At the end of last season, the Orioles ended with a 40-man roster spot that they quickly used on reliever Cole Sulser, who survived the winter and spring roster churn to take on a meaningful role in the bullpen.
They also cleared space off the 40-man roster in October to allow them to make the necessary additions for their Rule 5 draft protections, including Ryan Mountcastle and Dean Kremer.
The roster churn of the past week has started what’s going to be a fascinating stretch of moves for the team, which has a crowded roster as it is and must protect who it needs to.
Monday’s moves, which included right-hander Carson Fulmer being claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates and reliever Cody Carroll being outrighted to the alternate site in Bowie, are just pieces of those. Losing Fulmer likely stings, considering the team’s interest in working with him and developing the former first-round draft pick as a long-term piece.
By trying to sneak him through waivers, they were clearly willing to take the risk that he might not make it through. Same goes for anyone who gets removed from the roster at this time of year — certainly worth keeping around for depth, but not when the roster spot could be more valuable elsewhere.
The Orioles made several such moves earlier this month. Asher Wojciechowski’s fall from being an established starter to off the roster in a matter of weeks culminated Sunday when they outrighted him to Triple-A Norfolk. Outfielder Mason Williams was released after being designated for assignment as well.
Some of these moves were made to create room in the 60-man player pool for the Orioles to add some of the teenage Latin American talent they got in their August trades. Those players aren’t on the 40-man roster, though, and won’t factor into this equation once that camp closes Sunday.
The moves that will come this week and beyond will be to make room on the major league roster for everything the Orioles will need to do. Outfielder Trey Mancini, infielder Richie Martin and right-hander Kohl Stewart will have to be added off their respective long-term injured lists. Left-hander Wade LeBlanc will be, too, though he’s likely to leave in free agency.
There’s also a larger-than-usual class of roster protections required for the Rule 5 draft, in which other teams can select the Orioles' prospects if they aren’t added. This year’s list includes high-profile names such as outfielder Yusniel Diaz and right-hander Michael Baumann, plus high-minors pitchers Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and Isaac Mattson. There are also some off-the-radar types such as left-hander Brian Gonzalez and catcher Brett Cumberland, who might not have the prospect profile but have thrived under the new player development system and are valued members of the organization.
Infielders Rylan Bannon and Mason McCoy were both in major league camp and will warrant consideration as well.
Protecting all of those players will be prohibitive, even with the possibility that some teams might claim financial troubles this year and try to patch holes on their major league roster through the Rule 5 draft.
To even add a few, the Orioles will need to make some difficult choices on their roster with players who have had large roles for them in the past couple of years. Carrying four catchers on the roster, considering the availability of veteran types on minor league deals in the winter, could mean they risk passing either Bryan Holaday or Austin Wynns off the roster.
In past years, pitchers who have spent the first three years of their major league time on the Norfolk shuttle and have used their minor league options up have been considerations for being taken off the roster after the season. David Hess and Evan Phillips both fall into that category this year, while César Valdez and Jorge López are out of minor league options.
Valdez and López, though, have pitched well enough to likely avoid that fate. Phillips has been much better of late.
The Orioles could also make some early moves on salary arbitration players, a list that includes Renato Núñez and Shawn Armstrong.
The silver lining for some of these players is that Fulmer is in the minority when it comes to Orioles players being claimed off waivers recently. Before him, the last player they tried to pass through who didn’t make it was utility man Pat Valaika in January, and they ended up getting him back two weeks later.
Since the end of last season, the Orioles have outrighted Carroll, Williams, Chandler Shepherd, Dwight Smith Jr., Hector Velázquez, Stevie Wilkerson, Richard Ureña, Branden Kline, Eric Hanhold, Marcos Diplán, Gabriel Ynoa, Josh Rogers, Ryan Eades, Luis Ortiz, Tayler Scott and Williams again.
Many of those players remained both in the organization and in their plans despite not being on the roster, so their time could come to be part of the team again even if this pending churn leaves them on the outside.
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But, as always, the team’s decisions on such matters aren’t sentimental. The long-term view has always been one this front office has easily taken.