With the World Series complete and baseball’s offseason underway, the Orioles were a step ahead by making some moves Wednesday that set up their 40-man roster for some flexibility in the coming months.
Before long, the rush of November and December personnel deadlines and dates will hit: Mark Trumbo can elect free agency Thursday; free agents can start signing with teams after a five-day cooling period. Then, it’s awards season. Eligible players must be protected from the Rule 5 draft Nov. 20, and contracts must be tendered to arbitration-eligible players by Dec. 2.
This might be a busier offseason than last year for the Orioles, who have viable trade pieces (Jonathan Villar, Trey Mancini and Mychal Givens) that might have a more reasonable market under offseason conditions. There’s also hiring to be done on the scouting and player development sides that will help shape the course of the organization for years to come.
And much like last offseason, the most important thing facing the Orioles might be June’s amateur draft for executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and company, who took over baseball operations around Thanksgiving last year.
The Orioles don’t pick first this year, thanks to the Detroit Tigers’ ineptitude. They pick second overall, but will actually likely have more money to spend on their overall bonus pool since their competitive-balance pick will rotate back to Round A this year, meaning it will come after the first round of the draft.
In 2019, the Orioles picked first, but had a competitive-balance selection in Round B, adding $884,200 to their bonus pool with pick No. 71, which turned out to be outfielder Kyle Stowers.
The top pick in Round A this year was No. 35 overall to the Miami Marlins, and came with a signing-bonus pool of $2,095,800; the last pick, No. 41, added $1,813,500 to the bonus pool.
It’s a steep drop in bonus allotment from pick No. 1 to pick No. 2, but the jump from Round B to Round A this year will allow the Orioles to spend even more money and perhaps spread it around for a deeper draft class than the one they brought in this year.
The Orioles’ strategy this year was to target bats early and wait until the third day to go after college pitchers that their model targeted for specific traits they wanted. Several amateur scouts from other teams didn’t even have reports on the pitchers who the Orioles selected, including 12th- and 13th-round pitchers Kade Strowd and Dan Hammer.
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Still, only second-round shortstop Gunnar Henderson and fifth-round shortstop Darell Hernaiz were signed as high schoolers. This draft class could be more diverse (and include the types of high school players who require big bonuses from a big bonus pool), especially if the Orioles’ early offseason hiring is any indication.
Elias pledged to add scouting jobs on the ground when the team culled its staff for the first time in August, and the early hire of amateur scout Trent Friedrich from the Cleveland Indians as the Ohio Valley/Great Lakes-area scout is the start of that process.
Friedrich was an underclass scout with the Indians who spent a lot of time targeting high school sophomores and juniors over the last few years, giving him a deep knowledge of the Class of 2020 that will make up the prep draft class this year. While there’s plenty of risk involved in high school players, and analytics-leaning teams like the Orioles will always favor college players on whom they have more data, there’s an advantage to having deeper knowledge on the prep players to add to those systems.
It’s just one hire, and the Orioles are in the midst of hiring three to four more amateur scouts. On the coaching side in the minors, the same types of modern minds and private instructors that defined last year’s pitching coach hires are happening on the hitting side. There are a few major league vacancies as well, and all will be filled in due time.
The Orioles will make a Rule 5 pick or two. They’ll make a waiver claim or 10, all in the name of adding more upper-level talent to the system and allowing their own prospects more time to develop.
But none of that should do much to change the modest expectations for 2020 itself. As with last year, the most important thing the Orioles will do in line with their long-term plan will be to fill out their draft board and make picks in the June draft. The rest is mostly just window dressing.