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Orioles claim infielder Richard Ureña on waivers from Blue Jays; club avoids arbitration with 3 players

Less than a week after signing veteran José Iglesias to be their starting shortstop, the Orioles added to their middle infield depth by claiming Richard Ureña on waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. Infielder Pat Valaika, a waiver claim earlier this offseason, was designated for assignment.

Ureña, 23, is a switch-hitter who has played in part of the past three seasons with Toronto, slashing .253/.300/.336. Forty-one of Ureña’s 65 career starts came at shortstop, with 19 at second and five at third. He has made one major league appearance in the outfield.

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Valaika joined the organization in October as a waiver claim from the Colorado Rockies. The 27-year-old had experience playing shortstop in his four-year major league career, though the majority of it came in 2017.

Ureña joins Richie Martin, Hanser Alberto, Stevie Wilkerson, Rio Ruiz and potentially Renato Nuñez as players who will complete for playing time in the Orioles’ infield in the spring.

Orioles avoid arbitration hearings

The Orioles avoided arbitration with their remaining three eligible players, agreeing to contracts with right-handed reliever Mychal Givens, first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini and infielder Hanser Alberto on the day of the deadline to exchange salary figures for the 2020 season.

By doing so, the Orioles eschewed the need to prepare for an arbitration hearing with any player next month and instead can gear up for the start of spring training, with pitchers and catchers due to report to Sarasota, Florida, on Feb. 11.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has expressed the Orioles will use the “file and trial” approach adopted by most other clubs, meaning that, if Baltimore was unable to agree to terms with the players Friday, negotiations between the two sides likely would end with the salary being determined by a panel of arbitrators in February. Instead, the Orioles seemed to have reached agreements with a handful of their most experienced players.

Givens, 29, agreed to a one-year, $3.225 million deal, per a source, marginally above the $3.2 million salary MLB Trade Rumors projected him to receive in his second year being eligible for arbitration. Givens is coming off a season in which he struck out a career-high 12.3 batters per nine innings but also allowed 13 home runs, one fewer than the previous two seasons combined.

Manager Brandon Hyde effectively used him as the team’s closer, saying Givens would enter in the most significant situation of each night’s game, which often proved to be the ninth inning. However, he was far better outside of that frame; in the ninth inning or later, he posted a 6.75 ERA, compared to a 1.67 mark when pitching earlier. On the season, Givens had a 4.57 ERA. USA Today first reported Givens’ agreement.

Mancini, 27, was voted the Most Valuable Oriole for a 2019 season in which he was one of only six major leaguers with at least 35 home runs and 35 doubles. He also set career highs in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and thus OPS for a full season.

This is Mancini’s first year of arbitration, meaning he has three seasons remaining before reaching free agency. Projected to earn $5.7 million through arbitration, Mancini agreed to a one-year, $4.75 million deal, according to The Athletic, after making $575,500 in 2019.

After spending last offseason and spring training shuffling from organization to organization on the waiver wire, Alberto agreed to a deal worth reportedly $1.65 million to avoid arbitration in his first year of eligibility. The 27-year-old nearly led the majors in batting average against left-handed pitchers, hitting .398 off lefties and eventually serving as Baltimore’s leadoff hitter against left-handed starters. Alberto spent the season shifting between second base and third base and enters 2020 in position to likely be the Orioles’ everyday second baseman. MLB.com first reported the Orioles’ agreement with Alberto.

The offseason began with the Orioles facing seven arbitration cases, but they narrowed that to five by December’s non-tender deadline, signing left-hander Richard Bleier to a one-year deal and trading infielder Jonathan Villar to the Miami Marlins for 2019 draftee Easton Lucas. Two days later, they dealt right-hander Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels for four minor league pitchers.

MLB Trade Rumors’ projections had the Orioles saving about $16 million with the two trades, but Villar reportedly settled with the Marlins for $8.2 million, according to MLB Network, instead of the projected of $10.4 million. By trading Villar and signing shortstop José Iglesias to a one-year, $2.5 million deal with a $500,000 buyout on a $3.5 million club option for 2021, the Orioles saved more than $5 million, added a pitching prospect and improved their middle infield defense.

Thursday, the Orioles avoided arbitration with right-hander Miguel Castro with a $1.05 million contract. He ranked second on the team in appearances, and outside of one blowup in late September, he posted a 1.98 ERA from mid-June on.

Mancini on the mic

Mancini will host a show on MLB Network Radio beginning at 3 p.m. Tuesday as part of the station’s “Players Week.” Other hosts throughout the week include Cincinnati Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer, Tampa Bays Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow and Boston Red Sox infielder Michael Chavis.

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