The Orioles acquisition of Travis Snider from the Pittsburgh Pirates ends their offseason long pursuit of an additional left-handed hitting outfielder. The organization targeted a left-handed corner outfielder despite having two ticketed for this upcoming season’s 25-man roster: David Lough and Alejandro De Aza. I have seen it speculated by fellow fans that the acquisition of Snider (just as the acquisition of Colby Ramus or any other similar player would have) likely spells the end of Lough’s chances of making the team. The notion is that Snider makes Lough redundant and that the team would be better served by giving his spot to a right-handed hitter.
In my opinion, David Lough does and certainly should have a spot on the 25-man roster to start the season even after the acquisition of Snider.
First, let’s look at how Snider impacts Lough. Prior to last night’s trade and if the season started tomorrow, Lough was probably penciled in as the starting left fielder versus right-handed pitching. In that scenario, De Aza would be in right field with Steve Pearce getting most of the designated hitter at bats. Now that Snider is on board, Lough is likely to lose a lot of those left field at bats versus RHP and instead will be looking at a reserve role. Therefore, the main obstacle to Lough making the team would be a better option for that 4th/5th outfielder spot.
The argument I have seen most often is that Lough’s spot on the team would be better filled by a right-handed batter who could platoon with De Aza and/or Snider. The notion that either outfielder needs a platoon partner is premature. De Aza struggled mightily versus LHP in 2014, managing a mere .400 OPS in 95 plate appearances against southpaws. However, he posted a .816 OPS in 153 PA’s in 2013 and a .700 OPS in 147 PA’s during the 2012 season. De Aza has a workable .677 OPS versus LHP for his career. One poor season against lefties does not mean he should never face a left-handed pitcher. Likewise, Snider owns a career .698 OPS versus LHP.
Neither hitter is an automatic platoon candidate to the point of the Orioles needing to add a right-handed bench bat to platoon with them. If De Aza or Snider had more significant platoon splits, it might make sense to explore using Alex Hassan or somebody else in lieu of Lough on the bench. However, that’s not the case. If the Orioles went with Hassan (as example) over Lough on the bench, they would almost surely lose Lough to another team. In doing so, they would weaken their minor league OF depth. The need for a right-handed platoon outfielder does not outweigh the potential cost of losing Lough and decreasing the team’s outfield depth.
Unless there is an extenuating circumstance, I would always prefer to keep the more talented/high upside player over the player that might fill more of a perceived hole on the roster. Keep talented players and let everything will sort out. Lough might seem redundant right now, but what if De Aza, Snider, Pearce, or whoever gets injured or struggles? I would much rather being able to slip Lough into an everyday role (where 75% of the at bats would come against RHP) over Hassan or a similar player.
Beyond all of that, David Lough adds value to the team even as a 5th OF/3rd left-handed hitting outfielder. His outfield defense is far and away the best on the team. If nothing else, he would still have value as a defensive replacement. Lough’s offensive struggles during the 2014 season are well-documented. Also well-documented is the fact that he suffered from an early season concussion which very likely hurt his on-field performance. In admittedly limited playing time, Lough was a far better player offensively in the 2nd half of the season once his concussion symptoms were gone. By that time, he had been relegated to the bench but there might be something there. Even with his 2014 offensive struggles, he still is a 93 OPS+ hitter for his career (+96 OPS last season) who plays tremendous defense. Even with his limited playing time, he was among the top eight position players on the Orioles in fWAR because of his strong defense. Lough is a good player and the Orioles should keep the best players they can on the roster to start the season.
Travis Snider gives the Birds another left-handed hitting outfield bat, however he does not replace all of David Lough’s value nor does he render David Lough totally redundant. There is and should be a spot for both players on the 25-man roster come April.