Baltimore Orioles sign Johnny Giatovella to a minor league deal

The Baltimore Orioles signed former Anaheim Angel Johnny Giavotella to a minor league deal yesterday. Giavotella was Anaheim’s Opening Day second baseman in 2015 and 2016, and last year hit .260 with six homers and 20 doubles. If my memory serves me at least one of those home runs came against the Orioles.

I suspect that this is more of a depth move than anything else. The Orioles will probably want to have a guy waiting in the minors who could step right in if someone gets hurt at some point. In that vain, I would expect Giavotella to get considerable reps in spring training.

Speaking of which, have I mentioned lately that the Orioles have games THIS MONTH?! For those of you who have followed me for some time as writer…first off, thank you! But that means I’ll be dusting off my game recap skills once again very soon.

Game recaps in spring training are difficult to write because the games rarely ebb or flow. I usually come out of spring training wondering if I’ve lost my touch given how poor some of the game recaps have been – but then the real games start and I realize there’s a huge difference! So that’s on the horizon as a coming attraction – stay tuned.

Baltimore Orioles’ spring training in Sarasota

Yesterday I wrote about how the Baltimore Orioles would soon have a neighbor in the Sarasota area in the Atlanta Braves. However there’s little doubt that Orioles’ spring training has quickly become one of the hottest tickets in Florida. They’ve set attendance records at Ed Smith Stadium nearly every year since moving there in 2010, and teams literally line up to play the Orioles in their spring home yard.

So…how did that happen? First off, it came to be due to the fact that the O’s identified that they played in one of the worst facilities in MLB in Fort Lauderdale Stadium. It got to the point to where they were having a tough time convincing teams to come and play them. Furthermore similar to Atlanta’s issue, the bus rides to away games were getting longer and longer – many teams were moving to the Gulf Coast, and the ones who still were on the Atlantic side weren’t all the way down in southern Florida.

So when the Reds moved into the Arizona Cactus League, it left Sarasota wihtout a tenant. The Orioles had actually played there for one season in 1991, so they jumped on what the Reds left behind and moved in. However before they did so, they engaged in a massive outreach program to the Sarasota community. This effectively made Sarasota as much a part of Birdland as anywhere in the greater Baltimore area.

After that outreach program and after the team had actually moved there, they began renovating Ed Smith Stadium little by little. It quickly became “the place” to catch spring training baseball, and teams were lining up to play games there because of the great facility the Orioles had created. And in investing so much money in the ballpark and the community, the fans have consistently rewarded the Orioles by coming out in droves and helping to support the team.

Obviously, many of the fans who come to Orioles games in Florida do come down from Baltimore. However the Orioles also have strong “season ticket” sales in Sarasota, which in essence are local companies investing in their town’s spring team. One would think that tickets to a big league spring training game would be a great client gift – most games are in the afternoon, people can take a day off of work, etc.

So to teams looking to alter their spring training experience, the Orioles are really an example to be seen. It’s not just if you build it they will come. That probably goes without saying in a sense. If you want them to come and stay, you have to remain engaged. Look no further than last week’s FanFest, which every year is sponsored by the Sarasota County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

Baltimore Orioles: The battle for Sarasota’s hearts and minds

We know that the Baltimore Orioles have to work extra hard at winning over the hearts and minds of the mid-Atlantic region with the Washington Nationals right down the pike. And for the most part I would submit that they do a good job of that. However in a few short years they might have to do the same in Sarasota during spring training.

According to this article, it appears that the Birds will have a neighbor in Sarasota starting in 2019. The Atlanta Braves are planning to build a state-of-the-art facility which is expected to cost $75-$80 million. Atlanta of course has made their spring home Disney’s Wide World of Sports for the past 19 years in Atlanta. They’re planning to move for the same reason the Orioles did; to cut down on travel costs. All of the teams in the Florida Grapefruit League are either on the east or west coast of the state – the Braves were kind of isolated in Orlando.

However since moving to Sarasota, we’ve all seen how the local community has embraced the Orioles. And that’s partially due to the fact that the Orioles really spent a lot of money renovating Ed Smith Stadium, and embedding themselves in the Sarasota community. People felt like they had as much a stake in the team as the fans of Baltimore did. In fact I’ve met numerous fans who have journeyed up to Baltimore to catch the Birds at Camden Yards from the Sarasota area.

So will interest in the Orioles wane with a new team coming to town? It’s tough to say. On one hand the connection with the Sarasota community was almost instantaneous – and again that’s due in large part to the club embedding itself in the community right away. So in that sense one might say that the Sarasota community wouldn’t turn it’s back on the Orioles.

However in the same respect, I think you’ll see the same phenomenon as existed when Washington got a team back. There’ll be a certain novelty to Atlanta being in town, along with a brand new park. Furthmore my understanding is that their intention is to operate the park year-around, similar to what the Orioles do with Ed Smith Stadium.

At the end of the day, some would argue that competition isn’t a bad thing. And it’s probably not. Quite frankly, both teams have more important things to worry about than the hearts and minds of Sarasota residents. The O’s have played Atlanta several times over the past few springs, so one would think that trend will continue even more so given the fact that the two teams are going to be so close.

Incidentally, it’s not uncommon for teams to share towns in a sense for spring training. The Boston Red Sox and Minneosta Twins used to share a facility in Fort Myers – but now they just share the town. And starting this year the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals will be sharing the new Ballpark of the Palms in West Palm Beach. In essence, the idea is to get your work in first, and win the hearts and minds of the community second.

Baltimore Orioles: Where does Dylan Bundy fit in?

With pitchers and catchers reporting in a couple of weeks, one of the more intriguing questions surrounding the Baltimore Orioles involves Dylan Bundy. Will he be in he rotation or bullpen? My personal opinion is that he’s earmarked for the rotation in the wake of the club trading Gallardo. But we’ll have to see.

First off if you include Bundy as a starter, that gives the Birds a rotation of (in no particular order) Tillman, Jimenez, Bundy, Gausman, and perhaps either Wright or Wilson. Who else is out there to contend for a spot? You see that I already included two people for that last rotation spot, so in essence they’re already somewhat thin.

My point is that whereas last year they really had no choice by to put Bundy in the bullpen, this year they may have no other choice but to start him. Unless they’re able to sign a veteran starter as a back-of-the-rotation guy, where else could Bundy go? Basically, the starting rotation is his and the Orioles’ only option right now.

The only scenario in which I see Bundy ending up back in the pen besides signing or trading for someone else would be if both Wilson and Wright have stellar springs and both end up in the rotation. And that’s entirely possible – they both muscled their way onto the roster in the wake of last year’s spring training. However I see one of them in the rotation and one in the bullpen – but both on the big league roster.

So that means that the O’s owe Bundy the opportunity to be stretched out a bit in the spring. I would expect him to get a significant amount of work, both publicly and perhaps not so publicly. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him start several “B games” on the back fields, and perhaps even a minor league game or two. And not that it really matters, but there’s also the final spring tuneup on March 31st at Harbor Park that he could start as well.

But with that said there’s also some maneuvering that the Orioles could do in the first two weeks or so. The schedule’s somewhat strange this year in the sense that the O’s have two off days in the first week. They open at home against Toronto, after which they’ll have the obligatory day off after Opening Day. They then finish what will be a disjointed two-game series on that Wednesday, and an off-day on Thursday before New York comes in on Friday for the weekend.

In other words, the Orioles won’t need a fifth starter right away. Heck, they won’t need a fourth starter for that matter! They’re also off on Monday April 10th before heading to Boston on April 11th for their first road series of the season. So not needing a fifth starter could push into the second week as well. And while we’re at it, they’re off on Monday Aprl 17th.

Bundy’s out of options, however if they needed to the Orioles could “invent” a minor injury for him and leave him behind in Sarasota. In fact if they played their cards right, they could backdate it so that they could send him on a rehab assignment so he’d be ready by mid-April. He certainly wouldn’t be the first pitcher to go through some minor tendinitis in Spring Training.

This is all speculation, however I do believe that Bundy will be a member of the rotation in 2017. Once the O’s need a fifth starter, that is!

Baltimore Orioles: Is Manny Machado putting up barriers?

Before I get to Manny Machado, I want to mention that the Baltimore Orioles’ annual FanFest celebration yesterday was a rousing success. The Baltimore Convention Center was packed with people from the beginning of the event until the end, all enthusiastic about the upcoming baseball season. And the Birds have learned to expect nothing less of their fans for this event. There as a palpable excitement around the Inner Harbor all day, which is a good sign!

Not much news usually comes from these types of events, however Manny Machado did make an interesting comment when asked about a contract extension that I caught (quote courtesy of Steve Melewski, MASNsports):

You know, I mean, I’m up for it. I’d rather win a ring than sign a long-term contract. They are doing the right things to put the right pieces in the right direction. When the time comes, I know they are going to come up and try to get something done. For the meantime, we’re just trying to put the best 25 guys on the field.

I want to be fair to Machado, first and foremost. Prior to saying this he said that the Orioles were the only team he’s ever known, and that he’d like to remain with the Orioles. However in saying he’d rather win a ring than sign long-term, what’s he really saying?

One might interpret that as suggesting that he’s going to sign with a team he believes has the most chance of winning a title when the time comes. On one hand, one can’t really blame him. However does that mean that if a team such as the Chicago Cubs are interested when the time comes, he’d go there instead of staying here?

If you read into that quote, then I suppose that’s exactly what he’s saying. But again, let’s be fair to Machado; he also did say that he wanted to stay here. In reality, hisdiscourse on a contract extension was more a long version of your typical responsee of I’m just going to play the game and let my agent handle it than anything else. But often when you give the long version of answers you leave your words open to interpretation.

Furthermore, it’s also interesting to note at this time that when the Orioles drafted Machado he was hesitant to sign. It came down to the wire, and he almost opted not to sign with the Birds. At the time of course, the Orioles weren’t a very good team or organization. Machado wanted to be a part of a winner, as it appears he still does. Again, one can’t really blame him there. But what I’m saying is that his comment in passing yesterday was consistent with what he’s said and done in the past.

Again, nobody can blame the kid for wanting to play for a winner. And as always, there are two ways to look at this; it could actually benefit the Orioles if you think about it. What if he’s offered a HUGE contract elsewhere, but at the end of the day it’s a franchise that’s not quite where the Orioles are now – just to throw a team out there, let’s say Tampa. If he’s true to his comments above, he’ll stay with the Orioles.

Baltimore Orioles host their annual FanFest

The Baltimore Orioles will open for business in 2017 this morning. In just a few short hours, the doors of the Baltimore Convention Center will swing open, and Orioles’ FanFest will begin. FanFest will be held from 11 AM – 6 PM. Yesterday I incorrectly pinned the price of admission at $10; it’s actually $12.

FanFest is a time-honored tradition in Birdland, and it has something for fans of all ages. And writers!  So you can bet that a lot of families, groups of friends, and onlookers will make their way through the convention center today.

The Orioles work very hard to make this a great event, and in general they seem to succeed. They’ve set attendance records the past few years, and coming off of a playoff appearance there’s no reason to believe that might not happen again this year.

Now here’s one downside to this event: the fact that the Orioles charge for admission vouchers for the autograph sessions. They’re sold out at this point, however that doesn’t mean you can’t get them. The Orioles donate that money to charity – so it’s not intended for them to turn a profit. However as I said, you can still get an autograph voucher…plenty of people sell them on the secondary market.

That’s right, scalpers. And many scalpers scoop up the vouchers early and then sell them at a profit.Let me be clear; this IS NOT the Orioles’ fault. The only way they could avoid this is by not charging for the vouhcers, which takes money away from charity. It just is what it is.

So with that said, I’m off – see you at the Convention Center!

Baltimore Oriolesriday in Charm City

The Baltimore Orioles are on the verge of one of the most beloved weekends of the off season for fans. Tomorrow Birdland will congregate at the Baltimore Convention Center for the Orioles’ annual FanFest celebration. And when I say all of Birdland, I mean everyone – players, coaches, fans, etc.

FanFest is quite simply put, an awesome event. I tell people that it has all the elements of an Orioles game at Camden Yards, with the exception of the game itself. There are so many great parts to it which are family oriented, from free merchandise, instruction from coaches and players, mascot appearances, and great exhibits. Needless to say, it’s worth the $10 price of admission.

As a writer, I always enjoy listening to the symposiums with players and coaches to get a glimpse of what their thoughts are for the upcoming season, or on a specific issue involving the team or the sport. And in fact, it’s probably the first and last chance that fans will have to see the team before they all head south to Sarasota for Spring Training next month. Keep in mind that Grapefruit League play begins at the end of February!

If you have plans tomorrow, cancel them! As I said, FanFest is well worth the price of admission. The event is from 11 AM until 6 PM at the aforementioned Baltimore Convention Center. Tickets can be bought at the door.

Baltimore Oriol Trumbo to attend this weekend’s FaFest

In case you weren’t aware, the Baltimore Orioles will be holding their annual FanFest this Saturday at the Baltimore Convention Center. It was announced yesterday that the newly re-signed Mark Trumbo will be in attendance. As will new catcher, Welington Castillo.

Both players were late adds, and in fact Trumbo will be introduced to the media (or “re-introduced” I suppose) at a 3 PM press conference tomorrow afternoon. Trumbo is expected to draw a lot of interest from fans, as there were varying opinions as to whether or not he should be brought back.

At the end of the day however, the yea’s won out and Trumbo will be an Oriole for the next three years. However I would submit that Castillo will draw some interest as well, given that he’s taking over for a perennial all-star and a longtime fan favorite in Wieters. Those are big shoes to fill, however if the rest of the league’s reaction to Wieters being on the free agent market is any indication one might think that the Orioles did the right thing in moving on.

Incidentally folks, I’ll be wandering around the convention floor on Saturday myself. If you see me, feel free to say hello!

Baltimore Orioles: Power wins in the AL East

Many fans like to say that the Baltimore Orioles use power as a crutch in a sense. In bringing back the likes of Davis (last year), Trumbo, etc, the Orioles are expecting to slug their way into the post season. And in the eyes of some, that’s misguided.

If you look at recent history, perhaps it is. The Cleveland Indians made it to the World Series last season playing small ball, and there are plenty of other examples of that. However what I would say is that the Orioles need to be a power team that can play small ball. There’s no reason that guys shouldn’t be able to bunt for a base hit, or sac bunt. That’s part of the game.

But that’s not how you win games in the American League East. It never has been and probably never will be. You win games in the AL East based on two things: power and pitching. The pitching part we know is a constant struggle in Baltimore. I’m focusing on the power.

How many AL East games are 1-0 or somewhere of the like? Not very many. You win games in the AL East by bashing your opponents’ brains in. Teams consistently win games 9-7 or 10-9. That’s just how it works.

While the Orioles do need to focus a bit more on OBP, if they started playing small ball consistently in their division, they’d lose a boatload of games. It’s perfectly okay to only score four runs in a game overall. But when your opponent is putting up seven, that’s a problem.

So my hope is that people try to understand that it isn’t that the O’s don’t want to work harder on their team OBP. The fact is that they need as much power as they can get. The other teams aren’t just going to change at will simply because the Orioles did. That’s not how it works! The American League East is always won or lost on power hitting at the plate. And good pitching…but again, that’s a totally different story!

Baltimore Orioles: How important are wins and losses this spring?

The Baltimore Orioles will begin spring training games at the end of next month. Yeah, I just wrote that! But as we start looking to Grapefruit League play, how important are wins and losses once games start? Is there or should there be more of an emphasis on that?

It’s tough to say. First off, keep in mind that wins and losses are tough to gauge in road games in spring. Most teams only bring a handful of regular players on their travel rosters, and the lineups are thus not really what one would expect to see in a regular season game. And even in the home games, sometimes we see lineup changes and tinkerings here and there.

So any discussion about wins and losses in spring should be prefaced with that. If a guy who’s basically earmarked for triple-A makes two errors and strikes out three times in a spring game, that will probably have no bearing on how the team will finish the regular season.

However I do think that perhaps there could be more of an urgency this year. With Wieters presumably gone and Castillo behind the dish, these spring games are going to be key in building rapport with the pitching staff. Does that mean that winning games is a must? Not necessarily per se. However it helps.

Make no mistake about the fact that similar to what I said above about the guy earmarked for triple-A, if the starters come out of a game in which they have the lead and the reserves blow it, that’s meaningless. At the beginning of camp the starters will get two or three at-bats in games, and then turn things over to some of the minor leaguers. Furhermore, the pitchers’ appearances are all going to be choreographed.

That’s how spring games work – they’re almost planned out! Starters are earmarked to only pitch two innings in their first outing, maybe three in their second, and so forth. And the same with the position players; after two or three at-bats, they’re rotated out of the lineup.

My point is that it’s tough to judge by wins and losses in spring. First off the games don’t count, so it’s pointless. But when you go into a game knowing that your time is limited and in essence you know how long you’re going to be playing, it’s also tough to judge. Wins and losses are important, even in spring. Especially with a new starting catcher. But how the spring develops in terms of quality at-bats and outings is more important.