The spring training injury suffered by Brian Matusz has left the Orioles in a bind. They did not have even a single left-handed reliever on the 40-man roster capable of serving as a short-term (or long-term) replacement for Matusz once it became apparent that Matusz may not be ready for Opening Day. They have only themselves to blame for that, because several lefty pitchers passed on and off the roster during the offseason.
At different points over the winter, the Orioles had their hands on Tim Berry, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Edgar Olmos, all of whom are players who seem like they might have been at least acceptable options for a couple of weeks. All of them had minor league options remaining, and all of them were let go while players who may have no use to the Orioles have remained.
Players who might end up looking like better choices to have removed from the roster include Jimmy Paredes and Chaz Roe. Those guys are old enough that they probably are what they are, and they're not better than the players who ought to, and likely will, make the team ahead of them.
On the late date of March 23, the only potential LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy) the Orioles could find waiting for them on the vine was 2011-12 Oriole Zach Phillips, who hasn't pitched in MLB since 2013.
In adding Phillips to the major league roster, the Orioles chose to cast aside yet another lefty pitcher. That was Chris Jones, 27, who posted a 2.94 ERA in 30 games (22 starts) for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides last season.
That was apparently not good enough to keep the O's attention. Jones was designated for assignment on Wednesday. Maybe he'll pass through waivers this far into spring training, but for now they're unconcerned about losing him.
Roll call of the fallen
Taking each one of these guys individually, it's not a great surprise why the Orioles may have decided to try to sneak each one through waivers. Jones did not crack MLB.com's top 30 Orioles prospect list even with their farm system being in the state it's in. He wasn't a key guy. Maybe they saw him as a player who's good enough to succeed in Triple-A but not enough to succeed in MLB. There are many such players out there.
Berry, who just turned 25, was an O's pick in the 50th round back in 2009, and he just turned in a disastrous 2015 campaign for Double-A Bowie, posting a 7.32 ERA over 23 games, 15 of which were starts. He had some promise once. He did not show it in the most recent season.
Riefenhauser and Olmos are both players who have gotten a little MLB time, neither of whom has been successful in the bigs so far. The 26-year-old Riefenhauser came to the O's in the Mark Trumbo trade. He held lefty batters to a .167 batting average in Triple-A last season with the Rays.
Olmos, soon to be 26, was a random waiver claim. Pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (Triple-A), Olmos kept lefty batters to a .250 average with a .306 on-base percentage. That's also not bad, and it sounds like a guy who would at least be worth exploring for a couple of weeks if Matusz has to miss time.
The Orioles, however, let all three of these guys go either on waivers or by designating them for assignment. They didn't necessarily have to keep all three of them, but any one of them, particularly Riefenhauser or Olmos, who have some big league experience as relievers, would have been nice to have right now instead of Phillips - and then they'd still have Jones too.
That's not to say there are any future Cy Youngs in the bunch. Riefenhauser's offseason has taken him from the Rays to the Mariners to the Orioles to the Cubs. Olmos has gone from the Mariners to the Cubs to the Orioles to the Cubs again, and the Cubs didn't even keep him on the 40-man roster - funnily enough, they outrighted Olmos to make room to claim Riefenhauser.
As a general rule, if a player changes teams three times in the span of a single offseason, he is probably not someone who is viewed as important. Every other team in baseball except for the Cardinals and Pirates passed on them on waivers before they got to the Cubs. They are fringe roster guys. There's a reason why they keep getting designated for assignment.
But, fringe guys are there to be insurance. The O's chose to get rid of their Matusz insurance, which was short-sighted both for the present year's need and into the future. Now they wish they had some. Having some lefty relievers to choose from for next year would have been useful as well. Matusz is set to be a free agent after this season.
Would either Riefenhauser or Olmos have proved to be the answer? Maybe not. It would have been nice to find out.
The players the O's kept instead
What makes this apparent mistake all the more glaring is that the O's typically hold onto guys who might have even the slightest use for them, continually discarding only the sparest of spare parts. Did they really figure they didn't need even one other lefty reliever to hang around in Norfolk on the 40-man roster?
You can look at the current O's 40-man roster and find a few players who may not make it to the end of spring training still on the roster.
Along with Paredes and Roe, a couple of other out of options guys who might get squeezed out are Nolan Reimold and Vance Worley. All of them might end up heading to the great DFA in the sky as the roster is cut down to 25. It's also tough to imagine there will ever be a spot for Henry Urrutia, who, that one great walkoff home run last year notwithstanding, hasn't shown a whole lot of promise in his limited big league action.
Maybe the O's felt like each of these guys deserved a chance to compete for a spot in spring training. More than that, the O's may have felt it was in their best interest to give those guys a chance.
Instead of an injury to Matusz, there could just as easily have been an injury to a different player who'd pave the way for one of those players to have a roster spot waiting for them. Or, if they hadn't signed Yovani Gallardo and Pedro Alvarez, which they didn't know before February that they would do, there would be two additional roster spots up for grabs.
The Orioles may not end up paying any price at all for not being prepared for Matusz's injury. Phillips could be decent enough for as long as they need him to be, and then there's nothing to worry about.
They might not end up missing any one of Berry, Riefenhauser, or Olmos if none of them end up having successful big league careers for their new teams. Dan Duquette and the Orioles scouts know a lot more about all of those players and what they're capable of doing than any of us know.
Still, it's strange to see the O's let players go who might fill a specific role that they have later ended up needing in a big way. The Matusz situation has revealed yet another way that the minor league cupboard is completely bare for the O's. If they do end up regretting the way things work out with their lefty reliever conundrum, they will have only themselves to blame.