Sorting through some super-utility candidates

Utility competitions in spring training usually elicit as much excitement as a Perry Como concert.

There's a better chance of finding an olive pit than a mosh pit.

(We interrupt this blog entry to bring you a link to one of the funniest skits of all time from the '80s. Eugene Levy at his finest. You'll thank me later.)

The importance of having versatile players shouldn't be minimized. Guys who can handle assignments at multiple positions in the infield and outfield are increasing in value, even as roster sizes expand in a pandemic. But fans and media understandably are prone to focusing more on the last spots in the rotation and bullpen and the composition of the lineup. The final bench spot is like a slow drip of tryptophan in the veins.

The structure of the competition is likely to change prior to camp opening in February - if it's able to do so in normal fashion.

Thumbnail image for Valaika-Takes-Grounder-ST-sidebar.jpgWe don't know whether Pat Valaika will be tendered a contract by Wednesday's deadline, with projecting his salary in arbitration at $1.1 million.

We don't know whether Yolmer Sánchez will be tendered a contract, though it would be puzzling for the Orioles to claim him off waivers and send him into free agency. Unless they were just sharpening their claiming skills in October.

I'm still trying to figure out how the Sánchez salary expectations work with a guy who had to settle for a minor league deal from the Giants. The White Sox non-tendered the former Gold Glove winner to avoid paying a projected $6.2 million in arbitration.

He was paid $4.625 million in 2019, but now there's the whole minor league deal thing. And the Orioles aren't interested in chucking huge dollars at Sánchez, who also could compete for a starting job at second or third base if he isn't a bench player.

I don't know how his value is determined.

Hanser Alberto is a non-tender candidate at a projected $2.3 million and at least he can destroy left-handed pitching.

Richie Martin will return from a fractured wrist that cost him the truncated 2020 season. The Orioles could revisit their original plan of starting him at shortstop every day with Triple-A Norfolk or let him compete for backup jobs in the middle infield and maybe third base.

Rylan Bannon was placed on the 40-man roster to protect him in the Rule 5 draft. He has experience at second and third base, the latter his strongest position, but isn't viewed as a shortstop.

That's a minus for a utility candidate.

Ramón Urías impressed in a brief audition, supplying more offense than anticipated. The Orioles re-signed Stevie Wilkerson to a minor league deal and he can play anywhere. Andrew Velazquez came off the 40-man roster, but he offers defense and speed.

There's a pretty good chance that the Orioles bring in another infielder before April simply based on their history.

Valaika was claimed off waivers in January. Urías and Velazquez were claimed in February. Alcides Escobar signed a minor league deal in February 2019, with January and March claims of Alberto sandwiched around him. Engelb Vielma was obtained from the Giants in a January 2018 trade. Paul Janish and Johnny Giavotella signed in February 2017.

Janish also signed in January 2016 before coming back to the organization. Great glove, great guy.

I could go on and on, but let's wrap it up with Everth Cabrera and Jayson Nix in February 2015, Steve Lombardozzi in March 2014, Alex Gonzalez and Alexi Casilla in January 2014 - which led to the Gonzalez-for-Lombardozzi trade - Nick Green in February 2011 and César Izturis in January 2011.

Just off the top of my head.

Working under the assumption that rosters will hold 26 players on opening day and easily could increase under pandemic conditions, the Orioles are able again to carry multiple super-utility guys. Perhaps the outfield experience isn't deemed quite as important given the number of players who are naturals at the position, but the candidates are able to move back and forth.

A few questions for O's fans
Vavra learning on the fly in new position

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