28 March 2017

O's Upcoming Season Of Roster Shuffling Could Be Their Craziest Yet

One way the Orioles have been able to overachieve in the Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette era is by milking every last drop out of the major league roster. That means constantly scouring the waiver wire, hoarding players with minor league options, using those options for both roster gymnastics purposes and to give players extra rest, selecting and keeping Rule 5 draft picks, and sending a never-ending supply of players back and forth on the Norfolk shuttle.

Duquette never stops looking for a way to improve the team's depth, and Showalter is (or at least seems to be) happy to oblige by picking and choosing from sometimes less-than-ideal choices and figuring out the best way to maximize their talents. Showalter is a master at this, particularly when it comes to reliever usage throughout a long season, and is very good at keeping his club's arms fresh.

The Orioles have never been shy about using roster rules and minor league options to their advantage, even when guys like Wei-Yin Chen were unpopularly optioned for a brief period of time in an effort to keep him healthy. Just wait and see how they try to take advantage of the new 10-day disabled list.

This upcoming season, though, is shaping up to be Duquette's and Showalter's greatest challenge in roster juggling. They seem to relish jumping through these hoops, and they've given themselves even more things to worry about than usual.

If figuring out what to do with two Rule 5 picks in Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander (likely DL bound) weren't enough, they also have to select a fifth starter among underwhelming options until Chris Tillman hopefully returns in May; figure out if Oliver Drake is worth losing if he doesn't make the 25-man roster (he's out of options); try and make room for Trey Mancini, who is mashing in spring training and is mostly blocked by Mark Trumbo's presence; figure out if Mancini and Pedro Alvarez can survive any amount of time in a major league outfield; and then also discover if Craig Gentry and Joey Rickard can form a successful right-handed side of a platoon with their left-handed counterparts in Hyun Soo Kim and Seth Smith.

The Orioles recently jettisoned Michael Bourn, who just a couple months ago seemed like a strong option to make the club. A broken finger from a botched football catch and his contract opt-out date took care of that, along with him never being a truly great fit with Kim and Smith around (plus Tavarez, who gets a slight bump for the Rule 5 designation).

No team plays the fringes quite like the Orioles, who, while maximizing the major league roster, spend very little on international players and have assembled a farm system that doesn't produce many great choices to round various positions of need. Mancini counts, for sure, but there's a reason why the O's have to experiment with outfielders who aren't outfielders, add guys like Vidal Nuno and Gabriel Ynoa as depth pieces in February, and play the Rule 5 game every season. That doesn't make them bad moves by any means. It's just what the Duquette and Showalter Orioles do. It can be frustrating, and you may wonder how much these peripheral moves really matter. But they do in some small way, as Duquette keeps the roster churning and Showalter figures out which pieces can be useful.

One day, when Showalter and Duquette are long gone, you won't have to pay such close attention to which players have options remaining or how many active roster days are left for a Rule 5 pick. They will be simpler times, but probably not better ones (except for the draft pick selling nonsense; no one will miss that).


Matt Bennett said...

Can't really see the logic in not putting Oliver Drake and Tavarez on the 25-man roster.

I do like Craig Gentry and think he can be a valuable asset to the club. But with Rickard, the difference between all these fourth outfielder types is negligible so you might as well keep as much talent in the organization as possible(Rickard can be optioned and Tavarez can't). I understand it wouldn't create the most ideal platoon situation but we don't yet know if Kim can't hit LHP. After a month or so if he proves he can't and there is no injury that doesn't work everything out then maybe we can put Rickard on the roster and bump Tavarez back to his former team.
As for Drake, he has put up dominant numbers in AAA and decent numbers in his two stints in the big leagues. I can't really see how you justify Logan Verrett or Tyler Wilson being that much better than Drake that you lose him to another team. I can't even make the argument that Wilson/Verrett are better than Drake in the first place.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Agreed on Kim, but it really doesn't seem like the Orioles are going to use him that way.

It would surely be a risk to lose Drake, but with so much uncertainty in the rotation, the Orioles need to keep at least one or two swingmen in the bullpen. Drake is a one- or two-inning guy, and if you definitely can't count on him, it might not be worth keeping him around. You don't want to lose him for nothing, but that's what happens sometimes when there's a roster crunch and someone is out of options.

Pip said...

I'm not sure why 30-year old Drake is so appealing. He's probably not better than-if even as good as- most of the other 26th-men who get dumped within the next three days, and I can't see why losing him would be an issue.
Indeed, Asher was almost certainly brought on board specifically to replace him.
Anyway, my question is whether you think Aquino or Ynoa would be a better choice for #5, and why or why not?
Thanks, and PLAY BALL!

Matt Kremnitzer said...

He's appealing because of the track record of success in the minors, and you never really want to lose a player if you don't have to. But you're right, it happens all the time, and even if he makes the team, it could still happen a couple weeks from now.

I honestly don't think it matters who you pick of Aquino, Ynoa, or anyone else. A couple of guys will surely get a chance between now and when Tillman returns (or if he returns), and the O's could choose to go with the hot hand. I do like that Ynoa has more velocity, but Aquino is intriguing as well as a lefty (the same goes for Lee). I almost think you just pick a name out of a hat and see what happens. It's not like any of these options really have strong swing-and-miss stuff.

Matt Shade said...

I like Drake, but he is 30 and we've probably seen him as good as he's gonna look, as he hasn't seen a lot of action in the bigs and I think he will get hit harder once guys get more looks at him. Also, can he go more than an inning? Verrett had some success in that role, and it's important to remember that Bundy will be likely restricted at some point this year and Ubaldo is prone to high pitch counts and short outings.

Going outside the box on the outfield situation...trade Kim. His contract is up the end of the year, he showed good contact and on base skills at least against righties (and the majority of pitchers use that hand) but he's not a good defender and also pushing 30. That would allow keeping Tavarez, while possibly getting a lottery ticket arm back instead of letting him walk for nothing at the end of the year. Similarly, as soon as Santander is healthy and has a chance to get some ABs in the minors and can throw from the OF, deal Seth Smith for something/anything. Get younger and better defensively and add talent to your system.

Matt Shade said...

Also, I could be in the minority here, but I really like the trio of Aquino, Lee, and Ynoa as far as what I've seen from them this spring against actual big league hitters. I think they are potential upgrades over some current rotation pieces (not naming names) as well as guys that could step in should Tillman extension discussions not go anywhere. If these guys are down in Norfolk dealing, I'd want to give them a shot. Miley, Ubaldo, and Tillman are all potentially in last years of their deals (Miley has an option for 2018 I believe) and again, could bring something back in return for organizational depth.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I'm sorry, but dealing two of your better hitters to make room for unproven Rule 5 picks? I don't agree with that logic. Smith is a proven lefty masher, and Kim wasn't just "good" at getting on base; he was outstanding. There's no guarantee he can replicate that success, but the Orioles have few OBP threats.

Any good organization should be able to come up with someone close to what Tavarez can provide. I'm not sure why you'd go overboard and trade proven talents to make room for him. On Santander, you see the upside, but you don't want to have to play him very much, if at all. He's never played above High-A, and the only way they'll keep him is some combination of DL stints and him sitting a lot on the bench. It's asking a lot to keep one of them, let alone both.

Matt Shade said...

Matt K...I'm glad you don't agree with that logic because that's not the logic I used. When you put it the way you did it obviously doesn't make sense. However, I don't think that Kim or Smith are two of the O's "better hitters". They are really the only guys in the projected O's lineup that you obviously say should be used in a platoon. Smith is 34 and likely to further decline, not just bat speed but also foot speed defensively. Kim is also pushing 30 and has negative defensive value. Their contracts, again, both expire at the end of the year. It would be better to me to get some value back while giving an opportunity to younger players who are better defensively. I agree with you that any good organization should have a Tavarez...the O's don't have a guy like that close to the majors if he is given back.

I also think Rickard is ready to have an everyday role instead of the lesser half of a platoon. His walk rate this spring shows he is making adjustments and seeing pitches better. With that being the case, you can stash Santander on the bench while platooning Tavarez and Gentry in the other corner.

I'm leaning towards improving athleticism and defense, which I think need to be valued more. There's nothing in the history of Smith or Kim to show they can offset liabilities on D with their bats, and nothing to suggest immediate improvement to get to that level. Again, you would also in theory here not only gain organizational depth with the Rule V guys but also anything you get back in return for Smith and Kim.

Pip said...

Rickard has always had a pretty good walk rate. The problem is that he doesn't make much very hard contact, so there's no need for pitchers to tease him with pitches around the edge. They can just throw hard fastballs and dare him to make good contact.
I also hope Rickard is improved, but certainly part of his successful
spring is the quality of pitchers he was facing.
Too soon to let him handle daily duties, and that's without considering whether his D has gotten better.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

OK, sure. It might not be the logic you used, but that is still the situation you are talking about. Against right-handed pitching, they are two of the team's better hitters. I should have clarified. If you don't think Kim or Smith is that good and/or they are declining, then why would you expect anything of significant value in return for them?

Tavarez is fast, but his defensive skills in the outfield have not received great reviews this spring and are far from guaranteed. Who knows for sure until real games actually begin. The same goes for Santander, who is younger, has barely played this spring, and is much less proven. Rickard and Gentry can probably provide what Tavarez does (Gentry's defensive skills are much more well regarded), and they're likely to make the roster anyway. I just don't see why you need to jump through so many hoops to keep Tavarez around.

Has a team ever been able to keep two Rule 5 picks in one season? I would guess not, and I don't see why that would happen now. Tavarez hasn't shown that he's ready to serve as the regular half of a platoon, and you certainly don't need to clear out Kim's production. A Tavarez/Gentry full-time platoon? Sorry, but I don't think many fans would sign up for that.

You can improve defense and athleticism by keeping Gentry and Rickard on the roster. I also think you're overstating Smith's and Kim's defensive struggles in the outfield while understating Tavarez's lack of experience. Smith and Kim are far from great, but they do make the routine plays. For their almost certain solid production against right-handed pitching, I think it's worth having them.

Jon Shepherd said...

Keep in mind that Smith and Kim are strong side platoon bats. These kind of players are useful in certain contexts. To deal them for anything of value, you need to find a club who has a strong side platoon hole and a plan for the weak side platoon. This unnamed club would have had to have failed this offseason in filling that spot and be completely dismayed at what Spring Training has presented. Plus, the Orioles either get nothing immediate back and log a B level prospect or somehow this unnamed team has a surplus of players that just happens to line up with the Orioles' wants.

Dealing Kim would make sense in the offseason or midseason, but now would be likely the worst time to try to get rid of him. And keep in mind, Smith basically cost nothing last winter. Suffering through injuries, his value is probably somehow less.

I am not sure a deal makes sense in the traditional sense or in a more analytical sense.

I am also at a loss why Kim being 30 means anything.

Unknown said...

#MattK - teams have been able to keep multiple Rule 5 picks for a season. Most often, they are either (1) bad teams with nothing to lose or (2) cases in which one or more of the Rule 5 picks were of the veteran role-player type. I'm revealing my age, but I do believe that the 1985 Blue Jays - a division winner - were able to keep two "prospecty" Rule 5 types on their roster the whole season.

In my opinion, the Orioles ought to be exclusively focused on the next two years. Once Manny Machado leaves the organization - and he almost certainly will - then it will be time for a 4-5 year stretch of poor teams while they rebuild. The Orioles' chances of winning a championship are best served by going completely all-in for the next two years.

Anonymous said...

Matt, Drake has been beaten like a drum, nobody will claim him, anyway.

Jon Shepherd said...

I do not believe a ingle team has kept two rule 5 players since the rule change added another year of protection.

Roger said...

All these comments have been focused on Tavarez, and I think it would have been nice to try and keep him (the O's also have a history of trading for their Rule 5 picks if they can't keep them after all they were left unprotected by their owning organization). The really sad part is that both Tavarez and Santander show up in the O's top 30 prospects. And Santander is top 10 or 15. Tavarez seems like a lefty Rickard. But Santander has the potential to be a real major leaguer with his power and age. The O's don't really have any power hitting OFs in waiting at all unless Mancini turns into a good defender. As far as some of the pitchers go Ynoa seems like a real snag. He's young and a decent prospect. Verrett/Wilson/Wright are all similar and all have options. Asher seems like a really good pickup and he's been strictly a starter up to now - I hope he can replace Jimenez when he has his typical doldrums. As for Drake, I am mystified why he can't translate his minors uber success into some sort of major league success. Hart proved his LOOGY credentials again today by retiring three lefties and giving up a run to two righties. But the original premise of the article is absolutely correct. DD has loaded up on fringy major leaguers with options and the bus to Norfolk is going to be real busy. Tavarez's release was written on the wall. And I'm glad Ondrusek isn't in the way. I hope they find a way to keep Santander. I hope Gentry goes back to being a great 4th OF. I hope Rickard doesn't get injured this year. I hope someone steps up as a shutdown middle reliever with potential to be a back end starter - my highest hopes are for Ynoa, Asher, Nuno. Lots of hopes and not a whole lotta faith this year. Castillo has been looking good but Tillman/Hardy/Smith not so much. And what the heck do you do with Pedro????? Mancini and Pedro are going to be baseball's best AAA platoon.

Anonymous said...

That Flarehty bum has lasted 5! years! He obviously has photos of someone that would do great harm!

Anonymous said...

Alvarez and Mancini will cost 1.7 mill, trumbo over 12 mill for same production...oops!

Anonymous said...

I I I I UM, I just don't know!