While addressing one of their offseason priorities earlier this week, the Orioles created a new question.
Are they done with left-handed-hitting first basemen?
They hadn’t satisfied their craving after claiming Lewin Díaz off waivers from the Pirates on Dec. 2. He was traded to the Braves later in the month.
Franchy Cordero and Josh Lester agreed to a minor league deals in December. They provide depth in camp and perhaps at Triple-A, but the position is relatively new to Cordero.
Ryan O’Hearn, acquired from the Royals Tuesday afternoon for cash considerations, is a first baseman first. He’s made 163 starts and appeared in 185 games at the position over his five major league seasons with the Royals.
The Orioles reportedly had interest in Eric Hosmer, but he’s joining the Cubs.
Yesterday's transaction seemed to solve the riddle.
O'Hearn is gone, at least temporarily, after the Orioles designated him for assignment and claimed Díaz off waivers from the Braves. They're back where they started, having Díaz in the organization and still looking around.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias identified a left-handed bat as a priority to reduce Ryan Mountcastle’s workload at first. Anthony Santander, Adley Rutschman and Terrin Vavra did pregame drills but weren’t used in games.
Whether Rutschman makes any starts at first, where he’s played in college and the minors, is supposed to depend on roster construction.
O’Hearn agreed to a $1.4 million contract with the Royals to avoid arbitration, which seemed to improve his chances of staying with the Orioles, especially with one minor league option remaining. But he wasn't assured of breaking camp with the team.
He's already off the 40-man roster and might not make it through the week before changing teams again.
O’Hearn was an eighth-round pick in the 2014 draft out of Sam Houston State. The Orioles selected outfielder Colton Cowser from the same school in the first round in 2021.
The Dunedin, Fla. native is a career .219/.293/.390 hitter in 342 games, so the splits aren’t going to overwhelm on one side. He’s batted .228/.302/.414 with 36 doubles, five triples, 35 home runs and 120 RBIs in 907 plate appearances against right-handers, and .169/.244/.257 with four doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs in 164 plate appearances versus lefties.
There's some pop, with 26 home runs hit in his first two seasons spanning 149 games, and the Orioles trust that their approach to coaching can unlock more. If he's still around, of course, and invited to camp.
The Orioles have pitched against O’Hearn in 15 games, and he went 10-for-47 (.213) with one home run, seven RBIs, three walks and 12 strikeouts. He’s 3-for-20 at Camden Yards.
The lone home run was hit as a rookie on Aug. 31, 2018 in Kansas City, a two-run shot off Ryan Meisinger. O’Hearn went 3-for-5 with four RBIs as the cleanup hitter.
Those four RBIs tie his career high, which he matched in a game the following season.
O'Hearn has set a career high by joining his second organization. A third would just pad his record.