The Orioles' Fringe Roster Construction

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

The 2012 Orioles found success in part by tinkering with their depth and their bench. The 2013 Orioles are trying to repeat that successful formula.

For the 2012 season, the Orioles paid Robert Andino and Endy Chavez a total of $2.8 million to serve as the team's primary second baseman and fourth outfielder. For that modest investment, the O's got a whole lot of nothing. Andino hit for a .265 wOBA in 127 games. Chavez hit a .225 wOBA in 64 games. Primarily due to these offensive struggles, both players were sub-replacement level on the season.

Neither player will be back for the 2013 campaign in Baltimore. Instead, the O's have effectively replaced them with Alexi Casilla and Trayvon Robinson (or potentially Xavier Avery). Both Robinson and Casilla are upgrades on the field - though that says far more about Andino and Chavez's 2012 seasons than it does about the new players - and they are also upgrades on the wallet. They are projected to cost the Orioles about $2.3 million.

The O's didn't lose any prospects, and they got a little bit better and a little bit cheaper. This isn't the kind of move you usually see a blogger drop 200 words on, but I have to admire the efficiency at work here. It is strictly a fringe move - upgrading the last five spots on the roster - but it's where the Orioles have lived for a long time, opting away from the big ticket items in free agency. It is also where they succeeded in 2012.

I wrote last year about how new Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette's agenda was upgrading the bench, which had been a burden of sub-replacement players in 2010. Spending only a small amount of coin to bring in better backups could gain the O's something like 3 or 4 wins. What I was missing last year was that building the depth not only gave Baltimore better bench options, but it also gave them lotto tickets on potential starting players.

A million words have been splashed all over about Nate McLouth, and I won't add my stupid musings to the pile. Instead, let me consider the amount of attrition the Orioles suffered to get McLouth and fellow out-of-nowherer Miguel Gonzalez to be huge parts of their playoff team. When the O's signed those two players, they weren't anywhere close to major leaguers. That's why they got them on minor league deals. Neither were Lew Ford, or Miguel Tejada, or Bill Hall, or Matt Antonelli, or Jamie Moyer, or Joel Piniero, or Dontrelle Willis, goes on. By my count, the Orioles acquired 16 of these kinds of players who made it onto the Orioles (counting Steve Pearce once), and at least a dozen more just from eyeballing the 2012 Norfolk roster.

They got two good seasons and a whole bunch of bad ones. Which sounds just about right - if not somewhat optimistic - when you're looking at these kinds of players. The odds of any one guy turning his career around are very slim, but stack enough of them up and voila! You have a surprising piece just in time for the stretch run. That's the strategy, anyway. It's certainly not unique to the Orioles; the Pirates' offseason shopping so far as been almost entirely these types of signings. But it worked to perfection for the 2012 O's, and it's clear they're looking to repeat their success in 2013.

Enter Danny Valencia, acquired yesterday from the Boston Red Sox for nothing but money. Valencia's the ideal candidate for the Orioles' war of attrition. He was really, truly horrible last year, hitting .188/.199/.299 in 44 games. He was better in 2011, but still pretty awful: .246/.294/.383 in 154 games. But his minor league track record isn't abysmal and he had a pretty good rookie season in 2010. It's buying low on a guy with faint upside - just like it was when the 2012 Orioles picked up the left-for-dead outfielder hitting .140 whose last okay season was three years earlier.

Basically: why not give Valencia a spin? His roster spot isn't vital, and he's cheap. If he flunks out then he flunks out. The money the O's spent to pick him up was already saved in the budget when they traded out Andino and Chavez for Casilla and Robinson. That's a nifty little trick. They probably even still have some left over for the next why-not minor league pickup.

Chone Figgins, come on down!

* * * * *

An addendum: David Gerstman pointed me to an article David Pinto wrote last year about the Orioles' small moves:

These are not exactly star-studded acquisitions. If you look through the list of players, however, you start to notice that they do some things well. [...] So what Dan Duquette did with his limited resources is bring in players who do something well. Buck Showalter‘s history shows that the manager is very good at putting players in situations where they can succeed.

With all of the roster tweaking Duquette's made himself known for, and with Showalter's demonstrated ability to use that kind of roster well, it's a real no-brainer that the Orioles are following this blueprint again.

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