The Orioles could be in a position of strength with late-developing infield needs around the league
In Carlos Correa and Trevor Story, the Mets and Red Sox lost infielders in their Opening Day plans. Could the Orioles' infield depth finally come into play this winter?
In the span of a few hours Tuesday afternoon, a pair of jolts to a sleepy portion of baseball’s offseason hit that could ripple out to the Orioles.
First, Carlos Correa’s free agency saga seemingly concluded with a third deal – this presumably the one that sticks – with the Twins as the reported concerns over his physical scuppered his deal with the Mets the same as it did his agreement with the Giants.
Not long after, the Red Sox announced Trevor Story was going to have elbow surgery that put his season in jeopardy and further brought into question their decision to let Xander Bogaerts walk.
It’s still a month or so away from spring training beginning, so no club is in a terrible bind just yet. But you probably want to be Elvis Andrus’ agent right now, and somewhere near him on the top of that list, you might want to be the Orioles, too.
Mike Elias told reporters at the winter meetings that trades that took major leaguers off the Orioles’ roster would be challenging because the net impact on their, ahem, playoff odds might not be worth it.
If the Orioles find a suitable offer – whether for big league caliber pitchers or prospects – for a major league infielder like Jorge Mateo or Ramón Urías, this newsletter’s position is they should take advantage of it.
My own personal views on the players are divergent. I probably think more highly of Urías than I should because of his on-base skills and those two or three stretches each season where it seems like he’s impossible to get out. I think less of Mateo than most, and the timing of his midseason surge coming right as this newsletter highlighted it didn’t help his cause.
But ask yourself this: is it difficult to envision a scenario where it’s June and the Orioles feel compelled to give one of these players’ at-bats to a prospect because Mateo or Urías is scuffling and the team needs a jolt? If that outcome seems realistic, then considering trading them should a decent offer come in should as well.
Mateo is entering his first of three arbitration years, and The Athletic reported last month that the loosening of the shortstop market in free agency meant the Orioles fielded calls for him. Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom told reporters Tuesday that he envisions the club needing multiple up-the-middle options in Story’s absence, and both Mateo and Urias could play both shortstop and second base for them. They have an expensive rotation and some interesting depth names trying to break into it; perhaps they can be inclined to use the Orioles as a spot to offload one of those pitchers in exchange for an infielder to cover their short-term need.
The Orioles might be even more attracted in one of their younger starters from the group including Brandon Walter — whose horizontal breaking ball movement will screen well in the Orioles’ filters — or Connor Seabold, Chris Murphy, Josh Winckowski, or even Bryan Mata. All those players have far more club control than the Orioles infielders in question, so perhaps the Orioles will find value within that group.
The Mets are a bit of a different story. It’s probably hard to envision anyone filling Correa’s role after they spent weeks imagining him at third base next to Francisco Lindor, but they’re hardly left wanting with Eduardo Escobar as infield cover plus prospects Brett Baty and Mark Vientos waiting in the wings. If they do feel like they’re an infielder short, though, a low-cost option like Urias or Mateo could be attractive given their record payroll.
We know the Orioles are willing to help bring that down some. The Mets are already paying over $20 million to players playing for the Orioles this season ($19 million for James McCann after his trade last month and $1.5 million for Mychal Givens’ buyout), so what’s another $10 million or so if the Mets want to move someone like Carlos Carrasco in the last year of his deal?
Like everything else involving this Orioles’ offseason, the level of urgency to make a move like this internally is probably low. Their level of urgency for prospects not named Adley Rutschman and Henderson has been pretty low when it comes to getting them out of Triple-A, so there’s probably some internal performance benchmarks for the prospects to hit that would preclude them from being viable options for Opening Day in the Orioles’ eyes. I’d be happy to be wrong on that.
But with Adam Frazier already in the fold and so many infielders on the cusp of joining the major league conversation, being opportunistic in seeking a return for an infielder they may have to move on from without being in a position of strength within the next year seems worthy of serious consideration.
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