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Orioles exploring ‘broad spectrum’ of options to fill shortstop gap in top-heavy market

The Orioles are exploring multiple avenues for filling the shortstop opening created last week when they traded José Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels.

“I think we’re looking at a broad spectrum of guys on the shortstop market,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said on a video conference call Tuesday, the second day of what would’ve been the winter meetings if not for the coronavirus pandemic. “There are names of many-year major-league veterans that have been starting shortstops that probably fit the characteristic of someone that you’d anoint prior to camp. There are other young players either on the trade market or on the free-agent market that have not established themselves but would be very interesting entrants to our infield mix and would probably be the odds-on favorite to start the season at shortstop if they were to join our team.”

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In January, the Orioles signed Iglesias to a one-year deal for 2020 with an option for 2021, which they picked up last month after he hit .373/.400./.556 over 150 plate appearances. That production understandably drew interest from other teams for Iglesias’ services, leading the Orioles to send him to Los Angeles for two pitching prospects, including 2019 fifth-round draft pick Garrett Stallings.

But the move left the Orioles without a clear shortstop for 2021. Internal options include Yolmer Sánchez, a waiver claim who was a Gold Glove second baseman in 2019; Pat Valaika, who struggled defensively at shortstop as one of Iglesias’ primary backups in 2020; and Richie Martin, the former Rule 5 draft pick who missed all of last season with a broken wrist. The Orioles have added a collection of young shortstops in the early rounds of their two drafts under Elias, but none of those players will be their Opening Day shortstop in 2021.

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Now in his third year with Baltimore, Elias has yet to sign a free agent to a multi-year contract and said Tuesday he doesn’t “have any reason to expect” giving out one this offseason, though he said the club is open to such a deal if the player and situation necessitates it.

“When we’re still kind of in talent-gathering mode, talent-collection mode, it’s really hard to script out your major league roster and plan it with the type of precision that you’d want with a multi-year contract,” Elias said. “As we get closer to that level of crafting the major-league roster, I think we’ll see more of that, but I wouldn’t rule it out. It was advantageous for us last year to sign Iglesias on that type of contact. If it means getting the guy that we want or the salary level that we want, it’s something that we’ll definitely look at.”

That viewpoint likely ensures the Orioles won’t be players at the top of the shortstop market, though they were never truly seen as potential destinations for Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorius, who among them have six top 20 finishes in Most Valuable Player voting; Simmons also has four Gold Gloves.

Sánchez has one of his own, but only 10 of his 588 major league starts have come at shortstop. He fits the mold of another type of player the Orioles are open to adding as their shortstop: those with experience at the position but haven’t played it primarily. Other more traditional shortstops in the top-heavy market who could sign one-year deals include Freddy Galvis and Adeiny Hechavarría.

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“There are definitely a few players on the list that are known more for their versatility than for having been primary shortstops,” Elias said. “We’ve got guys on our team like that right now. I think that Yolmer Sánchez is gonna be really interesting to see when he’s over at shortstop in spring training. I’m not saying we’re counting on that or penciling it in, but there are a lot of players nowadays that have that type of versatility to move around the diamond or have that type of agility, arm strength, but they’ve been better at second base or had at more experience at second base or at third. Until we ultimately make the acquisition, we’re going to be looking at a lot of different types of guys.”

When exactly that will happen is unclear. Elias noted part of the thinking of trading Iglesias was that by doing so in the offseason, the Orioles have several options available to them in trades and free agency, rather than having to immediately fill a hole on the major league roster.

“Above all, we’re looking to raise the level of talent in the organization,” Elias said. “Iggy is and was great, but that opportunity came along, and we’re in the middle of the offseason and the winter when you can sign players and you can trade players. It’s not like an in-season trade, so we’re going to be looking to backfill there to stabilize our team to give us another opportunity to hopefully make a savvy addition that will ultimately net us some long-term benefit. And in the meantime, the young shortstops that we have climbing through the minor leagues will get another year closer, if not here. That’s the way that we’re going to approach things until otherwise.”

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