It hasn’t been a factor yet — not in the first three games since the Orioles expanded their big league roster.
Who knows, maybe it won’t be a factor at all this month. Orioles manager Buck Showalter isn’t one to juggle his lineup much and there aren’t many obvious batters to replace with a pinch-hitter.
But know this: The Orioles made what could be a standout move in September by adding designated hitter Pedro Alvarez.
It’s not that Alvarez’s promotion was shocking; what was shocking was that he was still in the organization in September in order to be called up.
Give the Orioles, executive vice president Dan Duquette and Showalter credit here: They played this one perfectly; they added a fearsome, left-handed bench bat for nothing.
No one signed Alvarez last offseason after he hit 22 homers in 337 at-bats for the Orioles in 2016. So, the Orioles grabbed him on a minor-league deal in March and tried to convert the corner infielder into an outfielder.
Alvarez, to his credit, gave outfield a try, but the experiment didn’t go particularly well. Yet, it potentially delayed his pursuit of another job while he was trying to make things work defensively. When asked about reports on Alvarez in the outfield at Norfolk, Showalter said Alvarez had been playing well at first base. Enough said.
We all figured that when Alvarez could opt-out of his minor league deal during the season, he would. But he didn’t. He renegotiated and decided to stay with the Orioles, with the stipulation that he could leave and join another team on a major league deal.
But that deal never came.
“It’s all been part of the process. Obviously, we all want to play up here, but everyone’s path is different and you’ve just got to take it day by day,” Alvarez said. “That was my thought process down there. Continue to get better, continue to strive to get back up here again.”
When asked about how close he was to leaving the Orioles and looking for another deal, Alvarez said simply, “I was just going to the ballpark every day and (was) ready to play.”
The ballpark he went to half the time this year was Norfolk’s Harbor Park, an unquestioned pitcher’s haven. Alvarez, though, batted .239 with 26 homers for the Tides this year – his prodigious power proving it can play just about anywhere.
Remember, this guy is only 30, led the National League in homers in 2013 and has 153 in his big league career. And, remember, this is the year of the home run – when you’d think Alvarez’s power bat would be even more attractive.
Which is why this is all so strange, that Alvarez never made it out of Triple-A until now. Yes, he is limited defensively and doesn’t hit for a high average, but left-handed power is always coveted. And this guy has loads of experience in the pressure cooker.
Alvarez, the former No. 2 overall pick in 2008, had a reputation of being somewhat salty in Pittsburgh, where he was once billed as a savior, but he was never a problem with the Orioles. In fact, he was beloved by his teammates – Manny Machado greeted Alvarez when he first arrived this week with a hug and a loud, “Toro,” Alvarez’s nickname – and always professional with the media. And you didn’t hear a negative peep out of him while he languished in Triple-A this year.
So, if teams stayed away for personal reasons, they didn’t do their homework. Maybe his asking price, negotiated by superagent Scott Boras, remained exorbitant, I don’t know.
The Orioles considered calling up Alvarez on multiple occasions previously this season, but there were some contractual hurdles. And there was no place for him to play regularly. So, if he were only needed for 10 days to replace an injured player, the Orioles would then have had to put him on waivers before sending him back to Norfolk. Probably not worth the risk exposing him to waivers if he hit well during those 10 days.
Whatever the reason, Alvarez stayed in the minors. Until Friday, when he was back in a familiar clubhouse with familiar faces.
“It feels good to be here, obviously. Good to get this opportunity to be up here again and play alongside these guys and play some pretty meaningful games,” he said. “It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
Honestly, I expected the Orioles to go out and get another starting pitcher in August. And they didn’t do it, which is disappointing. Instead, they added a few relievers, a third catcher and an outfielder.
But they also added a legit, lefty power bat to come off the bench. That’s what some teams were looking to acquire down the stretch.
And the Orioles acquired theirs from Norfolk. I’m not sure how it happened. Or why. Or if he even gets a chance this month (he didn’t grab a bat in the first three days he was here).
But the Orioles rolled the dice, Alvarez stayed in the system, and now they have him for September and potentially the playoffs, if needed.
It was a smart gamble to take.