Throughout Dan Duqette’s tenure in Baltimore, he’s consistently gone out of his way to select players in the Rule 5 draft and retain them in Baltimore. The O’s have kept a Rule 5 player on their roster in every season of the Duquette era except 2014.
That year, the O’s selected Michael Almanzar from the Red Sox. They simply didn’t have room for him on the 25-man roster once he returned from the DL, but ended up re-acquiring him anyway as part of the Kelly Johnson trade.
Clearly, if Duquette likes a guy in the Rule 5 draft he’ll select him and find a way to keep him around. This year, he took a pair of corner outfielders in Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander.
Factoring in the Orioles’ current need for a corner outfielder, it’s natural to think at least one of these two will stick around - our own Tyler Young speculated on the subject a few days ago.
I’m going to offer up a different opinion here. Considering the way the roster is currently constructed, along with potential moves the team has yet to make, neither of them are all that likely to have a role on the 2017 Orioles.
First of all, it would be almost impossible to keep both - let’s get that out of the way right now. The team may be able to delay the inevitable by DL-ing Santander for a while, but if both are healthy there’s just not enough room.
Assuming the Orioles keep a full seven-man bullpen - something that’s probably smart considering the starting rotation threw 110 less innings than the league-leading Blue Jays last year - that leaves four bench spots.
One will go to Caleb Joseph, and one will go to Ryan Flaherty. The other spots will presumably be outfielders, but which ones? Here’s the first problem - neither Santander nor Tavarez is a center fielder.
If Adam Jones get hurt, somebody needs to play that position. Right now the only player in the mix for the 25-man roster who’s capable of doing that is Joey Rickard, and he’s not particularly great at it. Yes, Tavarez may be a decent fielder overall with decent speed, but scouting reports indicate he’s “strictly a corner outfielder” and he didn’t play a single inning at center in 2016. If Rickard starts the season in AAA and Jones gets hurt, the O’s would have a big problem.
The second problem is that the Orioles have a pair of corner outfielders who are virtually useless against left-handed pitching. Hyun Soo Kim and Seth Smith combined to go 5 for 48 against lefties over the entire season in 2016. It’s a lock that at least one of them will sit against southpaws, and possibly both.
If both of them hit the bench against lefties, who starts at the corners? Rickard and a Rule 5 pick? That’s a scary thought. Buck Showalter certainly likes his guys, but I don’t believe he even likes them that much. He and Duquette have to know that this can’t be Plan A.
What’s more likely is that the O’s aren’t done their offseason yet. Mark Trumbo is still out there - while he struggled mightily against lefties last season (.173/.223/.385) he’s actually been slightly better against them over his career (.787 vs. .772 OPS). Last year’s splits might just be an anomaly.
If Trumbo ends up elsewhere, Franklin Gutierrez would be a good fit. I wrote about this previously, and that was before the O’s went out and acquired his actual platoon partner from the Mariners in Seth Smith. If it made sense then, it makes even more sense now.
Beyond Gutierrez, there’s Angel Pagan. If one of the Rule 5 players is going to make the team, this is probably how it would happen. Signing Pagan would give the team another potential center fielder, allowing them to stick Rickard in Norfolk and attempt to keep Santander or Tavarez.
What’s more likely, though, is that neither of them will be in an Orioles uniform come Opening Day. Fortunately, the Orioles probably won’t regret it. Tavarez is a player who’s very small, but despite his size is strictly a corner outfielder. He did hit .330 at the double-A level last year but he only walked in about 6% of his plate appearances. There’s a reason Boston left him unprotected despite his huge numbers.
Meanwhile, Santander has never played above the high-A level. If the O’s keep him they’d likely have to hide him on the roster just like Jason Garcia. It’s one thing to do that with one member of a seven-man bullpen. It’s another to do that with one member of a four-man bench on a team with a bunch of platoon outfielders.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the O’s really are done for the offseason and they like one of these players enough to give them significant playing time while they’re trying to contend. Maybe Duquette will work out a trade for one of them and stick them in triple-A.
Don’t bet on it, though. There’s a good chance that by the All-Star break, both of these players are only distant memories. If I’m wrong, the O’s might be in trouble.