In the aftermath of Dexter Fowler spurning the Orioles to rejoin the Cubs, I wrote about a few potential solutions to the Orioles’ hole in right field. One of those acquisition ideas is (almost) a reality with the reported signing of Pedro Alvarez to a one year, $5.75 million contract.
As discussed in that piece, Alvarez represented an imperfect fit for the Orioles given that his presence would shift Mark Trumbo into more of a full time right fielder role. While true, the post also hypothesized that with some clever maneuvering – which Buck Showalter is adept at – Trumbo could end up spending only about 50% of his games in the outfield without the team having to sacrifice much offense to get there. To get to that 50% outfield playing time mark for Trumbo, Buck will have to buy into a few different strategies and then have the healthy personnel in order to pull them off.
1. Sit Alvarez versus LHP (25%)
This would qualify as low-hanging fruit. For his career, the left-handed Alvarez holds a .794 OPS versus right-handed pitching but only a .601 OPS versus lefties. He is a ripe candidate for a platoon and his $5.75 million salary does not make it cost prohibitive to utilize him in that manner. The Orioles played almost 28% of their games last season versus right-handed starters. Rounding down a little to be conservative, we might expect Alvarez to not start in around 25% (41 games) if used as a platoon player. In that case, Mark Trumbo would shift to the designated hitter spot while right-handed hitting outfielders Nolan Reimold or Joey Rickard would slot into the right field spot. This strikes me as a bit of a no-brainer. The Pirates largely platooned Alvarez last season and I would expect Buck to do the same unless a roster crunch (injuries, performance issues) forces his hand.
2. Sit Trumbo occasionally versus RHP (15%)
While not a platoon player by any means, Trumbo does perform better versus left-handed pitching (.824 vs. .731 career OPS). In his six big league seasons, Mark has played 150 games or more only once and that was back in 2013. He has had a few relatively minor issues and historically has not been a player his teams have attempted to get into every single game. The assumption that he will miss about 12 games just to get a breather or to deal with a nagging injury seems about right given his track record. If Buck can find another twelve games in which it makes sense to both sit Trumbo and start another player in his place, than that is enough 15% of starts where Trumbo would not have to start in right field. The logical place to look for those days are bad match ups for Trumbo against right handed pitchers. He should play every day versus lefties.
3. Miscellaneous (5%)
Chris Davis is likely not going to play all 162 games. When Davis gets the occasional day of rest, Trumbo will likely get the call to play first. Even if that it just 3 or 5 games, that is something. Maybe in a national league park against a right handed pitcher, Alvarez places first base with Davis shifted to right field in order to keep their bats in the line. Maybe that ends up being a worse situation defensively than Trumbo playing right field. I don’t know. The point being, it is easy to see how Buck could squeeze another 8 non-starts for Trumbo in the outfield IF that is a major concern.
The above is a purely hypothetical exercise and any number of happenings could throw that “plan” into chaos. The point of it was to demonstrate that Trumbo’s defense – in terms of games and innings played in the outfield – might have far less of an impact then some are assuming. Barring significant long-term injuries (in which case Trumbo’s below average right field defense might be far down the list of concerns), it is not difficult to envision Trumbo starting 40% to 50% of the 2016 schedule somewhere else other than the outfield (first base, DH, or on the bench).
Beyond that, the concern over a corner outfielder’s defense – assuming he is not a complete butcher – should be relatively low. Defensive is important of course, but Trumbo being a below average right fielder would likely not have a major impact on the season even if he started 90% of the games out there. Every player has imperfections and many of them have nearly as many weaknesses as they do strengths. If Trumbo can contribute enough with the bat so that it outweighs any defensive struggles he might encounter, then that is a win. Bemoaning the fact that the Orioles’ outfield defense is now less than ideal assumes that the team could have upgraded defensively from Trumbo while not downgrading offensively from him. That is far easier said than done. There is usually a tradeoff and for the Orioles, they are trading off defense for power.
On the surface, this move would seem to bring the position player side more into focus. It stands to reason that the Orioles would like to have a strong defensive outfielder on the bench if Trumbo is going to make a substantial amount of starts in the outfield. Of the players currently on the roster, Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard makes the most sense for that spot. It is possible the Orioles could trade for a defensive-minded 5th outfielder before opening day, but Rickard would seem to have the edge as the roster stands right now. He can cover all three outfield positions, offers upside with the bat, and by virtue of even being selected is clearing a player the team would like to retain.
If Hyun Soo Kim does not get a chance to bat at the top of the order to start the season, the team’s best option might be to go with Manny Machado and Adam Jones in the first two slots in the order versus right-handed starters. Machado is arguably the best hitter on the roster and it is reasonably sound to put your best hitter in the leadoff spot in order to maximize his appearances. Jones is on the short list of “second best hitters” on this roster, so batting him second would not be a stretch. Hitting second in this lineup might be a nice role for any hitter but I can see it being a particularly good fit for Jones. Relative to the three hitters that would follow (Davis – Trumbo – Alvarez), Jones brings the ability to make contact in addition to his power potential. While I do not necessarily believe the Orioles will play a lot of small ball with Jones in the second position – nor I am even advocating as such – he at least brings that option to the table. Jones’ “versatility” feels like a stronger fit for the two-hole than some of the other more pure power options behind him.
Lastly, a potential Alvarez signing could be good news for Nolan Reimold. The 32-year old was and still is a virtual lock to make the team. However, had Dexter Fowler or Austin Jackson been brought into the fold, Reimold would have a bench player by-and-large (assuming Kim sticks as an everyday player). With Alvarez likely to be platooned versus LHP, this acquisition at least turns Reimold into the short-half of a platoon. As discussed above, if or when Buck attempts to get Trumbo out of the outfield for a reason other than sitting Alvarez, then Reimold or Rickard will be forced into action even more. The current makeup of the Baltimore roster will probably guarantee Reimold more regular at bats than he would have received if a full time outfield solution was acquired.