If a team finishes the season with triple digits in the loss column, it’s a safe bet that several things went wrong. When a team finishes 47-115, it’s hard to imagine that anything went right. The Orioles outfield did not lack drama or disappointment this past year, but it may be the one area where Baltimore could have a surplus of talent moving forward.
From Craig Gentry to DJ Stewart, the Orioles started a variety of different outfielders in 2018. There were young guys like Stewart and Cedric Mullins, veterans like Gentry and Colby Rasmus (yeah, that was this year), and former All Stars like Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo.
With the club leaving some players in the past, it will be forced to evaluate and decide who should factor into the rebuild. Some decisions may be easy, but others, like what to do with 27-year-old Joey Rickard, are a little more complex.
Rickard performed how most people expected him to in 2018. He bounced between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk, and provided a serviceable effort when called upon. The Las Vegas native hit .244 in 213 at bats this season. He finished the year with eight home runs and 23 RBIs.
In a year where Baltimore played Adam Jones in center for too long and allowed Mark Trumbo to play the outfield, Rickard played acceptable defense in all three corner outfield positions. He certainly didn’t blow anyone away with his “D,” but there’s something to be said about playing average on a below average team.
In the 85 games that Rickard spent with the Orioles, he played 40 in right field, 36 in left, and nine at center for Baltimore. The Orioles expect Mullins to be their every day center fielder next season, and Rickard does not profile as a starter there anyway, but his ability to back up all three spots goes a long way.
It’s been suggested that Rickard has reached his ceiling as a player, and that’s entirely possible. The Rays did not feel the need to protect him prior to the 2016 season, and Baltimore selected him in the Rule 5 draft. He’s been a commodity over the last three years, but hasn’t been able to lock down a starting job.
His numbers from this past year resemble his career totals in Baltimore. Since the Orioles invested in him in 2016, he’s hit .252 in 731 at bats. He’s totaled a .8 WAR, and finished this past year with a .4 WAR.
His role moving forward in Baltimore likely hinges on what the next front office/manager decides to do with a variety of players. Will Trey Mancini still be relegated to the outfield with Chris Davis at first base? Will Mark Trumbo be healthy and remain on the roster? Will Stewart break camp with the team? These will all be factors in where Rickard ends up.
Again, because the Orioles know what they have in Rickard, it may not depend on just his performance. If the club sees enough upside in Stewart or John Andreoli, they’ll likely earn a roster spot over Rickard. The Orioles have taken advantage of player options in the past, which has resulted in Rickard riding the Norfolk shuttle, and that’s entirely possible again in 2019. That being said, another young gun could be optioned in favor of Rickard.
Rickard’s speed and defensive flexibility both make him an attractive bench candidate. Even though he only stole four bases last year, and only has 16 career steals, he’s still quicker than Trumbo or Mancini.
Joey Rickard could serve as a backup outfielder on a winning team, so he could certainly provide depth for the 2019 Orioles. That being said, he’s not the type of player that needs to be held onto at all costs. He’ll likely spend at least some time in Baltimore next season, but there’s no way of knowing whether he’ll be on the next winning team in Baltimore.
With a new administration in place, Rickard will have a chance to impress during spring training. They say that luck is when preparation meets opportunity, whether Rickard needs some luck to make the club next year remains to be seen.