As the Orioles took two of three home games from the Rays in Tampa Bay (It has been a weird week for everyone) on Sunday it was also announced that Ryan Flaherty and J.J. Hardy would begin their rehab assignments at AA Bowie on Monday. The plan as of now is for each of them to play three games and then return to the Orioles. That would mean by Thursday the Orioles could have some of the pieces of their tattered middle infield returned.
However, the 25 man roster is full of guys with no options and lacks a third middle infielder. The easiest way to fold Hardy and Flaherty back into the roster would be to option both Rey Navarro and Everth Cabrera, but that still leaves the team without a third middle infielder. That means J.J. Hardy would have to play shortstop everyday coming off of a bad back and a bum shoulder. Unless the Steve Pearce second base experiment is here to stay or Buck starts trusting Jimmy Paredes more. Both of those seem unlikely to happen. If the Orioles want to have three middle infielders on the roster, which they should want so they can pinch hit and pinch run for people, someone is going to have to be cut.
The options are Jimmy Paredes, Delmon Young, Steve Pearce, David Lough, Travis Snider, and Alejandro De Aza. Paredes is going to stay on the roster until he stops hitting and cannot play anywhere on the field reliably. Young has a spot especially with Buck trusting him to play in the outfield more and more. Steve Pearce while in a funk recently seems likely to have hold on his spot with some positional versatility. Travis Snider while struggling in the field has another year of cost control is a pretty good hitter. That leaves Alejandro De Aza and David Lough as the likeliest of roster casualties. David Lough is an excellent defender and base runner. His bat can leave much to be desired at times, but he has been decent in his limited exposure to date this year. Lough can also play every outfield position well.
All that is left is Alejando De Aza. De Aza got off to a hot start at the plate, but has cooled off considerably since. He is currently batting a robust .219/.265/.375 good for a 76 wRC+. Buck has noticed this as well and has backed off on his starts as of late. De Aza can play both of the corner outfield spots reasonably well, but has shown himself to be a below average center fielder. Also, at 31 and on the last year of his deal he is considerably more expendable than someone under cost control such as Lough.
Furthermore, De Aza has really struggled to make contact this season. His strike out rate has ballooned to 30.9 percent this season while his walk rate has cratered to 4.4 percent. On top of that, for the past three seasons his walk rate has fell as his strike out rate has gone up. Obviously, with his ever increasing strike out rate his contact rates have also fallen precipitously.
As revealed in the table above De Aza is swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone than he ever has before. On top of that, he is making less contact on those pitches than he ever has before. Moreover, he is swinging at pitches inside the zone only 62.6 percent of the time which is another career low. He is making contact on those pitches at a high clip, but swinging at them less. Meanwhile, he only sees 43.8 percent in the strike zone, league average in 2015 is 46.4 percent. So he is seeing less pitches inside the zone and swinging at the ones he does see less than he ever has before. The most telling statistics so far might be that he has a .293 BAPIP alongside his .219 batting average. It has not been bad luck, it has been bad play.
This could all be early season sample size noise, but the trends over multiple years are disconcerting. Moreover, his swinging and contact rates are troubling. De Aza is not a tenable option with a skyrocketing strike out rate and a cratering walk rate. He played well after the Orioles traded for him in 2014 and started off hot in April, but De Aza is putting up very weak production and has poor peripheral statistics as well. A lead off man who cannot make contact, walk, or hit for power is not very useful.
With J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty set to return the Orioles will have to make a decision to get rid of a player sometime soon. The Orioles could try to keep the roster with only two middle infielders, but that situation seems ripe for disaster. In all likelihood, the Orioles are going to have to cut an outfielder and Alejandro De Aza's seat gets a little hotter everyday he continues to strike out.