Will these two Orioles be back next year?

They are both infielders the Orioles claimed off waivers. They've gotten a golden chance to show they can play at the big league level with the Orioles since the start of the 2019 season.

But after the performance of both fell off in the second half of the shortened 2020 season, their futures are maybe more uncertain today than they were heading into last year.

I am talking about 26-year-old Rio Ruiz and 28-year-old Hanser Alberto. Both have been regulars in the lineup for most of the last two years. The Orioles don't have another Ryan Mountcastle type of talent on the way for the infield. They have a limited number of players at the higher levels on the farm in the infield to push this pair for jobs next spring.

But on a team that might be challenged to hold down payroll after a season without the normal revenues being generated, are both certain to be O's in 2021? The answer could be different for both, complicated by their service time and salary conditions. But more on that later.

First at look at the two players.

Ruiz-Base-Knock-Gray-Sidebar.jpgRuiz produced a line of .232./306/.376/.682 with the last number being his OPS for 2019, his first year in the organization. He hit 12 homers and drove in 46 runs with an OPS+ of 81, with league average being 100.

This past season, Ruiz produced a line of .222/.286/.427/.713 with nine homers and 32 RBIs, which tied for the club lead. That came in about half the amount of plate appearances and his OPS+ was at least respectable at 93.

On Aug. 15, Ruiz was batting .241 with an OPS of .915. But over his last 40 games, he hit just .214 with an OPS of .628. Year-to-year his walk rate went down a bit from 9.7 to 8.3, while his strikeout rate increased from 21.3 to 22.5.

Ruiz played some strong defense early in the year and poor defense late in the season. He really struggled with his throwing. Did he take offensive struggles out to the field with him? Manager Brandon Hyde, without naming anyone specifically, suggested that happened to some players this year.

Among the 10 American League third basemen that played enough to qualify for league leaders, Ruiz ranked eighth in FanGraphs.com's defensive rating. But he was third among those 10 in Defensive Runs Saved.

Alberto, who was waived by four teams, including the Orioles, before the 2019 season, wound up batting .305/.329/.422/.751 for the Orioles that year with an OPS+ of 98. He hit 12 homers and drove in 51. His batting average ranked eighth-best in the AL and 16th in the major leagues. But the numbers took a hit in the shortened 2020 year. He batted .283/.306/.393/.698 with three homers, 22 RBIs and an OPS+ of 91.

On Aug. 15, Alberto was raking, batting .345 with a .910 OPS. But in his last 34 games, those numbers dropped to .242/.558. The power production, what little there was, really fell off.

Two areas where Alberto excelled in 2019 were also good for him last year. In 2019, he batted .393 against lefty pitching and .345 in road games. Last summer, he hit .375 off southpaws and .324 on the road.

Alberto is an aggressive hitter but he became too aggressive at times this year and his chase rate was high. He led the majors with a 54.0 percent O-Swing% (swings at pitches outside the strike zone). The second-closest was at 43.8 percent, according to FanGraphs. Alberto again drew few walks, but his low strikeout rate of 2019 did increase this year from 9.1 to 13.0 percent.

That O-Swing% for Alberto was 47.6 percent in 2019. So he greatly increased his chase rate last summer and his overall numbers took a hit because of it.

Alberto is important to the Orioles in the clubhouse. He's almost always upbeat, energetic and smiling and that can set a nice tone for the club. He was the Orioles' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. The most prominent individual player award bestowed by Major League Baseball, the Clemente Award is the annual recognition of a player from each club who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, sportsmanship, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.

But when looking at how the club might value these two players for next year, salary becomes a factor - maybe a big one. Ruiz, whose salary before proration for last year was $573,000, is again a pre-arbitration player next year. He will make around the league minimum again.

But Alberto is arbitration-eligible for the second time. His pre-proration salary for 2020 was $1.65 million. MLBTradeRumors.com recently published arbitration projections for this winter using three different formulas, due to the shortened season. So they produced three possibilities for each player. For Alberto, that ranged from $2.3 million to $2.6 million to $4.1 million.

Would the Orioles have concerns, even at the low end of this projection? If they do, they could consider Pat Valaika for second base or give spring training shots to either Mason McCoy or Rylan Bannon from the farm.

Both Ruiz and Alberto saw their play fall off in the second half of last year. It clouds their futures with the club. But the salary difference could work for Ruiz and against Alberto as the O's plan for the 2021 season.

Rogers facing hitters in fall instructional camp
Parker focused on fastball, curveball and splitter...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/