There was nothing to herald the acquisition of Danny Valencia by the Orioles. He was essentially picked up off the scrap heap, with the O's receiving him from the Boston Red Sox in November 2012 in exchange for cash considerations. Through parts of three big league seasons, he had played in a total of 283 games and had a batting line of .257/.297/.389. At the time the Orioles acquired him, he was 28 years old.
As a baseball player, there had not been a lot to recommend Valencia. He was nothing special in the field and, on the aggregate, was not good at the plate either. Valencia did one thing well: hit left-handed pitching. The press release the Orioles sent out to announce the trade highlighted his career .316/.359/.472 batting line against lefties in 326 plate appearances up to that time.
This is the kind of thing that pings on the radar of Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette. It cost him little to stash Valencia, a player with minor league options remaining, in Triple-A Norfolk. If Valencia could prove that he could offer something to the Orioles that they didn't already have, there would be room for him on the team somehow. If not, he could be cut loose and no loss to the team.
In the season's early months, Valencia was recalled and optioned on three separate occasions, playing in only 25 games through August 19, when he was recalled for good. The Orioles struggled against lefties and they struggled at designated hitter. At Norfolk, Valencia played in 65 games and batted .286/.326/.531. The unlikely had happened. The Orioles desperately needed Valencia. He earned his shot and he got his shot.
Valencia rewarded the Orioles by turning in a 1.000 OPS over the final 92 plate appearances (27 games), mostly against lefties, to close out the season. In total, he had a 1.031 OPS against lefties on the season in 102 plate appearances. It's not a large sample size, but it's in line with what he has done in his career to date.
Before the season began, Valencia seemed like one more meaningless Duquette acquisition, a just-in-case-it-works kind of deal or signing, along the lines of Nate McLouth. Valencia's success with the Orioles wasn't as dramatic as McLouth's because it didn't come as part of a playoff run, but if the Orioles hadn't faltered in August and September, Valencia would be a part of 2013 O's lore the same way McLouth is for the 2012 Orioles.
Now, he looks like he could be a low-cost solution to one problem the Orioles faced this season. As a team, they did not excel at hitting lefties for most of the season. Valencia hits lefties. The 2014 season will be his first year as an arbitration-eligible player, so his services can be retained for very little. He can start against lefty starters and be a bench option on other days.
If they can stumble across the left-handed batter equivalent of Valencia, they would have a strong platoon with a small hit to a payroll that's due to see several large increases elsewhere from players who are entering later arbitration years. Valencia is a player who can be part of a successful Orioles team and they should find a way to make use of his skills to maximize the team's chances of victory on any given day.