Matt Kremnitzer: Looking at the O’s corner outfielders

The Orioles have a corner outfield problem: The team’s assortment of corner outfielders has been underwhelming

When it comes to the Orioles outfield, there’s Adam Jones in center field, and then there’s a lot of spare parts. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, except when those parts all aren’t playing well. And right now, they aren’t.

Jones is second in the majors among all qualified center fielders with a 153 wRC+. Meanwhile, O’s left fielders currently have a combined wRC+ of 85 (21st in the majors). Their right fielders have combined for a wRC+ of 82 (24th in the majors). Perhaps that’s why the Orioles could soon decide to promote Triple-A outfielder Chris Parmelee.

The left-handed Parmelee, 27, is hitting well for Norfolk and could potentially be a useful corner outfielder and bench bat. But he also has a career wRC+ of 97 in more than 900 plate appearances in the majors, so it’s not like he’s some up-and-coming prospect. The Orioles don’t have many of those kinds of prospects right now, especially position player-wise, and yet they recently sold a draft pick and just yesterday traded away two international bonus slots. When teams do that, they sometimes end up turning to players like Parmelee in meaningful situations; sometimes that works, but often times it doesn’t.

The corner outfielders on the O’s roster include Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider, Delmon Young and David Lough. Steve Pearce is also more than capable of manning a corner outfield position, but he’s mostly (and surprisingly competently) been filling in at second base with Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty shelved with injuries. None of those five has hit well. Lough and Snider are tied for the lead with a wRC+ of 94. Then there’s Young (81), De Aza (73) and Pearce (58). Snider, Young and Lough all have batting averages on balls in play over .330, so it’s not like they’ve been hitting into some tough luck. And besides Pearce, they mostly haven’t been hitting the ball that hard, either. Pearce (.203 BABIP) and De Aza (.268 BABIP) probably have, yet De Aza has also struck out in nearly 30 percent of his plate appearances, third-highest on the team after Chris Davis (39 percent) and Lough (31 percent).

It’s not quite early in the season anymore, but it’s not late either, so there’s unquestionably time for some in this group to turn their seasons around. But Lough is the only superior defensive outfielder of the five, so for the most part the value from the team’s corner outfielders will have to come at the plate. The Orioles also must not think much of using Snider in right field; Young has played nearly 44 more innings at that spot, which hopefully wasn’t the plan heading into the season.

The lack of production is a clear concern, but as a group, the team’s corner outfielders aren’t making a ton of money. At $5 million, De Aza is the highest paid, followed by Pearce ($3.7 million), Young ($2.25 million), Snider ($2.1 million) and Lough ($500,000). But despite De Aza, Pearce and Young all scheduled to be free agents after this season, it’s not a flexible group (unless the O’s want to designate any of them for assignment or trade them away). Snider and Lough are both out of options, which is why the Orioles haven’t really been able to do much with this underachieving group so far. Maybe the team is growing impatient; that’s one possible reason for the Parmelee rumblings. But he’s no more of an answer than anyone listed above. Nolan Reimold, Julio Borbon and Dariel Alvarez could also be outfield options later in the season, but only Alvarez seems like anything more than a stopgap solution (and the O’s are much, much higher on him than possibly every prospect analyst).

Perhaps it’s worth being upset that the Orioles didn’t do more to bring back Nelson Cruz (and to a much lesser extent, Nick Markakis). But not agreeing to long-term extensions with those two players was and still is defensible, even if Cruz is seemingly hitting a home run every other at-bat. Maybe it wasn’t the wisest of plans to expect the team’s current jumble of corner outfielders to contribute anything substantial, but it’s also somewhat surprising that they’ve all essentially been mediocre at best. Maybe the real fault is our own for believing the Orioles could again get more out of decent but not great players than expected. But then again, look what Jimmy Paredes is doing. Too bad he can’t play an adequate left field (for now, at least).

Matt Kremnitzer blogs about the Orioles at Camden Depot. Follow him on Twitter: @mattkremnitzer. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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