The Orioles have been trying to solve their corner outfield problem for years now. Their preferred method has been to bring in low risk, medium reward types of players and hope for the best. It’s been a bit of a disaster. In 2017, three of those guys made the Opening Day roster and served as regular bench options. It’s quite possible that none of them return to the big leagues in 2018.
Trey Mancini, despite his defensive deficiencies, appears to be the left fielder of the foreseeable future. Until Adam Jones moves away from center field, it would seem the O’s want to see what Austin Hays and Anthony Santander can do in right field for an extended period of time. That means Joey Rickard could see a lot of innings with the Norfolk Tides next year, Craig Gentry may have to find yet another organization and that Hyun Soo Kim is not coming back to Baltimore in free agency.
Rule five running out of time
Rickard has the best chance to make an impact on the Orioles going forward. While he certainly has his flaws, he showed that he has the ability to be a more than serviceable fourth outfielder in the bigs.
The 26-year-old played in 111 games last year. In 107 of them, he saw time in the field; 53 games in right field, 43 in left and 21 in center. Across all three positions he had a 5.8 UZR, a big step up from the -9.9 UZR he had a season earlier. Better yet, he had a positive UZR at every position individually, even in center. His favored spot, however, was in right where he boasted a 5.2 UZR and a 1.2 ARM rating.
Any enthusiasm gained by his work with the leather was lost when he swung the lumber. Rickard took a step back in just about every offensive category. His final slash line of .241/.276/.345 is not pretty. Add to it that he walked just 3.2 percent of the time while striking out 22.7 percent of the time, and it gets uglier. However, he was one of the O’s few standouts on the bases, successfully swiping eight bags in nine attempts.
Rickard isn’t going anywhere. As long as the O’s keep offering contracts, he can’t become a free agent until 2022. And he has options remaining, so he could always ride the Norfolk shuttle for the year. It’s becoming clear that the left-handed thrower and right-handed hitter isn’t an everyday major leaguer, but he does provide value with his glove and his legs. He will surely see time in Baltimore next season, but it could be on a sporadic basis.
The emergence of Rickard could mean Gentry’s time in the Charm City is up. The soon-to-be 34-year-old has a similar skillset to his younger teammate, but is more expensive, more likely to decline and out of options.
For Gentry to still be playing in the majors is incredible itself. In the three seasons prior to this, he had played in a total of 134 MLB games. He battled injuries and poor play between 2014 and 2016 to stay relevant. Despite being a long shot from day one, Gentry made the Orioles’ Opening Day roster in 2017 and then appeared in 77 games along the way as a pinch-runner, defensive replacement and occasional starter.
His performance left a bit to be desired. He only hit .257/.333/.386 with two home runs and 11 RBI in 101 at-bats, swiped just five bags in nine attempts, and had a -0.5 UZR when he was meant to be a defensive specialist. It all added up to a WAR somewhere between 0.1 (Fangraphs) and 0.2 (Baseball Reference).
Could Gentry return next year? It seems unlikely. Although much is written about the O’s lack of minor league talent, the talent they do have is all in the outfield (Hays, D.J. Stewart, Cedric Mullins, maybe Ryan Mountcastle). Many of them are getting awfully close. Giving a major league contract to a veteran that provides little statistical value seems like an unnecessary road block.
He’s gone but not forgotten. Just before the non-waiver trade deadline in July, Hyun Soo Kim was sent to the Philadelphia Phillies, along with Garrett Cleavinger, in exchange for Jeremy Hellickson. It brought an end to what was a brief, but strange, career in Baltimore for Kim.
Once the South Korean was given regular game time in 2016, he was a steady contributor with a .302/.382/.420 slash line and perhaps the biggest home run of the O’s season. Heading in 2017, it was assumed he would start in left field consistently. It never really happened and the left-handed hitter slumped to a .232/.305/.288 line with one home run and 10 RBI before being dealt.
Kim was bad. There is no doubt about it. His value is limited to his bat because he is a slow runner and a below average defender. The Orioles wanted to compete and couldn’t afford to have too many holes in the lineup. It makes sense. But his 2016 performance earned him a longer leash than he was given.
In 56 games with Baltimore, Kim was given 125 at-bats. That’s a little over two at-bats per game. He was routinely pulled late in games, sometimes as early as the sixth inning, in order to remove his glove from the outfield. How can anyone get in an offensive rhythm with a sporadic experience like that.
Other times he would go days without playing. For example, on April 8, Kim went 3-for-4 against the Yankees. Then, he didn’t play again until April 14. Why? The Orioles faced three left handed pitchers and a knuckle-baller. So? Kim has barely even been given the chance to face left-handed pitching in the bigs. He has two hits in 33 at-bats lifetime. It’s such a small sample size that it doesn’t even matter.
After the move to Philly, Kim was treated the exact same way and ended up hitting .230/.309/.299 in 40 games with the Phillies. The outfielder now becomes a free agent with an uncertain future.
During the 2016 season with Baltimore, Kim proved he is good enough to play at the game’s highest level when given consistent playing time. Throughout the 2017 season, he showed that he is a poor bench option, even in the NL where he would be likely to play every single day, even if it was just as a late-inning pinch hitter.
Kim turns 30 years old in January. He still has plenty of “good” years left. However, it seems unlikely that a major league team would be interested in signing him to be their starting left fielder or DH for the upcoming season.
Instead, he may have to settle for a minor league deal with a spring invite. The free agent told reporters last week that he was “quite disappointed” with the season that just ended while leaving open both the possibility of return to the United States to play in MLB (or MiLB) or heading back to Korea full-time.