Soon after they take over, the new Orioles management team will have to make a decision on the future of Tim Beckham, and their decision will have far-reaching effects on the composition of the 2019 roster.
Conventional wisdom has been that Beckham would be non-tendered, and the Orioles have until Nov. 30 to offer him and their five other arbitration-eligible players a contract for next season.
It’s a sure thing that Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens will be tendered. It’s likely that Jonathan Villar, who MLBTraderumors.com predicts will fetch a $4.4 million salary next season, will return.
The decisions on catcher Caleb Joseph, who’s in line for a $1.7 million contract and utilityman Jace Peterson, who could make $1.3 million, are relatively easy. If they aren’t tendered, find someone else who does the same thing.
Beckham is different. Like Villar, this is his second year of eligibility for arbitration, and he could get bumped up to an estimated $4.3 million.
But it’s clear that Villar, who was acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline from Milwaukee in the Jonathan Schoop deal, brings more to the table than Beckham.
In one-third of a season, 54 games, Villar hit eight home runs and drove in 24 runs, batting .258 with a .338 on-base percentage. Villar stole 21 bases in 24 attempts. If you project that to a full season, that’s 63 steals, which would be a club record.
Although Villar was sometimes reckless on the bases, he provided speed and energy, two qualities the Orioles badly needed in 2018.
Villar played second base twice as often as he played shortstop (36 games to 18), and his Defensive Wins Above Replacement was .2, slightly ahead of Beckham’s 0.
When Beckham came to the Orioles a year before Villar, he had one of the best months in club history. In August 2017, Beckham equaled a club record with 50 hits, and batted .394. He also had six home runs and 19 RBIs.
That month kept the Orioles on the edge of contention for a wild-card spot. But in September Beckham fell back to a .180 average and the team lost 19 of its final 23 games.
Beckham had been obtained from Tampa Bay to be J.J. Hardy’s replacement at shortstop, but when Hardy wasn’t retained, Manny Machado decided he wanted to play short and Beckham was moved to third base, an unfamiliar position.
By all accounts a hard worker and good teammate, Beckham prepared diligently with Machado, Schoop and third base coach Bobby Dickerson in spring training, but had just a .179 average in late April when he needed core muscle surgery.
Beckham was out for more than two months. When he returned in late June, he knew he’d be moving back to shortstop when Machado was traded.
He never got hot, and ended the season with a .230 average in 96 games.
Unlike Villar, Beckham isn’t a basestealer and has stolen just twice in five attempts since joining the Orioles. He does have some power, hitting 22 home runs in 2017 and 12 this past season.
Beckham’s fielding can be erratic. In a 14-game stretch in July, he committed nine of his 19 errors.
If the Orioles think Villar is better at short than at second, they can try to trade Beckham ahead of the deadline for non-tendering. But if they think Villar is better at second, they can keep Beckham at short.
Beckham has two more seasons under club control, and there’s no one in the minor leagues who’s a contender to play shortstop for the Orioles in 2019.
Cadyn Grenier, the 37th overall pick in June’s first-year player draft, struggled offensively at Low-A Delmarva, batting .216, and he probably needs a year or two more in the minors.
The Orioles have some players they can look at for middle infield spots: Peterson, Breyvic Valera and Steve Wilkerson, but none currently projects as a major league regular.
If the Orioles keep Beckham, that will affect the chances of Peterson, Valera and Wilkerson staying. If they decide that 13 pitchers is the way to go, that leaves just three bench spots, one for a backup catcher and two more players.
Those extra two players will have to be multi-taskers like Peterson and Wilkerson.
Former manager Buck Showalter toyed with the idea of Beckham as a super-utility player, but while he’s played second and third, he’s never played the outfield.
If Villar and Beckham are both offered contracts, it could have an effect on whether an extra outfielder could be kept. If Beckham is cut loose, the Orioles will have to replace him. In the new tight money era, it’s unlikely they’ll pay much more than the estimated $4.3 million they’d have to pay him to find another middle infielder.
Victor Victor Update
The Miami Marlins continued to add to their war chest in an attempt to sign Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa. The Marlins obtained an additional $500,000 in international signing bonus money from the Houston Astros in return for two minor leaguers.
Miami now has slightly more international signing bonus money than the Orioles, $6,569,500 to $6,563,500.