Orioles take those factors into consideration and still find Iglesias' option a financial weight that is too heavy to carry, they will, within the offseason’s first week, set a tone for the entirety of it.


It would signal that the Orioles might be even lesser players in free agency than they were in Elias' first two years leading the front office. In the previous two offseasons, the Orioles' only major league free-agent signings have been Iglesias and pitchers Nate Karns and Kohl Stewart, who have combined to throw 5⅓ innings for Baltimore.

That decision will also create further questions about how the Orioles will handle early December’s nontender deadline for arbitration-eligible players.

If the Orioles decide Iglesias isn’t worth $3 million, they could come to the same conclusion with the $2 million or so that fan favorite Hanser Alberto might earn through the arbitration process. Pedro Severino’s .921 OPS on Sept. 8 was the best among major league catchers, but he plummeted in the season’s final weeks to end the year at .710. Right-hander Shawn Armstrong’s 1.80 ERA was a large improvement on the 5.13 mark he posted in his first year with Baltimore, but in 12 of his 14 appearances, he entered either before the seventh inning or with the Orioles trailing, and the organization could decide to funnel those outings to cheaper alternatives. Renato Núñez has been their best power hitter in the early stages of this rebuild, but they have several alternatives at first base and designated hitter.

Those include Trey Mancini, who MLB Trade Rumors projects to repeat his $4.8 million salary in his second year of arbitration eligibility. But it’s difficult to imagine that figure preventing Baltimore from ensuring that Mancini’s return from colon cancer comes in an Orioles uniform, regardless of their choice with Iglesias.

Within the coming days, the Orioles will decide whether Iglesias is their shortstop in 2021. They will also establish the outlook for the rest of this offseason.