Dan Duquette fielded multiple questions this past Saturday at a fan forum regarding the upcoming MLB trade deadline at the end of July regarding the Baltimore Orioles’ stance as potential “buyers” as opposed to the usual “sellers” standpoint. “People ask all the time if we’ll try to add to the team, and the answer to that is ‘yes,’ but I think we have a lot of the answers within the organization. So I wouldn’t be too anxious to look outside the organization because we’ve got a lot of good players here, but we’re always looking” (Source). Of course, Duquette had to give a mostly political answer to those inquiries, partially because it is against MLB rules to discuss players in other organizations publicly and also because he cannot truthfully share his particular thoughts with the fanbase before moves are made. Realistically, the only outfielder that Duquette even made slight mention of was Xavier Avery (plus Lew Ford, but that was because a fan specifically brought up Ford’s name and situation).
With the season ending back and neck injuries for Nolan Reimold and the broken hamate bone for Nick Markakis, the Orioles’ depth is being tested at the moment as the team continues to stay ten games above .500 and not a healthy corner outfielder can be found in the Orioles clubhouse.
Looking at the way that the current 25 man roster is constructed (though if you check back here in a couple of days, things will have most likely shuffled around once again), the corner outfield spots are being served by a strange mix of Steve Tolleson, Steve Pearce, Ryan Flaherty, Wilson Betemit, and Chris Davis. Surprisingly, after losing his starting gig to Brian Roberts at second base, Robert Andino has yet to appear in left field this season despite his history of 20 full innings manning the outfield (20 may seem quite low, but Chris Davis made his first ever appearance in the outfield less than two weeks ago).
Look even further at the Orioles roster on the team website to see that there are only two players listed actively under the outfielder category while there are nine total labeled as infielders. Oddly enough, Steve Tolleson is one of the two outfielders, and he has been a utility infielder for his entire career (shortstop as a prospect). It is my belief that when Tolleson was called back up to the big leagues to replace Endy Chavez, the team felt the need to place him there on the roster just for the minor fact that Adam Jones does not play all three outfield spots at once.
Adam Jones may play the most crucial outfield spot, however, taking office in center, but the issue arises when the corners need to be filled. In fact, Adam Jones has started all 72 games this season and has taken on all 663 innings defensively that the Orioles have played. How do those innings break down for left and right?
There you go. The projected left field starter, Nolan Reimold, has thus far played the third highest innings count at the position. While Nick Markakis has overwhelmingly taken the field in right more than any other player, it has become a very apparent hole in the team since not a single guy has taken that spot who is a natural outfielder other than Steve Pearce (who has played more innings at first base than in the outfield in his career, but let’s not be picky here).
Endy Chavez is injured and all recent reports point to his hamstring as not recovering successfully and that he is behind schedule. Ryan Flaherty has very limited range in the outfield and his speed holds him back from making many successful rundowns to balls. There isn’t even a valid argument one could make for Chris Davis or Wilson Betemit playing the outfield in the first place.
Back to Dan Duquette for a second; he stated multiple times that the organization likes where it’s at in terms of depth, but when you look deeper into it, he was really speaking of his work building the pitching in the minor league system.
So who is at AAA Norfolk that could come up to play the corner outfield spots?
- Lew Ford – signed out of the independent leagues, 35 year old hitting .354 in 127 ABs
- Xavier Avery – called up to the O’s in May, sent back down once league found out he couldn’t hit breaking balls, batting .268 with 16 stolen bases
- L.J. Hoes – moved to center field in 2012 at AA full time once Avery was moved to AAA, hit .265 at AA (51 games) and now holds .276 average
- Jamie Hoffman – minor league free agent signing in March, batting .267
- Jai Miller – oh wait, he was doing terribly and was sent down to AA
So there is the “depth.”
Ford is an older player who is finding recent success at the plate, but without much success in the past in the big leagues, it is hard imagining he would prove to be more than a AAAA replacement at this time in Baltimore. Avery needs more seasoning at AAA, even the rest of 2012. He showed signs of solid on base skills and great speed in his quick stint with the big league club, but definitely needs some fine tuning against higher level pitching. Hoes just got promoted to AAA recently, hasn’t hit the lights out of the ball at either level played for, and should be kept down on the farm for the rest of 2012. Hoffman is the definition of AAAA, if not worse. And so is Miller.
Sure, the Orioles may still be winning games and keeping up in the AL East, but it is becoming quite obvious that Nick Markakis’ presence is missed. The lineup would be much more formidable if Markakis were back in it and the only spot to really fill was left field. Not to mention his spot in the batting order, third, in which all Orioles not named Markakis are hitting .180 (16-89) in his absence. And the guys who play right field while Markakis is out? They are hitting .157 (13-83) with only one home run.
Maybe the depth in this organization needs to be tinkered with a bit, and if the Orioles become true buyers at the 2012 trade deadline, acquiring a legitimate outfielder may be just what this team needs to spark the offense and keep the defense on track.
Follow Avi Miller on Twitter @AviMillerBSR for up to the date Orioles news and daily farm system updates.