Many of the Orioles' prizes from their July teardown trades were dealt by their prior clubs with this week in mind — when they'd have to be added to the 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 draft.
But only one remained to be added by Tuesday's deadline — right-hander Dillon Tate, the top piece in the three-player haul for closer Zach Britton with the New York Yankees.
Tate was protected Tuesday, ensuring the organization won't lose him in next month's Rule 5 draft and concluding what could have been a tense time roster-wise had the Orioles not done most of their work already.
Tate, 24, was one of a handful of players eligible for the Rule 5 draft from the July trades, including both of the pitchers to come over with him in the Britton trade — left-hander Josh Rogers and right-hander Cody Carroll, plus right-hander Luis Ortiz. All pitched in the majors last year after the Orioles broke down their roster with trades and releases. Reliever Evan Phillips had only just been added by the Atlanta Braves, but fit in a similar category.
Internally, the Orioles had one prospect — 2015 first-round draft pick DJ Stewart—who was going to require protection in the draft. Stewart, however, was added to the 40-man in September as well. So was left-hander John Means, who was summoned late in the season as then-manager Buck Showalter ran out of pitchers, though he wasn't as likely to be added otherwise.
Additionally, reliever Branden Kline, 27, needed to be added, but the club took care of that in late October before he became a minor league free agent, thus resetting his club control after his initial contract was set to expire. Players are eligible for the Rule 5 draft after four seasons of professional baseball if they are over the age of 19 when they sign their contract, and after five seasons if they sign when younger than that.
All those machinations left Tate as the main candidate to be added by this deadline. A 2015 first-round pick of the Texas Rangers, Tate is in his third organization and was in the midst of a strong year at Double-A Trenton that earned him an Eastern League All-Star nod before the trade.
He ended up with a 4.16 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP and 96 strikeouts against 34 walks in 123 1/3 innings between the Yankees and Orioles organizations, failing to limit the big inning in Bowie. He started throwing after a period of down time along with Means as the club tried to cover its pitching crisis but shoulder soreness scuttled that.
Of the other eligible players to be added, catcher Martin Cervenka and left-hander Luis González had the best chance. Cervenka hit .258 with 15 home runs at Bowie after the Orioles made him a minor league Rule 5 pick last winter, but didn't replicate that success in the Arizona Fall League this year. The fact that the organization re-signed him as a minor league free agent in September and sent him to the fall league says plenty about how much the Orioles like him — but it wasn't enough to warrant a roster spot.
González had a 2.17 ERA out of the Bowie bullpen but a 5.04 ERA after a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk. He features a sneaky, low-90s fastball and a slider, but lacks consistency at times, and was exposed to the Rule 5 draft a second time after the club didn't protect him last year.
To make room for Tate on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated infielder Engelb Vielma for assignment. Vielma played just 18 total games in 2018 between the majors and minors, including six with the Orioles, after suffering a fractured kneecap.
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Now that the rosters are set ahead of the Rule 5 draft, the Orioles front office under new executive vice president-general manager Mike Elias will direct its attention to the No. 1 pick in that Dec. 13 draft. The 40-man roster remains full, but the club could choose to clear space by not tendering contracts to some of its arbitration-eligible players.