As the 6 p.m. deadline approached and passed yesterday without an announcement from the Orioles on setting their 40-man roster, it became apparent that something was in the works beyond just choosing which prospects to protect in the Rule 5 draft.
The Orioles were going to also choose a player to be designated for assignment. With the many additions would come a subtraction.
Call it a hunch.
Renato Núñez went from non-tender candidate to a DFA, which shook up some fans on Twitter who demanded an explanation.
The only surprise to me was the timing, with Núñez becoming a 40-man casualty yesterday rather than early December. His projected arbitration salary of $2.1 million, limitations in the field and streakiness at the plate were a bad combination.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias explained how “ours is not the ideal roster for him in terms of a fit.”
A corner infielder who’s trusted more at first base and likely would have been the designated hitter again in 2021.
“We have several players that play the defensive spots that he does and sort of fill that profile for us,” Elias said. “This is part of the business of cycling guys in and cycling them out. That’s just kind of what we do.”
Chris Davis remains on the roster. Settling on a designated hitter won’t be complicated.
Just wait until Yusniel Diaz is promoted later in the summer. Rosters could be expanded again in 2021, but the Orioles still might stretch its seams.
It seemed obvious yesterday that Núñez won’t be returning. Elias already has been checking the trade market and indicated that the process will continue through the Thanksgiving holiday. Otherwise, Núñez is going to hit the free agent market and likely appeal to a team seeking a power boost.
His market expands if the National League is given a designated hitter again next season.
Former executive Dan Duquette made a smart decision to claim Núñez on waivers in 2018, though the idea of making him the regular third baseman was flawed. The first scouting report I heard on Núñez involved his strong but inaccurate arm.
There were immediate concerns in the organization that proved to be more accurate.
However, there’s nothing wrong with a designated hitter capable of slugging 30-plus home runs. Keeping the spot flexible makes sense if there isn’t one true power source.
Núñez fit the description by totaling 31 homers in 2018 and driving in 90 runs. But he’s slashed .248/.313/.451 in 1,107 career plate appearances and a team filled with first base/DH types was bound to lose interest.
An optimist would take it as a positive sign that the development of prospects and influx of talent in the organization made it easier to part with him.
Critics will say he could have been part of the rebuild based on that power and his age (26), and they don’t want to hear about salary concerns while the team is willing to pay players who are more expensive and less productive.
Perhaps the Orioles can find a trade partner that will make the DFA a little more palatable to his fans. And there could be a lot less complaining if a DH rotation next season includes Mountcastle, Mancini and Diaz.
The Orioles were expected to protect no more than four players yesterday. Six is unusual.
You must go back to 2009, when the Orioles selected the contracts of pitchers Brandon Erbe (McDonogh) and Luis Lebron and infielders Josh Bell, Pedro Florimon, Rhyne Hughes and Brandon Snyder.
Again, take it as a positive sign.
The dirty half-dozen, if that catches on, could debut next season. Diaz, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Isaac Mattson, Alexander Wells and Rylan Bannon were chosen due to organizational projections that they should be ready to contribute.
“Everything this year has been different and we’re either dealing with a lot of emphasis on older info or just having a lack of info, so it’s made it tough,” Elias said.
“This group, other than (Alex) Wells, we got them all either at the instructional league or the alternate site, so we’re able to keep tabs on this group of guys and we have a real good idea of where all these guys are at, so that was helpful. But just anytime we’re making external evaluations, it’s really weird this year.”