Last January, the Orioles hit the bargain bin in search of a competent, inexpensive shortstop. They settled on a 30-year-old who was 1) known more for his glove than his bat, 2) had just finished a decent season with the Cincinnati Reds, and 3) posted a combined fWAR of about 6.0 in the previous three seasons. This year, the O’s took a similar route, targeting a 31-year-old who is 1) known more for his glove than his bat, 2) had a decent year with the Reds in a pandemic-shortened season and 3) put up around 4.0 fWAR in the three seasons before 2020.
That first acquisition was José Iglesias, of course, who was shockingly excellent at the plate (162 wRC+) despite being hampered by multiple injuries that limited his time in the field. And now, in 2021, Iglesias is gone after being traded to the Angels, and his replacement is Freddy Galvis. The Orioles inked Galvis to a one-year, $1.5 million contract Jan. 26. The deal comes with a $250,000 bonus if he’s traded.
Iglesias is the better player, and it was a clear win that the Orioles were able to add him for such a cheap deal last year (let alone that he had to settle for a minor-league contract with the Reds in 2019). Galvis brings some of Iglesias’ skills, and it’s easy to see how he can help a team that had shortstop options of Richie Martin, Pat Valaika and Ramón Urías before his signing.
Let’s start with Galvis’ defense at shortstop, which is where you’d think he’d make the most impact. He’s mentioned alongside other slick-fielding shortstops at times, but his defensive metrics are a bit mixed the last few seasons:
2018: +3 DRS, -3.8 UZR/150, +12 OAA (1,401.0 innings)
2019: +4 DRS, -2.4 UZR/150, +11 OAA (939.2 innings)
2020: -1 DRS, +2.6 UZR/150, -3 OAA (261.1 innings)
Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric is arguably the most reliable of the three, so it’s encouraging to see him get high marks in the years before 2020. Last year’s small sample size struggles, however, are still worth keeping an eye on. So are fun plays like this:
At the plate, the switch-hitting Galvis (who’s slightly better from the right side) is below average for a shortstop, but he’s marginally improved in each of the last four seasons:
2017: 79 wRC+ (league avg SS: 88)
2018: 85 wRC+ (league avg SS: 95)
2019: 89 wRC+ (league avg SS: 98)
2020: 90 wRC+ (league avg SS: 101)
That’s nice to see! But if you take a quick gander at Galvis’ Statcast numbers, they’re … not great:
But along with the small year-to-year gains, there is some room for encouragement after Galvis’ 2020. As Tony Wolfe at FanGraphs pointed out last season, Galvis cut down on his swing rate, sliced his chase rate, walked more and did a better job of going after pitches he could handle. You could say he had a plan up at the plate, or you could just say he improved in a small amount of games. Regardless, he wasn’t able to keep things up quite that well throughout the season, but he was still a little better!
It says plenty about the current state of the O’s major-league roster that the Freddy Galvis signing is something for fans to get excited about. But it’s true! Sometimes it’s just fun to watch skillful players, even if they aren’t the most skilled. It also helps when that player has an above-average glove at a position in the middle of the field.
There’s a reason the O’s were able to sign Galvis for so little. He’s good with the glove, but he’s not the best. And the greatest version of Galvis at the plate isn’t anything close to an elite hitter. That’s OK! He’s useful and fills a need for the O’s.
It’s hard to go wrong with one of these signings, and as Iglesias showed, sometimes things can go very right. The “just do something” crowd gets a bone to chew on, and the O’s add a low-cost option who could end up on the trade block. No one said this had to be complicated.