Amid the announcement that the Orioles agreed on 2020 contracts with Hanser Alberto, Mychal Givens and Trey Mancini on Friday came the news that the team had acquired a utility infielder, Richard Urena, on waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Coincidentally, it was not only the second straight year that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias had settled with his arbitration-eligible players without going to a hearing, but the second time the Orioles claimed a utility infielder on waivers on deadline day.
On January 11, 2019, the Orioles claimed Alberto, who had a .192 career average with a puny .440 OPS, on waivers from the New York Yankees. The Orioles lost him on waivers on February 22 and reclaimed him a week later.
Alberto hit .309 and .398 against left-handers. The Orioles are hoping for a similar breakthrough from Urena.
Before his acquisition, Alberto had played just 89 major league games in parts of three seasons. Urena has appeared in 91 with much better numbers. He’s hit .253 with a .636 OPS in parts of the previous three seasons.
Urena is a 23-year-old switch-hitter, and that’s important. Most of their candidates to play second base, shortstop and third base — Alberto, Dilson Herrera, José Iglesias, Richie Martin, Jose Rondon, and Pat Valaika (if he clears waivers) — are right-handed.
Only Rio Ruiz and Stevie Wilkerson, who’s a switch-hitter, aren’t right-handed. Wilkerson, who played mostly outfield last year, is a candidate to make the club as a utility player, but even with a 26-man roster, that might be difficult.
Urena is primarily a shortstop, although he’s started 19 games at second base. If manager Brandon Hyde is going to use Alberto in a second base/third base swingman role as he did in 2019, the Orioles need a competent left-handed hitter at second. Urena and Wilkerson would seem to be the two choices.
At last month’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, Elias mentioned that he could possibly sign another outfielder to a minor league contract, but there appear to be enough candidates for an interesting competition during spring training.
If the Orioles carry Mancini, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander as primary outfielders, there could be just one pure backup.
With two catchers, Chris Davis, Renato Nunez, Alberto, Iglesias, Ruiz and Urena, who’s out of options, that leaves two spots unaccounted for.
It seems as if the Orioles are going to send shortstop Richie Martin to Triple-A Norfolk to begin the season. He could focus on beefing up offense and perhaps learn some second or third base to increase his value.
Cedric Mullins, Dwight Smith Jr., and Mason Williams will compete for a backup outfield spot along with Wilkerson, who could also serve as a backup infielder.
Yusniel Diaz, who doesn’t yet have to be placed on the 40-man roster, and Ryan McKenna, who is on it for the first time, haven’t yet played in Triple-A and need time there.
DJ Stewart, who would have expected to compete for a backup outfield position, is still recovering from ankle surgery and won’t start the season with the Orioles.
Valaika, whom the Orioles claimed on waivers from Colorado in October, was designated for assignment to make room for Urena on the 40-rman roster. If he clears, he could come to spring training as a non-roster player along with Herrera and Rondon.
Wilkerson’s value was probably higher in 2019 because with a 25-man roster and 13 pitchers for much of the season, the team had only 12 position players and his versatility was vital.
His ability to play multiple infield positions as well as the outfield will be an advantage. The switch-hitting is a bonus.
The signing of shortstop Iglesias and the acquisition of Urena should make the Orioles’ infield defense stronger, and that’s a positive step for the 2020 season.
Catcher Bryan Holaday signed: The Orioles signed catcher Bryan Holaday to a minor league contract on Monday. The 32-year-old Holaday has a .241 average in parts of eight seasons with Detroit, Boston, Texas and Miami.
Last season, Holaday hit .278 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 41 games with the Marlins. In his career, Holaday has thrown out 30 percent of runners attempting to steal.
He’ll compete with Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns for a position on the major league roster.
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