The Orioles have made two moves since the last time that I speculated on the position-player half of the 26-man roster, acquiring first baseman/outfielder Ryan O’Hearn from the Royals on Tuesday for cash considerations and designating him for assignment on Thursday while claiming first baseman Lewin Díaz off waivers from the Braves.
O’Hearn has one minor league option remaining. Díaz has none. Both players fit the profile of a left-handed hitting backup first baseman, though O’Hearn also plays the corner outfield, with 31 of his major league starts coming in right.
The club’s thirst for a left-handed bat probably hasn’t been quenched. I’d be shocked if Díaz is the final acquisition. Then again, I didn’t think he’d be back and O’Hearn would last two days.
The only predictable component of this offseason has been its unpredictability.
Whichever player is able to secure a bench role is doing so at the expense of someone who currently projects as a member of the opening day roster.
Here’s another look at the 13 players I listed on Dec. 29 as heading north if Díaz, O’Hearn or whoever isn’t in the equation:
A spot could open if the Orioles trade an infielder or outfielder in their continued quest for a veteran starting pitcher. Otherwise, someone is going down to Triple-A to make room.
I chose O’Hearn as the intruder a few days ago because he was in the organization and on the 40-man roster. Maybe he clears waivers and comes to spring training.
Let’s start there.
Mullins, Santander and Hays are safe among the outfielders, of course. McKenna backs up in left, center and right, and he brings speed off the bench. He’s also a right-handed hitter.
Stowers will compete for a job after appearing in 34 games and batting .282/.338/.479 (20-for-71) with three doubles, one triple and three home runs in the last 28. He’s a left-handed hitter, same as O’Hearn. He isn’t a first baseman. There isn’t duplication across the board.
The ceiling for Stowers also isn’t the same. He’s a top-10 prospect in the organization. The Orioles will evaluate him further in camp and calculate whether he’s ready for a full major league season and whether there are sufficient at-bats in him in the outfield and as the designated hitter.
The “let the kids play” crowd will be vocal in its support of Stowers.
Díaz is strictly a first baseman. A good one in the field, but he isn’t a threat to any of the outfielders. Franchy Cordero, signed to a minor league deal, is mostly a corner outfielder who has started to dabble in first-base duties, with poor reviews so far.
Mountcastle, Henderson, Urías, Mateo and Frazier are logical inclusions among the infielders, though the Mateo trade speculation exists because teams with shortstop vacancies are checking on his availability. Again, doesn’t mean the Orioles are actively shopping him.
Vavra is a left-handed hitter who worked out at first base last year in pregame drills because the Orioles were hurting for backup options after trading Trey Mancini. He made nine starts in left field and one in right. O’Hearn’s arrival could have been impactful, but Vavra primarily is a second baseman. There isn’t duplication across the board.
The only impact with Díaz would be the left-handed swing and lessening the need for Vavra to prepare for first base.
The Frazier signing has the potential to be a bigger obstacle for Vavra, but none of the roads are blocked. Vavra has a chance after posting a .340 on-base percentage in 40 games. But the Orioles are collecting insurance to protect some of their less-experienced players. To not be overly reliant while trying to end their postseason drought.
The “let the kids play” crowd will be vocal in its support of Vavra.
Two of the most interesting camp competitions and storylines are the rotation and how the Orioles fill the last few bench spots.
The competition likely isn’t closed.
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