November 2013

Orioles claim Phelps off waivers

The Orioles claimed infielder Cord Phelps off waivers from the Cleveland Indians on Monday afternoon, adding depth to the organization and bringing the 40-man roster to 38.

The 26-year-old Phelps has struggled to turn his Minor League success into anything at the big league level yet, posting a .159/.221/.248 line in 123 plate appearances in the Majors.

He is a career .286/.367/.471 Triple-A hitter and has primarily played second base over his career, a position that is a huge hole for the Orioles right now. With the departure of Brian Roberts –who has struggled to stay on the field when he was an Oriole– the O’s are actively trying to upgrade at second base and Phelps gives them another option there and as a potential utility player.

The switch-hitter also played first base and left field last season and has 40 games at shortstop under in his belt in the Minors.

Monday’s waiver claim was the second move for the Orioles, who also traded for Padres reliever Brad Brach to add another potential bullpen option.

 

O’s add Berry, Ohlman and Gamboa to 40-man

The Orioles added a trio of young players to their 40-man roster on Wednesday, left-handed pitcher Tim Berry, catcher Michael Ohlman and knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa.

Berry pitched to a 1.84 ERA and a 2-0 record in the Arizona Fall League, and is coming off a solid season for Class-A Frederick. He went 11-7 with a 3.85 ERA in 27 starts, allowing 80 runs (65 earned) on 156 hits and 40 walks over 152 innings.  Berry was ranked No. 12 among Orioles prospects to start the 2013 season.

Ohlman won the Carolina League batting title, hitting .313/.410/.524 in 100 games for Frederick, including 13 homers and 53 RBIs. He was ranked as the O’s 19th-best prospect to start the year, but his standing in the organization has grown considerably.

The 28-year-old Gamboa is the most surprising name of the three.  In nine starts for Triple-A Norfolk, his first season as a knuckler, he went 2-5 with a 6.23 ERA.

The Orioles now have 36 players on the 40-man roster.

With Wednesday’s roster moves it’s important to note that it’s not free range for other clubs to take players not on the Major League roster. Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. So, well-thought of pitchers like Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Wright, for example, don’t need to be protected just yet.

For eligible players left off, clubs pay $50,000 to select someone in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, slated to take place on Thursday, Dec. 12. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.

In other words, an international player or high school draftee signed in 2009, assuming they were 18 or under as of June 5 of that year, must be protected. A college player taken in the 2010 Draft is in the same boat.

The Orioles have taken a player in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft the past two years and been able to keep him on the roster for the entire season. As a result, both infielder Ryan Flaherty and left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland are now in the organization.

 

Os sign Escalona

The Orioles added some more pitching depth on Wednesday afternoon, signing right-handed pitcher Edgmer Escalona to a one-year deal.

The 27-year-old Escalona went 1-4 with a 5.67 ERA for the Rockies last season, posting careers-highs in appearances (37), innings (46.0) and strikeouts (34).  He has been pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League where he has a fourth-best 2.10 ERA over six starts (34 1/3 innings).

“He’s been a reliever in the big leagues and Colorado, right now he’s pitching as a starter so that he can develop the pitches he needs to be a good Major League,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of how the organization views Escalona. “I think the club can decide in the spring. but the good news is he’s working on what he needs to work on to be a good Major League pitcher.”

Escalona went 1-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 78 relief appearances over four years for the Rockies, striking out 6.4 batters per nine innings.  Escalona went 19-16 with a 3.85 ERA in 259 career relief outings over eight Minor League seasons in the Colorado system.  He was signed September 8, 2004 as an undrafted free agent.

“He’s a big strong right-hander and has a good fastball,” Duquette said. “[He’s] working on developing pitches he needs to get lefties out.”

The move puts the Orioles 40-man roster at 33 players with the deadline for clubs to set their 40-man midnight ET on Wednesday in advance of the Rule 5 Draft. Duquette said the O’s will add a few more names before the day is through.

A few links and notes

*The Orioles annouced earlier today plans to have Fan Fest on February 1. More details to come for the day-long event, which will again be held at the Baltimore Convention Center.

*MLB.com’s senior writer Jim Callis takes a look at Dylan Bundy and why O’s fans should still be optomistic about the right-hander’s future despite coming off Tommy John surgery. You can read that here.

*Major League Baseball announced earlier today that the Houston Astros will host 2014’s Civil Rights Game on May 30 versus the Orioles. Details for that can be found here.

*In case you missed it, I covered some of the Orioles’ recent trade rumors in Friday’s inbox (you can read that here) and will do some again this Friday. Got a question? Email brittany.ghiroli@mlb.com with your name and city for possible inclusion in this week’s inbox. 

 

Astros to host Orioles in 2014 Civil Rights Game

Major League Baseball announced today that the Houston Astros will host the Civil Rights Game on May 30 against the Baltimore Orioles.

Astros.com reporter Brian McTaggart, who is live at the press conference announcement, has all the details for you below..

The Civil Rights Game and its ancillary activities are a series of events developed by MLB to pay tribute to those who fought on and off the field for equal rights for all Americans. The eighth installment of the game will be televised nationally on MLB Network.

“I am pleased to announce the Houston Astros, who have demonstrated a substantial commitment to supporting diversity throughout our industry, as the hosts of Major League Baseball’s 2014 Civil Rights Game,” Commissioner Bud Selig said. “The Civil Rights Game and its surrounding events are an opportunity not only for our game to honor those who have fought for equality throughout American history, but also to remind us that the battle against injustice continues. As a social institution that features unprecedented diversity of all races and ethnicities throughout our sport, we are proud to join the Astros in remembering this important era in history.”

Some of the events surrounding the Civil Rights Game include the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, the Baseball & Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion and a youth baseball and softball event.

Ticket sales and more information on the 2014 Civil Rights Game and ancillary events will be made available at a later date on MLB.com/civilrightsgame or Astros.com/civilrightsgame.

In addition to the 2014 Civil Rights Game at Minute Maid Park, several events will take place throughout the week, including:

• Baseball & the Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion, May 29: A group of prominent participants will discuss the pivotal role baseball played in the civil rights movement and the game’s continued presence as a social institution in American society.

Previous panelists have included Martin Luther King III, human rights activist and eldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Sharon Robinson, MLB educational programming consultant and daughter of Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson; Dolores Huerta, activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers; Ambassador Shabazz, Ambassador-at-large for Belize and eldest daughter of Malcolm X; Branch Rickey III, Pacific Coast League president and grandson of the late Branch Rickey; Thomas Tull, Chairman & CEO of Legendary Entertainment and producer of the featured film “42”; Arte Moreno, principal owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Kenny Williams, executive vice president of the Chicago White Sox; Baseball Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Dave Winfield; Dodgers legend Don Newcombe; Hall of Fame journalist and MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons; and MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds among others.

• MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, May 30: The MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon will honor the recipients of this year’s MLB Beacon Awards, which recognize individuals whose lives are emblematic of the spirit of the civil rights movement.

Past recipients of MLB Beacon Awards include: Baseball Hall of Famers Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks; and also Buck O’Neil, Newcombe, Bo Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Ruby Dee, Aretha Franklin, Morgan Freeman, John H. Johnson, Billie Jean King, Spike Lee, Congressman John Lewis, Carlos Santana, three of the founding members of Earth, Wind & Fire, and Vera Clemente, MLB Goodwill Ambassador and wife of the late Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.

Keynote speakers at previous MLB Beacon Award events have included Commissioner Selig, President Bill Clinton, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Julian Bond and Michael Wilbon.

• Youth Clinic, TBD: The youth baseball and softball clinic is an event designed to give young players locally the opportunity to interact with and learn from current and former players. The clinic will take place at the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy, which attracted approximately 1,300 participants in 2013. Interactive aspects will include batting cages, pitching machines and baserunning stations.

The Civil Rights Game began in Memphis, Tenn., in 2007, centering on an exhibition game between the Cardinals and Indians. After another exhibition game in Memphis in ’08, the Civil Rights Game moved to Cincinnati (2009-10), then Atlanta (2011-12) as regular-season games, and last year was hosted in Chicago by the White Sox.

While much of the South was deeply affected during the civil rights movement with violence threatening the well-being of many, Houston played a vital role in achieving peaceful desegregation, making it a crucial part of the overall civil rights effort.

Os unveil 60th anniversary patch

The Orioles will wear a commemorative patch on the right sleeve of all game jerseys for their 60th anniversary season in 2014.

The patch was unveiled on the club’s Twitter account on Monday and uses the 1954 Orioles script and the ’54 bird as well as the current Oriole bird. The three stars at the bottom represent the organization’s three World Series Championships.

The Orioles have not announced celebration plans for their 60th anniversary season, although those are expected to be unveiled next month.

Os sign De La Cruz, and five others

Adding to their bullpen depth, the Orioles signed left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz to a one-year contract, their sixth announced signing on Monday.

“We like his size and he’s got a couple of good pitches, he has a couple good weapons to strike the hitters out,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of De La Cruz. “He had a good year last year in the Dodgers Triple-A. We think theres a couple things we can help him out  with [adjustments-wise], and that he can compete.”

The 25-year-old southpaw had a 2.67 ERA in 50 appearances between Double-A and Triple-A last season and was particularly effective against left-handers, holding them to a .217/.298/.261 line, while recording 37 strikeouts in 106 plate appearances.

De La Cruz has struggled with his command,  averaging 4.7 walks per nine innings throughout his eight Minor League seasons, including 35 walks in 67 1/3 innings last year. He did, however, finish third in the Pacific Coast League with a career-high 11.3 strikeouts over nine innings last year.

De La Cruz was in the Tigers Minors in 2012 and spent 2006-’11 with Cleveland. His signing brings the Orioles’ current 40-man roster total to 32 total players.<p>

“We are still looking for some depth for our Major League pitching staff, but De La Cruz has some good pitches and gives us another option from the left side,” Duquette said.

The Orioles also signed right-handed pitchers Tim Alderson and Brock Huntzinger, left-hander Nick Additon and outfielders Chih-Hsien Chiang and Kyeong Kang to Minor League deals earlier in the day. All three pitchers will get an invite to Major League Spring Training.

Graham wins Bender Award

Orioles director of player development Brian Graham will be honored at next month’s Winter Meetings with the sixth annual Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award, an honor Minor League Baseball announced on Thursday.

The award is presented to an individual with distinguished service who has been instrumental in player development, and Graham —who has spent 32 years in professional baseball— has exemplified that since rejoining Baltimore’s organization in 2008.

In his first year as direct of player development, Graham oversaw the instruction and developing process for a vastly improved Orioles’ farm system and he spent the four years prior as coordinator of Minor League instruction. After serving as a Major League coach with the O’s in 2000, Graham came back to Baltimore as a special assistant in ’08 and has been one of the most well-respected and popular figures in the organization.

“I’m very honored to win the ‘Chief’ Bender Award,” Graham said in an article on MiLB.com. “When you work in player development, you never expect to win awards. Our reward is seeing the players develop, make it to the big leagues and then succeed as Major Leaguers.

“I’m also very fortunate to be part of a great organization right now. We have a general manager [in Dan Duquette] and Major League manager [Buck Showalter] who take tremendous pride in player development, and we have a lot of really good staff members who do a great job. It’s truly an honor to have my name associated with ‘Chief’ Bender and such a prestigious award.”

Graham also worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2002-07, as their senior director of player development, with 54 homegrown players reaching the Majors over that span He served as the Pirates interim GM in ’07 and had a brief stint as the field coordinator for the Florida Marlins prior to that. Graham, who served as a Major coach with the Cleveland Indians (1998-99), managed nine consecutive winning clubs, including eight straight playoff ones, during his time as a Minor League skipper in the Indians’ system.

“We are very lucky to have Brian in our organization because an award like this isn’t just for the length of service; it recognizes distinguished and quality service,” said Showalter. “To be in the game as long as Brian has, you have to be good at what you do and have your work be in demand. He has made an impact on the careers and lives of so many young men without seeking attention for himself. This is a tremendous honor for a true professional.”

Added Duquette: ”The National Association has made a great choice of not just an educator, but a leader of men in Brian Graham. He has managed at every class in the Minors and coached in the Major Leagues with a passion for player development. We are very proud of Brian’s work and grateful he is leading the Orioles.”

Duquette on not shopping Hardy (w/ Wieters note)

The Orioles top priority remains upgrading their pitching staff and one of the names drawing the most outside interest in a trade is shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose name surfaced in a potential deal rejected by the Cardinals on Wednesday.

An industry source confirmed on Wednesday CBSSPorts.com’s report that the Orioles asked St. Louis —who is looking for a shortstop— for pitcher Shelby Miller’s name surfaced, a deal that was quickly struck down by the Cards. And while Hardy’s name will continue to come up in offseason rumblings, the O’s aren’t actively trying to move him so much as just listening to other teams’ offers.

“We are not shopping J.J. Hardy,” executive vice president of Dan Duquette told MLB.com from the GM meetings in Orlando, Fla. “The fact that other clubs might be interested in him would be a good reflection on the kind of year that he had. He had a great year. He won the Silver Slugger and he won the Gold Glove.”

“If somebody reported that [he’s being shopped], that’s not true. Are there other clubs that are interested in J.J. Hardy? Who wouldn’t be interested in a shortstop that just won the Gold Glove and captured the Silver Slugger?”

Hardy, in the last year of a three-year, $22 million extension, is a huge part of what the Orioles are trying to do and moving him would create a huge hole in the infield. Even if the Orioles long-term plan is to move Manny Machado to third base —which hasn’t been decided for sure— the 21-year-old is coming off knee surgery and that would create another vacancy at third. The jury is still out as to what Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty can do and the O’s already have one hole in the infield with the departure of second baseman Brian Roberts, who is a free agent.

Hardy’s combination of power and defense –plus his contract status–makes him prime to come up in offseason rumors this winter. But, as evidenced by the Cardinals’ rejection of the trade, it’s probably not enough for an impact pitcher and would create another huge hole in a defense that set a Major League record in 2013 for fewest miscues in a season and most errorless games.

The anchor of the O’s defense, Hardy is one of manager Buck Showalter’s favorites, and signing him for another year or two could be wise given that there’s no help on the horizon in the Minors and Hardy has made it well-known how much he likes playing in Baltimore.

The Orioles best avenue to upgrade this winter is to make a trade and they’ll explore a lot of the same names and available arms that they kicked the tires on around the July deadline, when they acquired Bud Norris. As was the case last year, Duquette to put any of the club’s top pitching prospects on the table including Kevin Gausman and Eduardo Rodriguez. Dylan Bundy would be a sell-low coming off Tommy John surgery and would be tough to justify as well.

So, who could be had in the right deal? The Orioles would be “willing” to deal catcher Matt Wieters this winter —according to a tweet from FOXSports.com— a school of thinking that shows just how unlikely a long-term extension is for the All-Star backstop.

“If we were going to pursue an extension with him, it would be between now and the start of the season,” Duquette said. “That’s something that we can consider, but having tried twice [each of the last two winters] and not come to a long-term agreement, that’s not a priority for us right now.”

Wieters is a free agent after 2015 and, like first baseman Chris Davis, is represented by Scott Boras. Davis is also a free agent after ’15 and —while the thought right now is he would be more likely to remain in Baltimore than Wieteres— Duquette was equally noncommittal on a possible extension.

“Chris Davis had a great year, obviously,” Duquette said of Davis, who is up for American League MVP honors. “Any of these guys that do well and do well in the community, we’d like to have them with us long-term.”

 

Adam Berry contributed to this post.

Hardy on the trading block?

With the General Managers’ meetings going on this week, the buzz on Wednesday morning around the Orioles was a rejected trade proposal by the St. Louis Cardinals involving Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy. The report by CBSSports.com involved Cards pitcher Shelby Miller, and has spawned some reaction over whether the Orioles could –and should– trade Hardy.

First, I don’t doubt the validity of the Orioles checking in with the Cardinals, who have a wealth of pitching. The O’s badly need to upgrade in that area and it’s no secret that St. Louis would like a shortstop, which is why Hardy’s name would come up. But the Orioles aren’t actively shopping Hardy, who is in the last year of a very affordable contract extension, and would have to be blown away by a deal to move him. A Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner this year, Hardy is a huge part of what the Orioles are trying to do and moving him creates a huge hole in the infield.

Even IF the Orioles long-term plan is to move Manny Machado to third base, the 21-year-old is coming off knee surgery and that would create another vacancy at third. The jury is still out as to what Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty can do and the O’s already have one hole in the infield with the departure of second baseman Brian Roberts, who is a free agent.

Hardy’s combination of power and defense –plus his contract status–makes him prime to come up in offseason rumors this winter. But, as evidenced by the Cardinals’ rejection of the trade, it’s probably not enough for an impact pitcher and it would create a glaring hole in the infield. The anchor of the O’s defense, Hardy is one of manager Buck Showalter’s favorites, and I’ve written before that the organization looking into another extension –signing Hardy for another year or two– could be wise given that there’s no help on the horizon in the Minors and Hardy  –who has already committed to staying in Baltimore once before– has made it well-known how much he likes playing here.

The Orioles best avenue to upgrade this winter is to make a trade and they’ll explore a lot of the same names and available arms that they kicked the tires on around the July deadline, when they acquired Bud Norris. As was the case last year, don’t expect executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to put any of the club’s top pitching prospects on the table including Kevin Gausman and Eduardo Rodriguez. Dylan Bundy would be a sell-low coming off Tommy John surgery and would be tough to justify as well.

 

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