Pitchers and catchers report to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida today as the Baltimore Orioles begin spring training for the 2017 season; so it is time for me to step back from condo law for a moment and provide my annual commentary on the state of the team. This year, I would like to focus on completing the position-player roster. Here are the current options as I see them:
Aside from back-up catcher, and assuming 12 pitchers, there are only two potentially open roster spots, and flexibility is restricted by the make-up of the players who are already here. The signing of Mark Trumbo results in maintaining the unsatisfactory status quo of having Hyun Soo Kim back in left-field, where both his range and are below average The left-hand hitting Kim is also likely to require a platoon partner, although there is talk of giving him an opportunity against left-handers. If, however, he requires a platoon, his platoon partner would take up another roster spot. The acquisition of Seth Smith provides a left-hand hitting corner outfielder, who presumably would play opposite Kim in right field, and who brings patience at the plate and OBP potential. But he is a strict platoon hitter who requires yet another roster spot for his platoon partner. And he is no more than a marginal defensive upgrade.
Right-hand hitting Joey Rickard, even though he has options, figures to have the inside track on one of the remaining spots. He hits lefthanders, and is a defensive upgrade over both Kim and Smith. Plus he can back up Adam Jones in centerfield, and adds a sorely lacking speed dimension. Rickard would provide one of the platoon partners needed for Kim and Smith, which leaves one spot for the other platoon partner. There are a few possible scenarios:
- Give Dariel Alvarez a chance to play right-field against left-hand pitching, joining Rickard as the other platoon partner. Everyone knows he has a cannon arm. In fact, it is said that there are those in the organization who want to convert him to a pitcher as was done with Michel Givens. Alvarez is also probably the best defensive in-house option. And his presence in right-field keeps Trumbo at DH and out of the outfield. But there are obvious questions as to whether Alvarez will ever be a consistent Major League hitter, as he is yet to be one at AAA. Using Alvarez also keeps power hitting Trey Mancini and Rule 5 pick, Aneury Tavarez off the team, which likely results in losing Tavarez entirely.
- Play Trumbo in the outfield against left-hand pitching, with Mancini making the team as the right-hand hitting DH. That gets Mancini on the team, but, once again, recreates last year’s range-challenged alignment with Trumbo in the outfield. It also means that Alvarez and Tavarez do not make the team.
- Let Tavarez, despite being a left-hand hitter, join Rickard as the other platoon partner. This provides the advantage of keeping a promising Rule 5 hitter, who has decent splits and appears to be an acceptable defensive outfielder. On the other hand, no one knows how he will play at the Major League level, especially playing primarily against left-hand pitching.
- Sign a free agent. Of the few remaining, Angel Pagan or Michael Bourn would seem to be the obvious targets. Pagan is a switch-hitter with a history of solid OBP, fielding and base-running. Bourn provides speed and above average defense, but he would be another left-handed hitting outfielder on a team that already has Kim and Smith. Any acquired free agent would join Rickard as the other platoon partner. This would bring a veteran presence, and a chance to somewhat improve OBP and speed. But it also means no Alvarez, Mancini or Tavarez.
- Sign Matt Wieters as the second catcher and have Wellington Castillo and Wieters share catching duties and serving as the right-hand hitting DH, with Trumbo playing the outfield against left-handed pitching. Once again, this puts Trumbo’s defense in the outfield. However it creates an additional roster spot as result of making use of the second catcher. That would allow two of Alvarez, Mancini, Tavarez or a free agent to make the team.
- Make a trade. The most discussed possibility involves the Met’s two expensive outfielders, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce. Of the two, Granderson best meets the Orioles’ needs for defense and speed, and he also has power. Brad Brach’s name has been floated as a possible trade chip. However, potential free agent bullpen additions to make up for the loss of Brach, like Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins, have signed elsewhere. If Brach is traded, bullpen help will likely have to come from within the organization. The addition of Granderson would be good for both the offense and defense, but it is also problematic due to the existing roster. Granderson is an everyday player in RF, and that pushes the newly-acquired Smith to the bench as a fifth outfielder, unless he beats out Kim for playing time. Once again, it would also mean no Alvarez, Mancini or Tavarez.