Richie Martin seems to be a forgotten Oriole these days. Martin, who started 89 games at shortstop in 2019, missed the shortened 2020 season after breaking his right wrist during an intrasquad game in summer camp.
Martin, who was the first selection in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, struggled offensively in his rookie year, hitting .208 with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 120 games.
With the acquisition of shortstop José Iglesias, Martin was probably going to spend spring training with the Orioles and then go to Triple-A for the first time to play shortstop every day.
When the Orioles regathered after 3 ½ months apart because of Covid-19, rosters were expanded to 30 players for the first two weeks of the season, and it became conceivable that Martin could have stayed with the Orioles.
He might have gotten more out of sporadic playing time in the majors than work at the alternate site in Bowie.
However, the wrist that he broke diving back into first base changed any plans the team had for him. Surgery was scheduled, and Martin’s season was over.
Martin’s loss turned out to be a large one for the Orioles because with Iglesias missing time because of injuries, he would have been a more capable fill-in than Andrew Velazquez and superior defensively to Pat Valaika.
The Orioles acquired Yolmer Sánchez, who won the Gold Glove at second base in 2019, on waivers from the Chicago White Sox on October 30th, and a double play combination of Iglesias and Sánchez could be formidable.
Between now and December 2nd, the Orioles must decide whether to offer contracts to three arbitration-eligible infielders — Sánchez, Valaika and Hanser Alberto.
They’ve also added Rylan Bannon, who plays second and third base, to the 40-man roster. Ramón Urias, who played well in the infield in the season’s last week, is also on the roster.
That leaves Martin’s status for 2021 in question. If Iglesias and Sánchez are on the club, can he play well enough at second to be kept on the team?
Should the Orioles send him to Triple-A to play shortstop every day in case they trade Iglesias in July?
Not only is Martin’s status in question, so is the makeup and schedule of the minor leagues, and trying to make any plans for him and other players who might not make the Opening Day roster is impossible.
Rule 5 thoughts: Martin was a rare Rule 5 pick that stayed with the club for the entire season.
The Orioles have made some good Rule 5 picks. Rightfielder Anthony Santander was a terrific choice, and utility infielder Ryan Flaherty and left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland were contributors. The Orioles have made at least one Rule 5 selection each year since 2006.
But, as executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias pointed out in his video conference call after the 40-man additions were made last Friday, it’s hard to keep Rule 5 players around.
“Other teams have to keep them on the major league roster all year and so it’s very possible that we may have players selected that we would hope would return to us,” Elias said.
“So, it’s a long process. We’ll see where it goes. It’s never easy, especially this year with so much uncertainty still surrounding the rules. We played with expanded rosters last year and a 60-game season, and nobody saw that coming. I highly doubt we’re going to have anything like that in 2021. I think it’s going to be, if not totally normal rules and schedule, very, very close to that, but there’s still a little added degree of uncertainty.”
In December 2019, the Orioles selected two pitchers in the Rule 5 draft, right-handers Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker. Both were returned to their teams, the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, on March 6, six days before spring training came to a halt.
Elias and everyone else in baseball had no idea that there would be expanded rosters when the game resumed, and it’s possible the Orioles would have kept Bailey or Rucker. Even with the bloated rosters, it would have been hard to keep both.
Bailey has been added to the 40-man roster of the Cincinnati Reds. Rucker could be selected again.
If a team wanted to take a shot on an Orioles prospect, right-hander Zach Pop, who came to the team in the Manny Machado deal, could be chosen. Pop had Tommy John surgery in May 2019, and a claiming team would have to deal with that risk.
If there’s a shorter season and/or an expanded roster in 2021, it makes it easier to keep a Rule 5 player, but we’re not likely to know the ins and outs of next season until months past the draft, which is scheduled for December 10th.