Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias set the stage Thursday in his appearance on the team-sponsored Hot Stove Radio Show on 105.7 The Fan for an offseason in which the team's top arbitration-eligible players will face uncertain futures, beginning at next week's general manager meetings.
Elias said the Orioles will be listening to offers on even players they expect to keep – and he counts right fielder Trey Mancini as someone who he expects to stay in Baltimore – in an effort to keep the main focus of trying to inject the minor league prospect base with more talent.
"If somebody calls and expresses interest in your players, some guys are more available than others," Elias said. "But we definitely need to bring in talent from all angles possible, and if there are players on this team – and there are – that other teams like and feel like they could help them, and we feel like whatever's coming back is going to elevate the tide of talent in the organization, we're going to have to think about it."
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Chief among those players who could be on the block are infielder Jonathan Villar, reliever Mychal Givens and even Mancini – all the big names the Orioles held onto at last July's trade deadline. Villar, in particular, is due an arbitration raise to $10.4 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors' projections. Dylan Bundy and Mancini are projected to make $5.7 million, and Givens comes in next at $3.2 million. Hanser Alberto, Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro are also entering their first year of arbitration.
"We have a large arbitration class," Elias said. "There's seven guys, and they're good players, but there is money involved. You've got to take it into consideration, and it may influence the decision whether or not to tender a contract in the first place, but also your threshold for trading those guys if there's interest elsewhere. That's part of running any business, and that's part of reality. Money and budgets are a huge part of our business."
Villar's particularly high price tag will be exacerbated by the fact that he's one year away from free agency, meaning the Orioles can only really flip him for value in the offseason before he becomes a July rental next summer.
"We only have one more year of control of him, whether he ends up staying beyond that, I don't know," Elias said. "But certainly with where we're at as an organization, we've got to entertain things with all these guys and take the long-term view of the club in mind."
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The preference for these arbitration-eligible players would be to get players in return for trades, presumably, and that's why Elias will go the general manager meetings starting Nov. 11 in Arizona with an open ear. Mancini seems to be safe, even if the rest aren't.
"We love having him," Elias said. "We expect him to stay here. I think that he's perfect for what we're trying to do, the type of player, the type of person that we want. He's great for this town, but as I said, we have to listen when people come our way with ideas."
Should nothing come of those discussions, then the team needs to take the projected payouts into mind and decide whether to tender a contract or let a player become a free agent. Asked if he expected players to be non-tendered, Elias said he "can't say for certain with that."
"No. 1, they can affect one another," Elias said. "If we feel that we're going to be keeping one player and we know – we don't even know what these prices are right now. Without getting into the boring subject of how arbitration works, we don't know exactly what these guys are going to be commanding next year. You have to factor in different scenarios and that could affect other guys in the arb class, or whether we end up trading one of these players might enable us to possibly keep another. There's been no specific determination on any of them."
The last day to tender a contract to a player is Dec. 2.
Reiterating what he said in his season-ending comments, Elias made it clear that the Orioles weren't going to be spending big to improve their pitching staff – or any part of the roster – ahead of next year in free agency, at least in terms of helping the major league team.
"We need to have a deep pitching staff in terms of options. That doesn't mean necessarily that we're going to be shopping at the top of the market by any sense, but we want to have more depth than we went into last year in the event that injuries occur, that we can protect our young pitching prospects who will be coming up. But we're still in the mode of adding talent to this organization, of pumping the minor leagues full of talent as we can. That's going to be the primary goal. Even though we're short pitching, we've got to keep that in mind from a strategic standpoint and not lose sight of that, even if there's some short-term cost."
Elias did say, however, that the team would try and add quality major league defensive shortstop depth while acknowledging that that's also in demand and might be hard to secure.
Elias said there's "a lot of moving parts" with the effort to fill the three vacant major league coaching staff positions – first base coach, bullpen coach and assistant hitting coach. He didn't rule out that some current coaches' responsibilities could be shifted, but said "it's very likely that we'll have three new coaches on the major league coaching staff."