All baseball teams have been hurt by player development being severely curtailed in 2020 due to no minor-league season — and teams like the Orioles that banked on growing their own talent on the farm have been hit particularly hard. The smarter teams — and we hope the Orioles fit in that category — may be able to work around it better than others.
Regardless, here are five things I’d like to see the Orioles accomplish between now and the start of the 2021 season. Fingers crossed that it’ll be in front of fans starting April 1.
Quit Dancing Around The Chris Davis Contract
I have probably written five columns on this issue during the past two years. I respect the fact that the guys running the show now (John Angelos and Mike Elias) had nothing to do with giving Chris Davis that enormous seven-year, $161 million deal that has turned into an albatross for Davis and the club.
In the years since signing the contract, Davis went from being one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball to one of the easiest outs. He put on 15-20 pounds this offseason because he felt weak at the plate in 2019. He hit well this spring, but that didn’t carry into the 60-game season. The player who stands at the plate now is someone with almost no confidence and really nowhere left to go but home.
Davis has two years and $46 million remaining on his deal after 2020. I look for Davis’ agent, Scott Boras, and the club to eventually work toward an amicable exit. Davis won’t give up a guaranteed dollar, but there are ways for Davis to get one nice check every year, a la Bobby Bonilla, which would free up some payroll when the club is ready to turn the spending spigot on again.
I don’t anticipate the Orioles cutting ties with Davis until there’s clarity about the 2021 season; if the coronavirus again forces a season shorter than the usual 162 games, the club would presumably only owe him a prorated portion of his 2021 salary. But this marriage is simply over for all intents and purposes.
Continue Building Up The Bullpen
One of the easiest ways to improve a club is to build a cheap, dependable bullpen. And with the likes of Tanner Scott, Dillon Tate and possibly Hunter Harvey on hand, the Orioles look like they have the makings of a potentially strong and versatile unit in the future.
While Cole Sulser may be getting the bulk of the save opportunities, I believe Scott is the must-keep arm in the bullpen. Scott’s fastball-slider combination and his newfound confidence are making him one of the most valuable late-inning arms in baseball.
I still have confidence that Tate possesses the right stuff to be a factor. Sadly, Harvey — who could make this ‘pen really special — has to stay healthy, and it’s looking less likely he’ll ever be able to do that.
Find Out If Ryan Mountcastle Has The Goods
Mountcastle made his long-awaited MLB debut Aug. 21, walking twice. Flash back to spring training in 2018 when then-Orioles manager Buck Showalter relayed a conversation he had with Mountcastle to the media. “I noticed last year that you only walked 17 times,” Showalter told Mountcastle, prompting a laugh from the young prospect. “Understand it’s not funny,” Showalter told Mountcastle, challenging him then and there to improve his plate discipline.
Well, Mountcastle has battled mightily to add that key ingredient, which can factor quite a bit into a player’s eventual career trajectory. Mountcastle was tasked with improving his defense in left field and making better swing decisions during his time at the club’s alternate site in Bowie before getting called up.
Last year at Triple-A Norfolk, Mountcastle earned International League MVP honors at the age of 22. He batted .312/.344/.527 with 25 home runs, 35 doubles and 83 RBIs. He struck out 130 times and walked just 24 times.
That’s two years after Showalter chided him about the shortfalls of his game. He may just be destined to be a good but flawed player with enormous power. It’s time to find out.
Develop Some Starting Pitching
The 2019 Orioles fluked into one good starting pitcher, John Means. Meanwhile, there were a number of encouraging signs down on the farm during the first year of the Elias-led development program that showed Orioles starting pitching was trending in the right direction long term.
Heading into spring training in 2020, Keegan Akin appeared primed to make the jump to the big leagues after a full year at Norfolk in 2019. Michael Baumann, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmermann were all set to pitch plenty of innings at Norfolk. Without a minor-league season, their development could stall out.
It’s hugely important that this group doesn’t just tread water and that the Orioles figure out some way for these guys to develop more by the time they report for spring training in 2021. Getting Kremer and Zimmermann two or three starts apiece in September would help toward that end.
Sign Trey Mancini To A Two-Year Deal
On March 7, we were hit with the news that Trey Mancini had a non-baseball related medical problem, and on March 12, the Orioles said their star player had a malignant tumor removed from his colon. In April, Mancini announced he was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for stage 3 colon cancer.
During his time in the big leagues, Mancini, 28, has become a leader on the Orioles and someone with whom the city has fallen in love. While I understand baseball is a business, it’s painful to think the club’s most popular player could, at least conceivably, be dealt away this offseason simply because he has two more seasons of arbitration remaining. He agreed to a $4.75 million deal for 2020 before salaries were prorated to reflect the shorter season.
Wouldn’t it be the right thing to do for the Orioles to show Mancini some love and sign him this offseason to a two-year deal worth about $17 million to buy out his final two years of arbitration? The deal would assure Mancini of the income he was on his way to deserving, and it just might pave the way for Mancini to stay with the Orioles for the long haul.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Originally published Sept. 2, 2020.