Pat Valaika was Orioles' most pleasant surprise in 2020 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Pat Valaika was Orioles’ most pleasant surprise in 2020

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

Four Orioles played more than 50 games in the 60-game 2020 season. Surprisingly, Pat Valaika was one of them. Hanser Alberto and Rio Ruiz tied for the club lead with 54. Valaika and Renato Núñez each played 52.

Valaika started games at five positions, all four infield spots and left field. He also played an inning in right field.

Every club needs a player as versatile as Valaika. It’s just that the Orioles never imagined he’d play as often as he did. Since José Iglesias was hampered by quad and wrist injuries, Valaika started 15 games at shortstop, his most at any position.

Valaika started eight times at first and second, four times at third and three in left.

As a second baseman, Valaika was at his best at bat, hitting .500 (15-for-30).

In recent years, the Orioles have had utility players in the lineup more often than expected.

From 2012-2017, Ryan Flaherty, who was acquired in the Rule 5 draft, started games at every position but catcher and center field. He even pitched an inning.

Flaherty, now a coach for the San Diego Padres, appeared in a career high 102 games in 2014, the year that Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy missed significant time because of injuries.

In 2018 and for part of 2019, the Orioles’ Swiss Army knife was Jace Peterson, who played second, third and the corner outfield spots. He started one game at short and also pitched an inning.

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Last year’s everywhere man was Stevie Wilkerson, an infielder who answered the call when the Orioles needed a centerfielder. Wilkerson ended up starting 58 games in center, more than anyone else on the club even though he hadn’t played the outfield professionally before 2019.

Wilkerson became something of a folk hero when he appeared in four games as a pitcher and became an unlikely hero on July 25, 2019 when he pitched the final inning of a 16-inning Orioles win at the Los Angeles Angels, earning the first save by a position player.

This year, Wilkerson was on the verge of making the team as a minor league invitee when he broke his left ring finger attempting to make a catch in the Orioles’ first exhibition game in July. The injury ended his season and, when the team needed roster space on its 60-man player pool, Wilkerson was released, although he could return next February as a non-roster invitee.

Valaika ended the season batting .277 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs and a .791 OPS.

Under normal circumstances he’d be brought back, but Valaika, who played parts of the previous four seasons for the Colorado Rockies is eligible for arbitration for the first time. Money will be tight, and Valaika could feel the pinch.

If rosters are at 26 instead of 28, a multi-tasker like Valaika will be valuable. The Orioles would be limited to 13 pitchers and, with at least one of the four reserve spots going to a backup catcher, those who can play multiple positions will be prized.

Valaika could compete with Wilkerson, if he returns. Richie Martin, who missed this season because of a broken wrist, could also be in the competition as could Ramón Urias, who impressed with his versatility in the last week of the season, assuming he’s kept on the 40-man roster.

The Orioles will look for infielders to enter the competition, but with an abundance of candidates for the outfield, first base and designated hitter, roster space will be tight.

Valaika wouldn’t have played as much if Iglesias had been healthy, but to paraphrase former manager Buck Showalter, if you let Valaika go, you’ll spend all season trying to find a player just like him.

Third base isn’t Valaika’s best position,  although the Orioles would like some competition for Ruiz at third. Rylan Bannon, who was obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade in July 2018, could have a chance to make the team next year.

Bannon played second and third base for Double-A Bowie in 2019. When he was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk, he played 20 games at third. He was a late addition to the 60-man player pool and got some face time at the Bowie alternate site, and is in Sarasota for the fall Instructional League.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. The Cartoon Bird

    October 7, 2020 at 7:28 am

    Pat Valaika reminded my Father and I this season of another Oriole utility player, Steve Pearce. I hope the Orioles bring him back. That role has value to any baseball team.

    • Orial

      October 7, 2020 at 8:04 am

      Pearce is an excellent comparison Cartoon.

    • CalsPals

      October 7, 2020 at 1:43 pm

      World Series MVP Steve Pearce…go O’s…

  2. Orial

    October 7, 2020 at 8:12 am

    Would be very surprised if Valaika and Richie Martin don’t man the utility roles next season assuming Iglesias is back(he better be). Expect next season’s opening day lineup to look much like this season’s closing day lineup with the one exception being hopefully Mancini DHing instead of Nunez. Valaika and Hays personify grit–a bygone quality in MLB.

  3. willmiranda

    October 7, 2020 at 10:20 am

    If Valaika can sustain his offense –.277 with occasional power– and play adequate defense, that’s not bad for an infielder. Hard to believe for a poor team, but the O’s do have a tight roster situation. They also have some off-season decisions on infielders. Iglesias is on an option and Alberto is up for arbitration. In recent history, the O’s don’t give automatic re-ups. So, a position or two might be available in the infield. I assume Ruiz will be back since he’s under team control and the club seems to like that. As for first base, no comment. At any rate prospects look good next year for Valaika or someone just like him.

  4. Birdman

    October 7, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Can’t argue with Valaika as the best surprise of the 2020 season … would also rate Iglesias as a pleasant surprise, batting .373 and, despite playing only 39 games, Iglesias had the 5th most doubles in all of MLB.

    Again concerned to read that the Orioles might release Valaika rather than go to arbitration, as they may also do with Alberto. This follows the report that Brocail may have been let go as pitching coach for salary, not performance, reasons. Sacrificing quality players and coaches to save very small (by MLB standards) amounts of money suggests a franchise that may not be financially stable.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      October 7, 2020 at 11:57 am

      M..I..C……..K…E…Y … M..O..U…S…E

      I agree Birdman …. they’re counting peanuts, and it’s scary to think of what could happen.

      • Phil770

        October 7, 2020 at 7:40 pm

        I think Chris Holt will replace Brocail. Chris Holt’s job was eliminated, if there is no minor league season, you don’t need a Minor League Pitching Instructor. Holt is a rising star and he would have left the organization for a MLB pitching coach position somewhere. Brocail is a loss, Holt would be a bigger loss, short-term and long-term. It’s fine to be suspicious – the O’s history justifies it and current regime does not have enough of a track record to be given the “benefit of the doubt”. I am still a little wait and see, because I believe that Holt is a big piece of the improved pitching of the young guns. Time will tell.

    • Bancells Moustache

      October 7, 2020 at 12:30 pm

      I think they are in big trouble financially. Just think of the massive haircut they took this year, with TV revenues drastically reduced and stadium revenue completely shut off. Do you have any idea how much money that is? We’ve only begun to see the effects of 2020 on Major League Baseball and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

    • Bhoffman1

      October 7, 2020 at 2:27 pm

      I don’t get this financial disaster here. I’m not familiar with the TV revenue but all clubs have suffered this year and we have extremely wealthy owners so why are we worse then other teams.

      • Bancells Moustache

        October 7, 2020 at 5:38 pm

        Doesn’t matter how much money the owner is supposed to have, any business that has it’s revenues slashed the way MLB has is in big trouble. Expecting the owner to just stroke a colossal check and keep on trucking is not reality.

        • VICTORTEE

          October 8, 2020 at 8:12 am

          Sports team owners think they should make a profit every year and then sell the team for a huge capital gain . Too bad very few other businesses work that way.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 7, 2020 at 3:21 pm

      Bruce, it’s an industrywide trend, not just the Orioles.

    • Tileman

      October 8, 2020 at 9:20 am

      Based on the current business climate I can understand the defensive posture of the Orioles. Next years season isn’t guaranteed to be “normal” and if revenues are below par again the time to plan for that is now.

  5. NormOs

    October 7, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    The O’s will always have money especially if they keep MASN right where it is, here in Baltimore and not Washington.

  6. sportscoper

    October 7, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    If a first time arbitration eligible utility player probably looking at a $2-3 million contract can’t fit into the budget, then this is an orgaizational surrender not a rebuild.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 7, 2020 at 5:54 pm

      We’re in a very different time, as you well know, in all walks of life. I hope that they keep him, but the environment is so uncertain, we don’t know what will happen.

      • VICTORTEE

        October 8, 2020 at 8:15 am

        Boo hoo hoo. I feel SO sorry for the billionaire owners. Including the Angelos boys who are going to inherit the O’s and MASN soon.

  7. WorldlyView

    October 7, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    Rich, Who are the players eligible for arbitration this year? In other words, what’s the worst case scenario for a “massive” economy move that drops all of these players, further dilutes the talent level of the team, and sows long-lasting fan disillusion? I’m guessing that all of the eligible players were signed after being dropped by other clubs and even with one good year can’t be all that expensive to resign.

    I think many, if not most, owners of other MLB teams would dip into their bulging personal wallets to keep a decent team on the field, red ink or no. If our ownership is among the “poorest” of the wealthy owners, then our team might be in trouble.

    Another question: If the O’s declared bankruptcy, would they have legal recourse to renegotiate CD’s contract?

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 7, 2020 at 6:58 pm

      Trey Mancini, Hanser Alberto, Pedro Severino, Bryan Holaday, Pat Valaika, Shawn Armstrong and possibly Renato
      Nunez and Anthony Santander.

      To answer your other question, no.

    • Phil770

      October 7, 2020 at 7:57 pm

      Rich, thank you for your patience, and thoughtful responses. I would like to point out that the Angels have spent a lot of money to retain the best player in MLB, they also spent a lot of money on a future HOFer and their owner is considered a “meddler” – their record is poor and the outlook not even as promising as the O’s. So even if money is not tight, still need to make good decisions. Hopefully the O’s are spending their money well. Time will tell.

      • Rich Dubroff

        October 7, 2020 at 8:25 pm

        Thank you, Phil. Always good to hear from you.

  8. Bhoffman1

    October 8, 2020 at 10:26 am

    Yusiel Diaz can be the O’s version of Arosarena same pedigree

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