I get all the reasons the Orioles are not in attack mode in trying to field a winning baseball team, but what I have failed to understand is why some low-budget moves that can help the Orioles be more interesting and more competitive on a nightly basis were not being made.
In my print story for the November PressBox, I recommended four small moves I felt would do just that. With the signing of shortstop Jose Iglesias to a one-year, $2.5 million deal (with a club option at another $3.5 million in 2021), general manager Mike Elias has substantially improved his team’s overall defense. He also sent a small message of hope to the fans who are OK with the rebuild but want more reasons to watch the games in between now and then, with the “then” being the end of the rebuild.
Look, Iglesias playing 150 games of high-level defense will not suddenly change everything and get the Orioles on the way to being a .500 ballclub. But solidifying a team’s defense — especially its defense up the middle — can begin to help you shave off a run here and there.
No great defenders can jump high enough to bail out a pitching staff that allowed 305 home runs, but almost as serious and corrosive a problem as the homers allowed was the ongoing issue the Orioles had all season long of allowing two-out runs. The O’s allowed 388 runs with two outs, the worst mark in the majors.
While allowing two-out runs doesn’t immediately mean the team’s defense was bad, watching 162 games of Orioles baseball made that fact of life abundantly clear.
Toward the end of August, the Orioles invited back to town the 1989 “Why Not” Orioles. During their media event, the former O’s one at a time brought up the players that dotted that roster. Many of those players had also been part of the Orioles’ 0-21 start or at least were on the roster for an extended period of time in 1988.
Almost to a man, both pitchers and position players alluded to the incredible outfield defense making a huge difference in getting pitchers off the mound before having crooked numbers put up against them.
It’s obvious that catcher Pedro Severino and his most likely platoon partner, Chance Sisco, are not ever going to win Gold Gloves. Almost as equally apparent is that with Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander as the corner outfielders, the team will struggle to cover the lines and alleys very well. But with Iglesias, Hanser Alberto (second base) and Austin Hays (center field) up the middle, we know three of the eight defenders on the field at any point will be above average.
You’ll notice that I left off the corner positions of first and third base. Chris Davis, unfortunately more Joker than wild card, is a very solid defender, provided he hits well enough in spring training to make the team in late March.
Regarding third base, Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports recently mentioned the possibility of Renato Nunez playing more third base in 2020; Nunez served as the designated hitter in 110 games last year and played third base in just nine games. The tandem of Nunez and Rio Ruiz at third base would leave a good bit to be desired.
Who would be the DH while Nunez played the field? Well, I can tell you they aren’t looking at that move to free up the DH spot for Chris Davis. Davis, if on the team, will play mostly first base. Rather, top prospect Ryan Mountcastle would be the obvious guy who would be eased into his MLB debut season as a DH.
Mountcastle vs. Davis will be an interesting battle to watch, and equally as important will be this long look as to whether or not Nunez can play third base.
Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 11 in Sarasota, Fla. There isn’t much doubt that 2020 will be a long and tough season. Jose Iglesias makes it a bit more watchable, as he’ll remind Orioles fans what an elite defender looks like.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox