After playing in his first game for the Orioles on Sunday, third baseman Maikel Franco isn’t in the lineup for Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rio Ruiz is playing third base.
When the Orioles were closing in on Franco last week, there was speculation that he would replace Ruiz on the 40-man roster. Ruiz has played the position adequately for the Orioles the past two seasons. The Orioles made room for Franco by placing right-hander Hunter Harvey on the 60-day injured list because a strained left oblique.
Over the winter, the Orioles moved on from Hanser Alberto at second base and José Iglesias at shortstop. The Alberto move was telegraphed when Yolmer Sánchez was claimed on waivers from the Chicago White Sox, and Iglesias’ relatively high salary ($3.5 million) and his 2020 series of injuries made him expendable.
Alberto has had to settle for a minor league contract, reported at $1.65 million with a $350,000 in incentives and bonuses, with the Kansas City Royals. In his first nine games with Kansas City, Alberto is batting .421 (8-for-19).
If the Orioles replaced Alberto and Igelsias, many expected them to try to improve at third base, too. Franco, who played all 60 games for Kansas City in 2020, was available and his price, $800,000 with $200,000 in bonuses plus a payment if he’s traded, was the right price.
But it created a logjam at third because few teams platoon third basemen. Ruiz, who’s a left-handed hitter, hits better against left-handers (.280) than right-handers (.208.). Franco, who’s a right-handed hitter, hits better against right-handers (.256) than left-handers (.238).
In his seven major league seasons, Franco has started at first base eight times, and played nowhere else. Ruiz has five starts at first, two innings at second, and an inning in left field.
“Being in the American League, you have the DH possibility,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We have Trey [Mancini] at first base [who] didn’t play at all last year. Both those guys have a little bit of first base experience, also, so there’s some depth there.
“I’m going to be talking to Trey every single day to see how he feels. Adding another corner guy that can play first base, I can see the times when all three of those guys can be in the lineup at the same time, utilizing the DH.”
It doesn’t look as if it’s a long-term arrangement, particularly if the Orioles go with a 14-man pitching staff and a three-man bench. Even with a four-player bench, it could be a stretch.
On Sunday, Hyde gave Sánchez, who’s won the Gold Glove at second in 2019, the start at shortstop. In his seven-season career, Sánchez has 10 games at shortstop.
Pat Valaika, who’s thought to be the leader in the utility sweepstakes, plays all over the infield, but came up as a shortstop and played there last year at times when Iglesias was hurt.
Ramón Urias could be a second utility player if the Orioles go with a four-man bench and outfielder DJ Stewart begins the season on the 10-day injured list because of a hamstring injury. Stevie Wilkerson, another utility man candidate, would have to be added to the 40-man roster.
As Hyde says, Franco or Ruiz could be the designated hitter. It’s also possible the Orioles will try to make a deal for Ruiz once they’re confident Franco is in shape to start the season.
Davis out? Chris Davis hasn’t played since the team’s first spring game on February 28th because of a back injury and doesn’t appear to be close to returning.
With the Orioles likely to need additional roster spots on the 40-man roster, Hyde said it was a possibility that Davis will begin the season on the 60-day injured list.