How much will Sánchez addition alter O’s infield?

The Orioles’ addition of infielder Yolmer Sánchez via waivers on Friday raised several questions for which we have no real answers at this point. Do they plan for him to replace one of their arbitration-eligible infielders? Do they plan for him to compete for a utility infield job? What will his salary be in arbitration? Will the club try to reach a deal with him in advance of that?

As of late Friday, the team has yet to pick up the option for 2021 on shortstop José Iglesias. Is Sánchez’s tied to that decision?

A lot to ponder and wrap your arms around.

Orioles bags.jpgThe 28-year-old Sánchez is a switch-hitter who has spent almost his entire career with the Chicago White Sox. They signed him out of Venezuela at 16 in 2009. By 2012, he had broken into their top 30 prospects list at No. 21 and that year played in the Futures Game. While he is a below-average hitter at the major league level, he led the Single-A Carolina League in batting average at .315, and when he moved to Double-A, he hit .370 in 30 games. He was ranked as the White Sox’s No. 3 prospect at the end of the 2013 season and was No. 12 a year later and again No. 12 after the 2015 season.

We know Sánchez does not bring much offense. When he was a regular with Chicago in 2018, playing in 155 games, he hit .242/.306/.372 with an OPS+ of 87, which is 13 percent under league average. That year, he did lead the American League with 10 triples and was the White Sox’s winner of the Heart and Hustle Award. In 149 games in 2019, he batted .252/.318/.321 with an OPS+ of 73. He has a career OPS of .670 versus right-handed pitching and .626 versus lefties.

Do the Orioles see him replacing arbitration-eligible Hanser Alberto at second base? That could produce quite a double play combo with Iglesias, if he is retained. The defense up the middle would be strong. That could be important as more young pitchers find their way to the mound in Baltimore.

In 2018, Sánchez was the regular third baseman for the White Sox, then in 2019, he won a Gold Glove at second base, beating out the other finalists in New York’s DJ LeMahieu and Houston’s Jose Altuve. His .987 fielding percentage that year ranked second among AL second baseman and tied for fifth in the majors. His 11 Defensive Runs Saved was first in the AL and second among his position in the majors.

In this recent article, I wondered whether Alberto and Rio Ruiz would return next season. Talking about the dollars only, Ruiz is still a pre-arbitration player. Alberto is a second-time arbitration-eligible player and projected he could earn somewhere between $2.3 and $4.1 million.

If the becomes too pricey for the Orioles, you have to wonder what Sánchez could command through arbitration. One projection had him up for $6.2 million when the White Sox non-tendered him last December. That led him to sign a minor league deal with the Giants, but he never played a single game in the bigs for them in 2020. He actually asked for his release and got it, and wound up back with Chicago to end the year, going 5-for-16 (.313) in 11 games.

So he didn’t play much in the majors last season. The Orioles could foresee him as infield depth or someone that has a chance to be an everyday player, or something in between. For all we know they could try to get him through waivers and off their 40-man.

This latest O’s addition has left us wondering how the infield will look in 2021.

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