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The Orioles weren't very aggressive on the free-agent market, but chose carefully who they spun opportunity for

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

For a team that lost 115 games, cleaned house in the front office and field staff, and plays in the toughest division in baseball, the Orioles' offseason was quiet from a player acquisition standpoint.

The prioritizing of front office and coaching hires meant that roster additions were scarce, with right-hander Nate Karns the only major league free agent and fewer than a dozen announced minor league free agents from outside the organization.

Their strategy from those signings and the waiver claims that supplemented the roster give a glimpse into what the Orioles are looking for. What the Orioles had to offer was something every player on the market is seeking: opportunity.

"That is pretty much it — a new front office, a new staff, a lot of new faces on the team itself, and it provides a lot of opportunity," non-roster right-hander Bo Schultz said. "But then also, it's something where you don't have to feel like you're fighting into a culture. It seems like the culture is turning around at the same time. Everyone is learning the same thing at the same time."

Fellow non-roster right-hander Josh Lucas said: "They just contacted my agent and said, 'Hey, is he willing to hear an offer?' I knew there was going to be a lot of competition this spring training, so I said, 'Yea, let's do it.' It's a chance to win a big-league spot. ...

"That's definitely the first thing you look at every offseason when you go into free agency. Where's the best opportunity for me to succeed? I like looking at cultures. Going from St. Louis, where there's such a good culture, there's a lot of that too."

Especially when someone who has tasted life in the major leagues hits the open market, getting back there by any means necessary is the goal. Both the former front-office structure under interim general manager Brian Graham, and the current one under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, have been able to provide that opportunity.

The team's first wave of offseason minor league free agents — not including those they re-signed in September to keep in the organization — was initiated by the front office under Graham, including infielders Zach Vincej and Chris Bostick, who are both in major league camp. The allure of opportunity existed then, too.

"It's kind of the name of the game — every place has its own kind of set of opportunities that may arise, depending on the player, depending on the situation of the team," Bostick said. "So, you kind of look to align yourself in whatever situation you think is best for you."

Once Elias and company took over, they began to fill out the pitching staff some, with a specific set of goals. Without much major league scouting infrastructure carried over, the organization relied on pitch data from MLB's Statcast system and TrackMan to provide targets on the open market.

Though Schultz pitched in the minors last year as he rehabbed from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery from 2017, he had above-average fastball spin (2,367 rpm against the league-average of 2,266) in his last go-around in the majors in 2016 with the Toronto Blue Jays, and has the kind of breaking ball that gets weak contact and whiffs down in the zone.

Lucas, who was with the Oakland Athletics last year, had a slider with spin rate (2,558 rpm) in the top quarter of the majors among pitchers who threw at least 100 last year, according to Statcast. Austin Brice, the right-hander who was claimed then lost on waivers, had a similar high spin rate on his curveball.

In an era where MLB teams are looking for players who have specific skills they can accentuate, that could be enough information to provide the start of a gem — as much as a non-roster reliever can turn into such. But it's something the Orioles are clearly focusing on. One potential free agent was told in the offseason that TrackMan was all they were going off of in filling out the rest of their roster, though more went into it from the Orioles' perspective than that.

No one who got signed focused much on that, though, and as the likes of Lucas and Schultz threw their first bullpens Thursday since camp officially began, the only thing on their mind was what's in front of them.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

twitter.com/JonMeoli

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