Revisiting the situation with Jorge Mateo

The story from Dec. 19 in The Athletic said the Orioles are receiving trade calls on shortstop Jorge Mateo. Not that they were shopping Mateo or initiating the calls, but of course they listen on just about everything.

The Athletic wrote: “The Twins, Braves, Red Sox and Dodgers all lost shortstops on the open market. Mateo, entering his age 28 season, might be an affordable and potentially attractive fit for interested clubs, a player whose value as an athletic defender and stolen-base threat should only increase as the league introduces shift restrictions, larger bases and pickoff rules in 2023."

Right now there is a lot to like about Mateo as an Oriole, including the above that interested other teams. He seemed to fit in great in the Orioles clubhouse and is a popular teammate. He also seems to love it here, realizing this is the club that gave him the chance to play every day.

Mateo’s hard work at improving his English and thus his one-on-one communication with reporters impressed me. I had several interviews with him in which he worked hard to understand every word I said and was thoughtful with his answers. He seemed to even appreciate when a reporter double-checked to make sure the words that they heard were correct.

This guy is impressive on and off the field.

But we know his offense comes up short. He showed a very impressive flash of potential for a time in the second half of the 2022 season, but it didn’t take through the end of the year.

During an impressive five-week run from July 16 to Aug. 23, which included his big night at the Little League Classic, he batted .321 with a .944 OPS over 31 games. You thought maybe he had turned a corner. But that did not hold up and over his final 36 games, during which he hit .174/.213/.270/.483.

For the entire 2022 year, over 150 games, he batted .221/.267/.379/.646 and his 81 OPS+ was 19 percent below American League average. He did produce some pop, with 25 doubles, seven triples, 13 homers and 50 RBIs. His 5.1 walk rate was below AL average (of 8.5) and his 27.6 strikeout rate was above the AL average for batters (which was 22.9).

But Mateo tied for second in the majors with seven triples and is the first O's player with seven in a season since Adam Jones (7) and Brian Roberts (8) in 2008. He was the only player this season with at least 40 extra-base hits (45) and 35 stolen bases (35), and he is the seventh player (10th occurrence) in O’s history to do so.

Here is the list of other Orioles who did that:

* Al Bumbry in 1980

* Brady Anderson in 1992 and 1999

* Delino DeShields in 2000

* Brian Roberts in 2006, 2007 and 2008

* Corey Patterson in 2006

* Jonathan Villar in 2019

It was also in this same season however, when Mateo rated in the bottom 13 percent in exit velocity and hard-hit rate, and in the bottom 10 percent in chase rate, which was worse than his mark from the season before.

But the Orioles hold the cards here.

If they want Mateo at short next season, and they very likely do, just send him out there. If he makes even small upgrades to his offense, with that defense and speed, their shortstop production should be just fine.

But if they get an offer they like they could take it and open up more at-bats for someone.

If Mateo were dealt, they could turn shortstop over to Gunnar Henderson, who already is a solid defender with a big, big arm. They could play Ramón Urías at third, where he won a Gold Glove, and Adam Frazier at second, where his defensive metrics are strong. Frazier also has very solid contact rates and would become the player with the lowest strikeout rate in the lineup.

If the Orioles trade Mateo, it would also allow them to move Jordan Westburg into the starting lineup at second, short or third. Westburg and Henderson have become close friends and it could be special to watch them play together on the left side of the Orioles infield. I see Westburg as a player with ample Triple-A at-bats under his belt. He’s ready for the majors, in my humble opinion.

He was named the Brooks Robinson Award winner as the club’s Minor League Player of the Year. And he absolutely filled up the stat sheet during a 2022 season when he played 47 games at Double-A Bowie and 91 at Triple-A Norfolk. And while he posted a strong .817 OPS with the Baysox, that number got better when he moved up. His OPS was .869 for the Tides of the International League.

Between the two clubs he batted .265/.355/.496/.851 with 39 doubles, three triples, 27 homers, 96 runs scored, 106 RBIs, 70 walks and 12 stolen bases in 138 games. He led all O's minor league players in doubles, extra-base hits (69), total bases (270) and RBIs. He also finished second in the organization in hits and home runs.

The good news for the organization is that, while Westburg is about ready, middle infielders Joey Ortiz and Connor Norby are not far behind, and there are others in the pipeline closing in on the higher levels on the farm and the major leagues.

If Mateo were dealt, the Orioles would be able to make up for the loss and then some, quite possibly. They would likely be opening playing time for someone or several someones ready for it.

Again, the Orioles hold the cards here with a player at short they already like and the pipeline flowing with infielders. How they play those cards could be fascinating to watch in the coming weeks and months.

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