When the Orioles signed Maikel Franco, it appeared to be a solid move. For the previous two seasons, the Orioles’ regular third baseman had been Rio Ruiz, a decent player, but the Orioles were looking for an upgrade. They thought they’d found it in Franco.
From 2016-2019 with the Philadelphia Phillies, Franco averaged 22 home runs and 72 RBIs. In 2018, he hit .270. In last year’s 60-game season, Franco, then with Kansas City, hit eight homers and drove in 38 runs with a .278 batting average — perfectly acceptable numbers. Plus, he played in every game.
Even with those numbers, Franco wasn’t in demand. After making $5.2 million in 2018, the Phillies didn’t offer him a contract, and the Royals signed him for $2.95 million.
Franco had never measured well analytically. He doesn’t walk much and wasn’t considered a plus-third baseman, although he made a number of strong plays for the Orioles. Other than Ruiz, the Orioles didn’t have a major league-ready third baseman. If Franco had a good first half, then perhaps they could flip him for a prospect at the trade deadline, as they did with shortstop Freddy Galvis, an ex-teammate of Franco’s in Philadelphia.
It didn’t work out that way for Franco, who had a .210 average with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs when he was designated for assignment on Monday. The Orioles also sent shortstop Richie Martin to Triple-A Norfolk and promoted second baseman Jahmai Jones.
On Tuesday, before they try to end their 18-game losing streak against Dylan Bundy and the Los Angeles Angels, they’re expected to promote third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez from Norfolk. Gutierrez played third when Franco was on the injured list in late July because of a sprained ankle. In eight games, Gutierrez hit .174.
Another option for promotion was Rylan Bannon, who has been on a tear, hitting nine homers and driving in 17 runs in his last nine games for Norfolk. Bannon’s average for the season is just .173, although he has a .421 slugging average. He missed a month because of an oblique injury from late May through late June.
Bannon was added to the 40-man roster last November and can play second and third. The Orioles are eager to see him, and he probably will get a call next month.
September suspense: The Orioles are getting a jump on roster additions by adding Jahmai Jones, the second baseman who came from the Los Angeles Angels for Alex Cobb.
Jones’ promotion has been expected, and he’ll probably get a long look at second base. Richie Martin’s demotion probably means more time at shortstop for Ramon Urias and Jorge Mateo, who has gotten starts at short, second, third and the corner outfield positions.
On September 1st, eight days from now, the Orioles will add two players when the roster increases from 26 to 28. Although there are likely to be more roster moves between now and then, there are several players the Orioles might want to see.
Bannon is one of those players. Outfielder Yusniel Diaz would be another if he ever gets hot. Bannon, Diaz and Dean Kremer, all at Triple-A Norfolk, are the players remaining in the organization from the July 2018 trade that sent Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Diaz is batting just .183 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 29 games with the Tides. After missing three weeks with turf toe and a rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie, Diaz is 6-for-24 (.250) in seven games at Norfolk.
Injuries and poor performance have cost Diaz opportunities with the Orioles. Those chances instead went to Ryan McKenna, who was sent down to Norfolk when Ryan Mountcastle came off the injured list.
During his 22 games with the Tides, McKenna has hit .306 with a 1.135 OPS. Although he hasn’t hit well with the Orioles, (.208 with a .615 OPS), McKenna has given manager Brandon Hyde an excellent late-inning option in left field and as a pinch-runner.
If the Orioles add an extra bullpen arm, they’ll have 15 pitchers, with 10 relievers, and that should be enough.
Kremer pitched poorly with the Orioles (0-7, 7.25), but the team has a lot invested in him. Recently, he has pitched three times in relief for Norfolk, and it seems likely that he’ll be added.
Mike Baumann, who pitches on Tuesday night for Norfolk against Jacksonville, also intrigues the Orioles, but he’s started only four times for the Tides. Even though he has a 2.81 ERA, he was removed from his last start after 39 pitches in the first inning.
Because Norfolk’s season ends on October 3rd, there likely will be many moves, with players getting recalled and optioned. If there’s an injury that’s suspected to be season-ending, that player could be placed on the 60-day injured list so that a non-roster player could be added.
Other pitchers who could get another look are left-hander Alexander Wells and relievers Dusten Knight and Conner Greene, who was claimed by the Orioles just two weeks after he was claimed from Baltimore by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both Knight and Greene are on the 40-man roster.
Right-hander Zach Burdi, claimed on August 18th from the Chicago White Sox, also could get a look.
More beasts of the East: When the Orioles attempt to end their 18-game losing streak against the Angels, they’ll be playing a sub-.500 team, one of the few remaining on their schedule.
Beginning August 2nd, which was the last time they won, just 14 of their final 58 games are against teams with a record below .500. That doesn’t guarantee success because the Detroit Tigers swept them in three games, and the Orioles have the worst record in baseball.
Thirty-eight of the final 58 are against the American League East. They’re 13-38 against Boston, New York, Tampa Bay and Toronto. They’ve lost 15 of 16 to the Rays. If the Orioles are swept by the Angels, that will tie the club record 21-game losing streak. Tampa Bay follows the Angels to Baltimore next weekend, and the Phillies’ major league record of 23 consecutive losses, set in 1961, would be in sight.
Besides the Angels, who 62-64 and swept the Orioles in three games in Anaheim last month, the Orioles have four games each at home next month against Kansas City (55-68) and Texas (43-80). The Orioles took two of three from the Royals and Rangers earlier this season.
Notes: Bowie first baseman J.D. Mundy has been placed on the injured list because of a broken right thumb. … The Orioles released infielder Malquin Canelo, who was at Bowie, and left-handed pitcher Ryan Wilson from High-A Aberdeen.