The Orioles have rarely gone outside the organization for help, but they’ve struck gold more than once at short. Should the moves generate optimism for future success in free agency?
The Orioles have yet to make a significant splash in free agency under Mike Elias. There have been plenty of holes to fill, but none that justified the price tag of a high-tier player. Not at this point in the rebuild.
The Orioles have chosen to field a team with a bargain budget. They’ve used the waiver wire and Rule 5 draft to their advantage, and have developed a few players into legitimate big league talents.
That being said, this team needs a lot of work.
While Baltimore refused to improve their starting rotation via free agency, the club did develop a solid outfield. They have filled the infield with clearance rack purchases, but one thing holds true— the Orioles have had great success going outside the organization at shortstop.
The Orioles acquired Jonathan Villar and a pair of prospects in exchange for Jonathan Schoop back in 2018. The Jonathan swap turned out to be a positive transaction for the Birds. The O’s received prospects Luis Ortiz and Jean Carmona, but Villar turned out to be the true prize. Villar slashed .258/.336/.392 and stole 21 bases in 57 appearances for Baltimore in 2018.
Elias made a somewhat easy decision to retain Villar in 2019, and the former Brewer turned in arguably the best season by any player on the team. He played in every game, and slashed .258/.336/.392. Villar went deep 24 times and stole 40 bases. The 24 bombs marked a career high, and the switch hitter posted his best numbers in almost every category since an impressive 2016 campaign.
Villar entered the offseason due a sizable raise in arbitration. Naturally, the Orioles deemed him expendable. The O’s placed Villar on outright waivers before trading him to the Marlins for prospect Easton Lucas. For what it’s worth, Lucas posted a 1.240 WHIP and 3.96 ERA in 38.2 innings at Aberdeen last season.
The Orioles replaced Villar by signing free agent Jose Iglesias to a one-year deal with an additional team option. Villar regressed to a .232/.301/.292 line with the Marlins in 2020, while his replacement posted ridiculous numbers in Baltimore.
Iglesias slashed an obscene .373/.400/.556 over 39 games in the 60-game season. The righty battled injuries throughout the abridged season, but the Orioles needed his bat in the lineup. Small sample size aside, Iglesias performed far above his $3 million contract.
The Orioles brass once again deemed their shortstop expendable. Baltimore sent Iglesias and his $3.5 million option to Los Angeles in exchange for Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto. Pinto delivered a tremendous season for Delmarva this past year, while Stallings struggled at Double-A Bowie. Stallings’ 1.70 walk rate did lead all Orioles prospects with at least 80 innings pitched.
Baltimore inked Freddy Galvis to a $1.5 million deal prior to last season. Gavlis immediately became one of the Birds’ best hitters with a .264/.321/.458 line in his first 22 games. An unfortunate injury cut his time in Baltimore short, but the Orioles were able to flip a hobbled Galvis back to Philadelphia in exchange for 23-year-old right-handed reliever Tyler Burch.
The Orioles have yet to secure a replacement for Galvis this offseason, but they will likely go outside the organization to complement Ramón Urías and Jorge Mateo.
It’s weird to have confidence that the Orioles will bring in a quality contributor at any position, but their track record at shortstop commands respect. A small sample size and the Camden Yards boost may help the cause, but the Orioles have pursued outside help at shortstop more than any other position over the last few years. All three players have performed above their contracts.
Elias has gained plenty of credit for rebuilding Baltimore’s farm system, but these moves offer hope that he can secure talent in free agency. A reunion between Elias and Carlos Correa may be out of the question, but Galvis and Iglesias will be included in the second tier group of shortstop free agents.
The Orioles may still be a year away, but the time will come for the club to make serious moves on the hot stove. Don’t be surprised to see bargain shopping after the labor resolution this offseason, but do not bet against the guy Baltimore signs to play shortstop.