Flaherty on free agency: “I have a lot of loyalty to this team”

If anyone needs further proof that time passes quickly, consider that Orioles utility infielder Ryan Flaherty is entering free agency.

The same Ryan Flaherty who joined the Orioles as a Rule 5 pick at the 2011 Winter Meetings in Dallas. One month after they hired Dan Duquette as executive vice president of baseball operations.

Flaherty-run-white-sidebar.jpgThe Orioles didn’t make a big splash at the meetings. They selected Flaherty and acquired left-hander Dana Eveland from the Dodgers for minor league outfielder Tyler Henson and pitcher Jarret Martin.

Henson and Martin never reached the majors. Henson hasn’t played in the minors since 2015 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the Phillies’ organization. Martin made 37 appearances this summer with Double-A Richmond in the Giants’ system and 18 with the independent York Revolution.

Eveland went 0-1 with a 4.73 ERA in 14 games (two starts) with the Orioles in 2012. He made 16 appearances with Triple-A Norfolk in 2015 while pitching for three organizations. Have left arm, will travel.

The Orioles won’t erect a statue of Flaherty at Camden Yards, but they’re appreciative of his contributions since he arrived from the Cubs organization. He’s played every infield position, left field and right field. He also pitched an inning and was given the responsibility of serving as the emergency catcher.

A Swiss army knife that fans here always wanted to cut.

Trivia: Who was the starting third baseman for the Orioles in the 2014 playoffs?

Answer: Flaherty, who handled the hot corner after Manny Machado underwent surgery on his right knee.

If Flaherty hadn’t been in the lineup for Game 2 of the Division Series, Delmon Young never would have pinch-hit for him in the eighth inning and delivered a three-run double.

(Does anyone remember that the rally began with Joba Chamberlain hitting Adam Jones with one out? Anyway, I digress ...)

Flaherty went 4-for-12 with a home run while the Royals were sweeping the Orioles in the Championship Series, but manager Buck Showalter wanted him around because of his glove. Showalter trusted Flaherty at any position. The kind of versatility that made him an ideal 25th man on a roster.

A shoulder/lat injury that cropped up in spring training ruined Flaherty’s 2017 season. He was limited to 23 games, making only two starts after May 18. It also made Showalter more hesitant to use him at shortstop. Maybe you noticed that, after Tim Beckham reinjured his hamstring on Sept. 29, Flaherty played second base while Jonathan Schoop moved over to short.

“It’s been frustrating,” Flaherty said over the weekend. “To be away from the team for that long and be injured, it’s frustrating for sure. And part of being a utility guy is you want to be on a winning team. That’s when you have your most value. I don’t know. It was frustrating for sure.”

Flaherty was a non-tender candidate last year as his salary rose from $512,500 to $1.075 million and $1.500 million in his first two seasons of arbitration eligibility. The Orioles held onto him, the sides reaching agreement on a $1.8 million contract in January.

The Orioles are considering cheaper alternatives, though the market hasn’t been established. Flaherty is a career .215/.284/.355 hitter in 452 games, but again, his versatility will be the main selling point in free agency.

The time has arrived.

“It’s really flown by,” he said. “You watch (Anthony Santander) and it seems like just the other day I was a Rule 5 guy. Just crazy how quick time goes.”

It’s led him to unfamiliar territory, his first foray into free agency. At least he won’t go it alone. He has agent Jeff Berry from CAA Sports.

“I haven’t really put much thought into it,” Flaherty said. “It’s kind of the same thing as every year. Every year you kind of wait and see what happens. I don’t know what’s going to happen or whatever, but I’ll just take it day by day in the offseason and see what comes about.”

As for the possibility that a new deal could be struck with the Orioles, Flaherty said, “I don’t know. It takes two to do that.”

“I have a lot of loyalty to this team,” he said. “It’s the first team that gave me an opportunity to play in the big leagues and it’s all I know at the major league level. And obviously the coaching staff, ownership, they have a lot of good people here. But it takes two, so we’ll see what happens.”

There isn’t an obvious replacement for Flaherty, but utility infielder will rank below the rotation on the priority list. Double-A Bowie’s Steve Wilkerson has created an early buzz and he’ll be further evaluated in the Arizona Fall League.

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