- The Orioles, as currently constructed, will head into the season with plenty of questions around the infield, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Rio Ruiz didn’t seize the opportunity in 2019, and while prospect Ryan Mountcastle should debut at some point next summer, there’ve been plenty of questions regarding his ultimate position on the diamond. Hanser Alberto has experience there but figures to factor in more prominently at second base. Non-roster invitee Dilson Herrera will get a look at the hot corner, but he’s not even a lock to make the club — let alone to log regular innings anywhere. There’s ample room to add a veteran option if they see fit — Matt Duffy, Logan Forsythe, Brock Holt and others remain available — and the O’s did pick up a veteran option at shortstop in Jose Iglesias. But free-agent spending has been negligible during the early stages of Baltimore’s rebuild, so it shouldn’t be assumed that any sort of move is on the horizon.
The Diamondbacks announced that they have claimed infielder Pat Valaika off waivers from the Orioles and sent right-hander Jimmie Sherfy outrighted to Triple-A after he cleared waivers. Sherfy was designated for assignment last week. Arizona didn’t need to open a 40-man spot for Valaika, as their roster stood at 39 players following this week’s trade of Matt Andriese to the Angels.
This is the second waiver claim of the offseason for Valaika, as Baltimore grabbed him off the Rockies’ roster at the end of October. Valaika was then designated for assignment earlier this week, when the Orioles took Richard Urena from the Blue Jays on another waiver claim.
Valaika is headed back to the NL West after spending his entire seven-year professional career in the Colorado organization. A ninth-round pick for the Rox in 2013, Valaika appeared in 231 games for the team between 2016-19, hitting .214/.256/.400 over 433 plate appearances. Over a quarter of those PA were in a pinch-hitting role, though Valaika has also been a versatile bench piece, playing all four infield positions and a handful of games in left field.
This defensive flexibility will help Valaika battle Ildemaro Vargas, Domingo Leyba, Josh Rojas, and Andy Young for utility duties in Arizona, as the D’Backs continue to sort out their infield mix. With Ketel Marte increasingly likely to spend much of his time in center field, the Diamondbacks can go with Eduardo Escobar at second base and Jake Lamb at third, or move Escobar back to third to spell Lamb whenever a left-handed starter is on the mound. Or, Lamb could be relegated to bench duty himself if he can’t get on track following a pair of subpar seasons, leaving one of second or third base (whichever Escobar isn’t playing) open for a platoon situation.
Sherfy was designated for assignment last week when the D’Backs signed Hector Rondon. Sherfy showed some glimpses of promise over 27 innings in 2017-18, though his ERA ballooned to 5.89 over 18 1/3 frames last season. Still looking for a longer stint at the big league level, Sherfy can offer some solid numbers in the minors, with a 3.59 ERA, 11.9 K/9, and 3.07 K/BB rate over 303 career relief innings in Arizona’s farm system.
We checked in last week on what, if anything, the five lowest-scoring offenses of 2019 have done to improve themselves this winter. Let’s now take a look at whether any of the five starting rotations that posted the highest ERAs last year have gotten better this offseason. Free agency won’t offer much in the way of help at this point, so for the most part, what you see here is probably what you’ll get..
Colorado Rockies (5.87 ERA/5.31 FIP; current depth chart)
- Assembling a competent starting staff has regularly been a problem for the Rockies, who are stuck playing half their games at the unkind confines of Coors Field. It was a different story in 2018, the year the Rockies boasted a high-end starting staff, but things took a sharp turn for the worse last season. Aside from German Marquez and Jon Gray, who continued their strong production, no one from the Rockies’ rotation performed well. Kyle Freeland suffered through a disastrous campaign after posting a Cy Young-caliber 2018, while Antonio Senzatela, Peter Lambert, Jeff Hoffman, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Tim Melville, Tyler Anderson, Chad Bettis and Rico Garcia combined for woeful numbers across a combined 83 starts. So what have the Rockies done since to address their starting group? Nothing of note. It seems they’ll count on a bunch of their holdovers to turn in better showings, though their staff will take a big hit in the event they deal Gray (a potential trade candidate) before the season.
Los Angeles Angels (5.64 ERA/5.41 FIP; current depth chart)
- The Angels’ rotation suffered a terrible blow in the fall of 2018 when Shohei Ohtani underwent Tommy John surgery, costing him all of last season, and then tragedy struck last July when Tyler Skaggs passed away. Considering the circumstances, it’s not surprising the Angels’ staff reeled last season. Nevertheless, adding reinforcements was clearly in order for this winter. The problem is that the Angels still haven’t found a way to acquire a proven front-of-the-rotation type, which many expected to them to get when the winter began. Ohtani’s back, which is a major plus. Meanwhile, the acquisitions of innings-eaters Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran should help matters, but they’re not going to frighten opposing offenses. The Angels figure to keep trying to better their rotation in the coming months, though the open market has dried up and teams seemingly aren’t champing at the bit to move big-time starters via trade now.
Baltimore Orioles (5.57 ERA/5.72 FIP; current depth chart)
- Bundy, who led the O’s rotation in innings last season, is now gone. 2019 success story John Means remains in place, and Alex Cobb will be back in the wake of injuries that limited him to three starts. Those two aside, there’s little in the way of established starters for rebuilding Baltimore, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see the club try to find a cheap starter(s) in free agency before the season begins. The team did make an interesting move when it used the second pick of the Rule 5 Draft on 25-year-old righty Brandon Bailey, whom Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs calls a “spin rate monster.”
Detroit Tigers (5.51 ERA/4.66 FIP; current depth chart)
- Detroit’s rotation mix actually looks pretty promising, though it’s possible the team will weaken the mix by trading Matthew Boyd before the season. As of now, he’s back at the helm of a group that also got respectable performances from Spencer Turnbull and Daniel Norris last year. Stud prospects Casey Mize and Matt Manning are gaining on the majors, meanwhile, and Michael Fulmer should factor back in sometime this year after Tommy John surgery kept him away in 2019. Furthermore, the Tigers just signed the durable Ivan Nova to a cheap contract to serve as their resident back-end innings-eater. Jordan Zimmerman, arguably the weakest link in the chain, is also the most expensive. Mercifully for the Tigers, he’s finally entering the last season of what has been an albatross contract for the club.
Pittsburgh Pirates (5.19 ERA/4.78 FIP; current depth chart)
- The Pirates, already without staff leader Jameson Taillon for most of last season, suffered a horrid blow when he underwent a TJ procedure in August. He won’t be part of the 2020 staff as a result, leaving holdovers Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams at the helm of an uninspiring-looking bunch. Barring a trade, the hope is that the once-terrific Archer will put a nightmarish first year and a half as a Pirate behind him. Archer was markedly better as last season progressed, so there does seem to be some hope for a full-season bounce-back effort. The unit will include some speculative candidates in Tommy John rehabber Chad Kuhl and talented 23-year-old Mitch Keller, who struggled as a rookie but remains a premium pitching prospect.
The original version of this post mistakenly indicated that Kuhl underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019. His procedure occurred in September of 2018.
The Orioles announced today that righty Eric Hanhold was outrighted to Triple-A after clearing waivers. He had recently been designated for assignment but did not draw interest from other organizations.
Hanhold already moved once via the waiver wire in recent months, when the Baltimore org claimed him last fall from the Mets. No doubt the O’s knew all along there may be a need for the roster spot, but felt there’d be a chance of stashing Hanhold if he cleared waivers.
Now, the 26-year-old University of Florida product will head to camp with a tougher path to the active roster. But he should have his chances in a wide-open Orioles pen situation.
Hanhold has only three big league appearances under his belt. The reliever has pitched to a 2.25 ERA in forty frames at the Double-A level but has not found as much success at the highest level of the minors. In 67 2/3 innings at Triple-A over the past two seasons, he carries a 5.32 ERA with 7.4 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9.
9:20am: The Orioles have announced the signing.
9:12am: The Orioles have agreed to a minor league pact with veteran catcher Bryan Holaday, Craig Mish of FNTSY Radio reports (via Twitter). The Lagardere Sports client will presumably head to Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee in hopes of landing a backup job in Baltimore.
Holaday, 32, spent the past two seasons in the Marlins organization and saw action at the MLB level in each campaign, hitting a combined .237/.297/.335 with five homers and 11 doubles in 295 trips to the plate. He threw out 34.9 percent of attempted thieves on the bases in his two years with Miami (22-for-63) and rated solidly in terms of pitch blocking, per Baseball Prospectus. After turning a corner in the framing department in 2018, his numbers backed up toward their (below-average) career norms in 2019.
At present, it seems likely that the Orioles will rely on Chance Sisco and Pedro Severino as their primary options behind the dish, but it’s possible that the club could want Sisco to log everyday at-bats in Triple-A Norfolk if he doesn’t show well in Spring Training.
Sisco, a second-round pick in 2013, has long rated as one of the Orioles’ best prospects (and one of baseball’s best catching prospects), but he’s yet to find much success in the Majors. Injuries limited him to a combined 394 plate appearances between Triple-A and the big leagues in 2019, which surely didn’t help his cause. He has one minor league option year remaining, so the O’s could still send the 24-year-old to Triple-A for refinement if they wish. Severino, on the other hand, is out of minor league options.
Elsewhere on the 40-man roster is 29-year-old Austin Wynns. He’s regarded as a solid defender but hasn’t hit much in the upper minors or in the Majors. Like Sisco, he has a minor league option remaining. Holaday will have to beat out both Sisco and Wynns to get a look out of camp. If not, he could head to Triple-A and give the organization an eight-year MLB veteran to provide depth in Norfolk.
- Richard Urena was recently acquired by the Orioles on a waiver claim, though the infielder could have theoretically ended up in the black and orange five years ago, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko writes. When the Blue Jays considered the possibility of trading prospects to Baltimore as compensation for hiring Dan Duquette out of his contract as the O’s executive VP of baseball operations, Kubatko notes that Urena was one of the names the Jays offered. Talks never went anywhere, however, and Toronto instead hired Mark Shapiro as its new president and CEO in mid-2015. As for Urena, he stands a good chance at winning a bench job in Baltimore, as the Orioles were in need of a backup shortstop option behind Jose Iglesias.
- Another Orioles move could also be on the way, as Kubatko reports that the team is close to adding an experienced catcher. It’s probably safe to assume that this will be a minor league signing, as the Orioles already have a fair amount of catching depth with Chance Sisco, Pedro Severino, and Austin Wynns lined up behind the plate.
Entering the day, there were more than 150 players on the clock to exchange arbitration figures with their respective teams prior to a noon ET deadline. As one would expect, there’ll be an utter landslide of arbitration agreements in advance of that deadline. We already ran through some key facts and reminders on the arbitration process earlier this morning for those who are unfamiliar or simply need a refresher on one of MLB’s most complex idiosyncrasies, which will hopefully clear up many questions readers might have.
We’ll track the majority of the American League’s settlements in this post and split off a separate one for NL settlements as well. Note that all projections referenced come courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz:
- Newly acquired Angels righty Dylan Bundy receives a $5MM salary, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter links). He had projected at a $5.7MM price tag. Teammate Hansel Robles gets $3.85MM, per Heyman, just shy of his $4MM projection.
- The Yankees have worked out deals with all of their eligible players. The team has a hefty $8.5MM pact with Aaron Judge, per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter). Backstop Gary Sanchez settled for $5MM, per Feinsand (via Twitter). The New York org will pay righty Luis Cessa $895K and Jonathan Holder $750K, Murray reports (Twitter links). Fellow reliever Tommy Kahnle will earn $2.65MM, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). And star lefty James Paxton has settled at $12.5MM, Heyman adds via Twitter. Chad Green and Jordan Montgomery have also agreed to terms, the former at $1.275MM and the latter at $805K, per Heyman (Twitter links).
- The Twins announced that they struck deals with Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton. Jon Heyman of MLB Network followed up with salary terms (all links to Twitter). May earns $2,205,000; Rogers takes home $4.45MM; Rosario lands at $7.75MM; and Buxton receives $3.075MM. While the first and last of those land rather close to the projected amount, Rogers got $550K more and Rosario got $1.15MM less than the calculators predicted.
- Shortstop Carlos Correa settled with the Astros for $8MM, per MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (via Twitter). Righty Brad Peacock lands at a $3.9MM salary, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). The former went for more than his $7.4MM projection, while the latter ended up shy of the $4.6MM mark produced by the computers. The ’Stros also have agreed with closer Roberto Osuna as well, per an announcement. It’s a $10MM deal, slotting in just $200K shy of his projection, per Rome (via Twitter).
- The Orioles have a deal with outfielder/first baseman Trey Mancini, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets. It’s for $4.75MM, per Dan Connolly of The Athletic (via Twitter), well south of the $5.7MM projection.
- Outfielder Jorge Soler has agreed to a $7.3MM deal with the Royals, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan tweets. That’s well off of the $11.2MM that MLBTR’s model projected, though it is likely that the cause of the gulf lies in the interpretation of the correct baseline to start from in building Soler’s salary. He’s in the 4+ service class but had been playing on the original deal he signed out of Cuba.
- The Tigers have a deal in place with southpaw Matthew Boyd, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (via Twitter). It’ll pay him $5.3MM, per Chris McCosky of the Detroit News (Twitter link). That falls comfortably below the $6.4MM, suggesting that Boyd’s camp was concerned with the way his suboptimal ERA would play in the arb process. Fellow lefty starter Daniel Norris will earn $2.96MM, McCosky tweets.
Urena becomes the latest young infielder to earn a look in Baltimore. Of course, the same would’ve been said of Valaika, who was claimed earlier in the offseason but now ends up back in DFA limbo. He could still get a shot in camp if he clears waivers and remains with the Baltimore organization.
The O’s will hope that there’s still some development left for Urena, who hasn’t quite grown into the promise he has shown at times. He’s still over a month shy of his 24th birthday and hasn’t received consistent opportunities in the majors, though he has struggled about as much at the plate in the upper minors as he has at the MLB level.
Urena has turned in a .367 OBP through 159 plate appearances in the Dominican Winter League. But that’s driven by a lofty batting average (.292) and hasn’t come with much power (2 home runs, .365 slugging percentage). Perhaps he can squeak onto the roster as a utility player even if he doesn’t show an uptick with the bat. Otherwise, the out-of-options Urena could end up being exposed to waivers once again.
The Orioles have avoided arbitration with right-hander Miguel Castro, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (via Twitter). The two sides agreed to a one-year, $1.05MM deal with the right-hander, which falls just below the $1.2MM salary projected by MLBTR’s Matt Swartz.
A first-time arbitration-eligible player, Castro is coming off a season that saw him post a 4.66 ERA, 8.7 K/9, and 1.73 K/BB rate over 73 1/3 IP out of Baltimore’s pen. The hard-throwing righty enjoyed a big boost in strikeouts over the 5.6 K/9 he posted over the 2017-18 seasons, though control continued to be an issue for Castro, as he hit the 5.0 BB/9 plateau for the second consecutive year. On the plus side, Statcast’s xwOBA metric indicated that Castro did a much better job of limiting hard contact in 2019 (.294 xwOBA) than he did in 2018 (.353), even though Castro’s ERA jumped from 3.96 in 2018 to his 4.66 figure last year.
With contracts for Castro and Richard Bleier now settled, the Orioles have three arbitration-eligible players remaining, as per MLBTR’s Arb Tracker — Trey Mancini ($5.7MM projected salary), Mychal Givens ($3.2MM), and Hanser Alberto ($1.9MM). Teams have until 11am CT tomorrow to exchange figures with their arb-eligible players.
- The Orioles have outrighted right-hander Marcos Diplan to Triple-A Norfolk, the team announced. Diplan cleared waivers after being designated for assignment last week to create roster space for the newly-signed Kohl Stewart. Diplan has a 3.88 ERA, 9.1 K/9, and 1.85 K/BB rate over 540 2/3 career minor league innings, working mostly as a reliever (starting seven of 38 total appearances) in 2019, pitching for the Double-A affiliates of the Twins and Brewers. It has been a busy transactional stretch for Diplan, who was claimed off Minnesota’s waiver wire by the Tigers in September, and then claimed again by the Orioles in December.