An Orioles team that hasn’t transitioned out of its rebuilding phase despite so many promising performances from younger players will have to move forward without its most experienced infielders after shortstop José Iglesias was traded to the Los Angeles Angels and second baseman Hanser Alberto wasn’t tendered a contract ahead of Wednesday’s deadline.
The club announced that it acquired two minor league pitchers in exchange for Iglesias — right-handers Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto — just one month after executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias called Iglesias a “perfect fit” for the team” while picking up his $3.5 million player option for the 2021 season.
Alberto, who was due a steep salary increase in his second year of salary arbitration, was not tendered a contract by Wednesday night’s deadline. Of the Orioles’ seven arbitration-eligible players, four — Pedro Severino, Yolmer Sánchez, Shawn Armstrong and Pat Valaika — agreed to contracts to avoid that process. Two others, Anthony Santander and Trey Mancini, were tendered contracts, keeping them under club control to allow negotiations to continue.
Only Alberto won’t be back in 2021, and without he and Iglesias, the Orioles have a massive void to fill on their infield.
“I think we’ve got work left to do there,” Elias said on a video conference call. “Part of the risk with a trade like this when it comes to the stability at the major league level that we desire is we’re now looking for infield upgrades, but there are a lot of good players out on the market and we’ll have a chance to explore those and try to be opportunistic and smart again, like when we found Iggy.
“We’ve got some work to do. It does make our job this offseason a little harder. I do feel like there will be other moves necessitated because of this trade, but to us it was more important to get the young pitching prospects back. When we looked at the market, we figured we’ll have some opportunity to reinforce the group that we already have on the roster.”
Iglesias, the most consistent player on the 2020 Orioles, becomes the second player the Orioles have dealt to the Angels in the past year after the early December trade of right-hander Dylan Bundy a year ago.
This trade, like that one, focuses on young pitching. Stallings was the Angels’ 2019 fifth-round draft pick and hasn’t yet pitched professionally, while Pinto, 19, made three appearances in the Dominican Summer League in 2019.
Iglesias, a Cuban shortstop, was a bargain free-agent signing for the Orioles after an offensive uptick with the Cincinnati Reds in 2019.
Despite being limited all year with a hamstring injury in 2020, he kept that up in his lone season for manager Brandon Hyde.
Iglesias hit .376 with a .956 OPS in 39 games, hitting 17 doubles in the heart of the lineup.
Elias said Iglesias was an “exceptional part of the club last year in the shortened season and turned into a really key acquisition with us from last offseason.”
“We continue to view the accumulation of talent as a priority, and the reality is when you’re in a phase like we are, any time you sign a free agent, it’s in the back of your mind that the trade possibilities exist with that player,” he said. “He’s a player that we would have traded lightly, but we knew there were some empty shortstop jobs around the league for his offensive and defensive and leadership skills that he put on display here for the Orioles. ... We’re sad to see Iggy go, and this is the business of getting this organization to a long-term period of sustainability.”
Alberto broke out for the Orioles in 2019 after an offseason in which he bounced around the waiver wire and finally settled back with the Orioles, who had already gotten rid of him once before he returned in spring training.
His success was driven by dominance of left-handed pitching. Alberto batted .398 with a .948 OPS against opposite-side pitching as he became the Orioles’ primary second baseman in 2019. He hit .305 overall that year and .283 in 2020 to give him a .299 average with a .735 OPS in two seasons with the Orioles.
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Elias repeatedly cited the constraints of the arbitration system, which dictate how much a player can make in salary based on past comparable players, as a reason he wasn’t tendered a contract while still speaking highly of what Alberto brought to Baltimore.
He said it was “an incredibly difficult decision” not to tender him a contract, while leaving open the possibility of a return.
“On and off the field, he’s been so good,” Elias said. “To have a waiver wire pick-up turn into a top of the order hitter and a starting second baseman, that’s uncommon.”
Alberto was also the club’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for his charitable efforts both in his native Dominican Republic and in Baltimore during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Iglesias traded, Alberto not offered a contract and Renato Núñez released last month, the 2021 Orioles will already be a vastly different team from the one that ended 2020. Those three players ranked first, fourth, and fifth in wins above replacement (WAR) among Orioles position players with at least 150 at-bats, according to FanGraphs.
His trade leaves the Orioles thin at shortstop, with Richie Martin, who missed all of 2020 with a wrist injury, a candidate to replace him. Sánchez, who the team agreed to a $1 million contract with to avoid arbitration Wednesday, could also be used there.
The Orioles got a jump on the arbitration-deadline business by releasing Núñez last week, and on Tuesday signed Severino to a $1.825 million contract for 2021 to keep him from the arbitration process as well.