It’s Opening Night, and while I’m happy to have Orioles baseball back tomorrow, there is a cloud that is hovering over the whole thing that I want to address first.
The Orioles decided to return Aneury Tavarez to the AL East rival Boston Red Sox, even after Tavarez stole 8 bases and hit .325 with an .850 OPS against right-handed pitching.
Dan Duquette said they also tried to work out a trade with the Red Sox, but the Red Sox wanted to keep Tavarez unless the Orioles paid a hefty price.
The worst part is the spin that is coming from the Warehouse:
Presence of Cedric Mullins, who hasn't played above Low-A, made it easier for #Orioles to return Tavárez, Duquette said.
— Jon Meoli (@JonMeoli) April 2, 2017
Sure Cedric Mullins hit .290 against right-handed pitching but he only had a .333 OBP and that was at low A ball, not AA like Tavarez.
Sure he also came on in Spring Training, but he’s not going to do anything for the Orioles until September at the earliest, and by then the Orioles may already be out of contention. Not to mention, they have to add him to the 40-man roster as well.
Tavarez is somebody that could have helped the Orioles as soon as Opening Day. He’s the guy that could have come off the bench as a pinch hitter, pinch runner and a defensive replacement all against right-handed pitching.
Instead, the Orioles will go with 3 right-handed outfield bats: Joey Rickard, who couldn’t hit right-handed pitching last season, and Craig Gentry who has never hit right-handed pitching well, as well as Trey Mancini, who has never played the outfield professionally and who only had a .767 OPS against right-handed pitching in AAA.
And who is the only left-handed hitter the Orioles will have on their bench? Ryan Flaherty.
Needless to say, the Orioles’ right-handed heaviness will hurt them in the later innings when Showalter turns to his bench for defensive replacements and those replacements will face the hard throwing right-handed pitchers out of the opposing team’s bullpen when they come to bat. These are things that don’t seem to matter now, but will suddenly come to light in the coming days as the season progresses and the Orioles could lose games because of that roster construction.
Sure the Orioles have options for a left-handed bat when they need one. Pedro Alvarez is in the minors – but his transition to the outfield has been pretty rocky this spring and he will most certainly opt-out of his deal at the end of April if he does show major improvement defensively. Alvarez is also no stolen base threat like Tavarez. Michael Bourn could always be called up as well, but he’s 34 and coming off an injury. Anthony Santander, the Orioles’ other Rule 5 pick, is a switch-hitter so he can help as well when he’s finally at full strength, but his contribution is going to be more power instead of speed like Tavarez.
Tavarez was healthy and on the roster and could have easily fit in a number of ways. Mancini and Rickard both had options and one of them could have been sent down to keep Tavarez in Baltimore. Mancini could have worked on his defense in Norfolk instead of Baltimore like Alvarez is, and Rickard could have tried to hone his defensive skills as well.
Instead both will be limited to platoon at-bats to start and will likely eventually be over-exposed to right-handed pitching if you look at the history of how Buck Showalter has used platoon players not named Hyun Soo Kim.
Speaking of Kim, as I wrote earlier, letting him hit left-handed pitching was the easiest way the Orioles could have kept Tavarez as only one of Rickard or Gentry would have been needed to platoon with Seth Smith. Kim did his part going 4-9 in Spring Training against left-handed pitching (counting his plate appearance against the Dominican Republic). Showalter limited him from the start though, not letting Kim see any appearances against left-handed starters so it was pretty clear Kim would be platooned no matter what he did.
The Orioles make it seem like Tavarez just didn’t fit and that they did everything they could to keep him in the organization. The truth is they could have easily kept him, and given the team the balance it needed on the bench and an offensive weapon that wouldn’t be a liability in the outfield either. Instead they opted to carry multiple right-handed bats and continued to try to fit square pegs in round holes.
Now we’ll just have to see what Tavarez does in a Red Sox uniform and hope he doesn’t come back to burn the Orioles when it matters the most.