It’s basically been Pedro Alvarez’s cross as an Oriole.
Once again, he was caught in a numbers game.
And now he is headed elsewhere — or at least back to Triple-A Norfolk.
It’s a shame in a sense because Alvarez, 31, keeps playing the good soldier, keeps his head down and does what the Orioles ask. And there’s no question El Toro is a qualified major leaguer, as a certain executive likes to say.
But the rope is always short and the numbers game always seems to crunch Alvarez. Because he doesn’t play good defense and because the investment in him isn’t steep. So, if he doesn’t keep hitting, even with limited at-bats, he’s expendable.
It was different in Pittsburgh, when Alvarez was the second pick overall in 2008, commanded a $6 million bonus and was offered opportunity after opportunity to succeed (and did in 2013, when he tied for the NL lead in homers).
But, ultimately, his time ran out with the Pirates. That happens. With the separation from your first organization, though, comes the reality that you are just another guy.
For the third consecutive year, Alvarez signed with the Orioles during spring training, and for the third straight year he received some playing time with the club.
In 2016, he was a legitimate contributor, bashing 22 homers in 337 at-bats as the Orioles made the playoffs. Last year, he signed late, tried to be a minor league outfielder and ended up as a September call-up, hitting .313 in 32 at-bats with the Orioles.
They gave him another shot this February, signing him to a $1 million deal if he made the majors and a potential $2 more million in incentives.
And, due to injuries, Alvarez made the Opening Day roster and played well in the first month, starting in 16 games, appearing in 24 and hitting six homers with 13 RBIs.
Mark Trumbo returned from injury May 1, however. And Chris Davis was still playing every day at first base.
Alvarez’s playing time shrunk and so did his numbers. Two homers and a .122 average in May. Just 11 at-bats in June with one hit and seven strikeouts.
Wanting more defensive flexibility in interleague play, the Orioles designated Alvarez for assignment Tuesday.
“He’s always one of those guys you feel like he could part the water and you could run him out there every day, but with Mark and Chris being back with us here shortly, there just weren’t gonna be the at-bats for him,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We’re hoping that he clears (waivers), he’s got a prior agreement and we’re hoping that he clears and he’s playing in Norfolk here shortly.”
Showalter didn’t detail that agreement, but the assumption is that Alvarez can make more money in the minors with the Orioles than with other minor league teams based on the contract he signed in February. So, he’ll be back in the organization if another team doesn’t claim him.
“He’s got an opportunity to go there (to Norfolk) or not go. It’s still his decision,” Showalter said. “There’s a lot of conversation stuff we had — long before (he) signed — in case this moment came.”
In that aspect, the number crunch helps Alvarez.
When it comes to a steady opportunity, though, it doesn’t. Because higher-salaried guys like Trumbo and Davis – and players perceived to be part of the future such as Trey Mancini – will always get the nod over Alvarez. That’s just the reality, especially when Alvarez struggled with his limited at-bats.
Not fair, but the way the business is.
It’s not the pitcher, it’s Davis
Davis did not start Tuesday and most likely won’t be in Wednesday’s starting lineup against Washington Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez, according to Showalter.
That means Davis’ time on the bench without a start will stretch to seven games – and maybe eight, considering Washington’s starting pitcher on Thursday is Max Scherzer, arguably baseball’s best hurler.
But Showalter said Tuesday that whomever is on the mound is incidental. This respite for Davis is about the veteran getting his swing and confidence back.
“It has nothing to do with who’s pitching. Nothing at all,” Showalter said. “When Chris — and we all — think that it’s time and he feels like he’s ready, it doesn’t matter who is pitching, whether it’s a left-hander or a right-hander. When they and we decide that, then he’ll be in there regardless of who is pitching. It has nothing to do with who’s pitching.”
Davis’ struggles are well-documented – he’s hitting .150 with a .227 on-base percentage, .227 slugging percentage and 81 strikeouts in 207 at-bats.
So, he’s been working with the club’s two hitting coaches, Scott Coolbaugh and Howie Clark, and club vice president Brady Anderson on his swing mechanics and offensive approach.
Obviously, when Davis is right, he can hit anyone. But I wouldn’t recommend his first start back after a week off in a nightmare season be against Scherzer – no matter if this is more about Davis than the opposition. Scherzer can send anyone into a funk.
Wilkerson gets surprise call-up
Steve Wilkerson was supposed to compete for the Orioles’ super utility job in the spring, but a 50-game suspension for a positive amphetamines test this winter scuttled those plans.
So, the fact the eighth-round pick in 2014 out of Clemson is already up in the majors – following a short stint in Triple-A Norfolk – is intriguing.
“I think I spent 16 games in Norfolk and it felt like I was only there for a few. And before I know it, I’m walking into the clubhouse here,” said Wilkerson, who hit .290 with three homers in 62 at-bats at Triple-A. “It’s really exciting.”
Wilkerson is up because he’s versatile. And the Orioles made sure of that by having him play basically every position while stuck in extended spring training in Sarasota, Fla., while serving his suspension. Smart move by the organization.
“He’s played a lot of games (in Sarasota) since the season started, just not with paying customers. He’s played first, second, short, third, left, right, he’s caught some,” Showalter said. “He took the time and used it very wisely.”
I’m not sure how long Wilkerson will stay in the majors. Andrew Cashner will be activated from the disabled list for Wednesday’s start, and so a reserve position player likely will be sent down. Wilkerson and Corban Joseph are the most realistic candidates, though I suppose Jace Peterson and Craig Gentry also could be in that discussion.
A Day with the ‘Brosephs’
With the promotion of catcher Caleb Joseph, the Orioles employed big league brothers on Tuesday for the first time since 1996 and the Ripken Boys.
Infielder Corban Joseph, 29, has been in the majors since Friday and his older brother joined him Tuesday. It’s a story of perseverance, with Caleb, who was in the minors for seven years before his first promotion in 2014, and Corban, who went more than five years between major league stints, finally realizing their baseball dreams together.
“It’s unique. I think there were probably times when we weren’t sure if it was going to happen. We had faith that we could both make it,” Caleb Joseph, 32, said. “What’s the chances of it happening on the same team? I think the first goal was to get to the big leagues at the same time, and then to be on the same team, this is a storybook for our family. I’m sure there’s a lot of people back home who are really excited and proud. So, it’s pretty incredible.”
It will be even cooler if the two can make it to this weekend’s series against the Atlanta Braves, who play three-plus hours from the Josephs’ home base in Tennessee.
“Hopefully, we can make it to Atlanta,” the older Joseph said. “That’s where there could be half a stadium filled with orange and black jerseys with ‘Joseph’ on the back.”