The Orioles are in the middle of a playoff push, and September is fast approaching. That means it’s almost time for the O’s (and every other team) to take advantage of one of the more controversial rules in baseball: September roster expansion.
On the first of the month, the 25-player limit goes out the window, and teams are free to use up to their entire 40-man roster. Honestly, this seems a little ridiculous, and Buck Showalter agrees. He’s previously advocated for a more reasonable expansion (something like 30 or 32 players), but that hasn’t happened yet, and he’s not going to put the Orioles at a competitive disadvantage just to make a point.
Still, you won’t be seeing 40 players in the Orioles’ dugout three weeks from now. Buck doesn’t like an overcrowded clubhouse and isn’t going to carry guys just to carry them. It’s more likely that we’ll see the roster expand to something in the 33-35 player range.
That’s what the team has done in recent seasons, although the situation is a little different this year. The Norfolk Tides’ season will wrap up on September 5th, and at 50-68 it’s safe to say they won’t make the playoffs. Last season, they weren’t eliminated from the postseason until mid-September.
If anything, that could mean we’ll see more players added to the big club. Whereas the 2015 Orioles might have preferred to have a younger pitcher get consistent innings for Norfolk rather than be the 12th man in the bullpen, that won’t be a dilemma this time around. If they think they can use a player, they’ll take him.
So, who might the call-ups be? First of all, we know that the team will call up at least a few pitchers to serve as bullpen help. Odrisamer Despaigne seems like an obvious choice, as do Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson. All three are likely to be in Baltimore in a few weeks.
Beyond them, there are nine other pitchers currently on the 40-man roster. Brian Duensing is hurt, so he’s out. Chris Lee and Parker Bridwell have never thrown a major league pitch, and that probably won’t change next month.
T.J. McFarland is pitching a rehab assignment in Frederick on Monday, and if everything goes well he’ll probably be back when the rosters expand. Jason Garcia is unlikely to be called up this year, and I’m not sure Oliver Drake fits - he’d be the tenth righty in the bullpen if Despaigne/Wilson/Wright all get the nod.
Finally, there’s a trio of three lefty specialists - Jayson Aquino, Logan Ondrusek (who’s right-handed, but was acquired because of his reverse splits), and Ashur Tolliver. It’s a good bet that the O’s will take at least one, considering Zach Britton and Donnie Hart are the only lefties in the bullpen (McFarland would be the second). If Hart remains on the 25-man roster, Ondrusek seems like the most likely to join him.
Moving on to position players, the easiest one to call is Joey Rickard, who will certainly be placed on the active roster if he’s able to come back in time from his thumb injury. The only other outfielder on the 40-man who isn’t currently in Baltimore is Dariel Alvarez - there’s a chance we’ll be seeing him again too.
Alvarez would be easier to call up, but for this team Julio Borbon seems like a better choice. The O’s have corner outfielders in spades, especially when Rickard returns. Two things they don’t have are guys who can run and guys who can play center field. I have a feeling we’ll see a move to get Borbon in the fold for the stretch run.
For infielders, it gets a bit trickier. Right now, the only infielder currently on the 40-man roster is Christian Walker. He may be added to the roster to serve as another right-handed bench bat (especially if Alvarez doesn’t make the trip North) but he’s not really what the O’s need.
What the O’s need is someone like Paul Janish. He’s the exact type of player who always gets called up to the big leagues in September - a one-dimensional defense-first player that can play every infield position.
Finally, almost every team adds a third catcher this time of year. Francisco Pena is on the roster already. This one’s easy.
All in all, my guess is that we’ll see a few more players than usual added to the Orioles clubhouse in a few weeks. Despaigne, Wilson, Wright, Pena and Rickard (if healthy) seem like near-locks. Throw in two of McFarland/Ondrusek/Aquino/Tolliver, which would bolster the bullpen’s ability to match up with left-handed hitters.
Finally, Borbon and Janish fill specific needs and I’d be surprised if Dan Duquette doesn’t bring the ax down on couple low-ceiling players (Tolliver? Drake?) to make room for them. Add one of Walker/Alvarez and that gets the Orioles to an even 35 players.
Clearly, the O’s don’t have an exciting top prospect ready to break into the bigs for the stretch run. None of the guys I just mentioned are less than 25, and none are really prospects at all.
But while the Orioles don’t have a Dylan Bundy to bring up this time around, what they do have is are a ton of bullpen arms and a small group of veteran players who fit of the team’s specific needs. The players might not be flashy, but at least the O’s have plenty of options.