Remember those long summers of yesteryear watching the Orioles fall out of the pennant race by Father’s Day? Well, those were the good old days. With Mother’s Day nearly a week away, the 2018 Orioles are already 17 games out of first place and 12 away from the second wild card spot. Sure they have more than 125 games to play, but their 8-26 record puts them in one mother of a predicament.
While it may seem way too early to give up on a season, it certainly isn’t too soon to stop thinking about how things could have been different had Dan Duquette and Brady Anderson addressed the team’s needs properly in the offseason. One glaring and disregarded priority was to improve upon last year’s team OBP of .312, which was second to last in the A.L.
Incredibly, their 2018 OBP is now 20 points lower at .292, placing them at the very bottom of the league.
Of course, it’s infuriating that this wasn’t a new problem to be solved – it’s been a key reason why this team hasn’t been able to get over the hump for years. While other teams have chosen to value high contact rates and working the count, the Orioles have decided to keep riding the free-swinging, homer-happy train right off the tracks.
They had an opportunity to take advantage of this past offseason’s falling price tags for free agents, especially when looking to fill their right field vacancy. There were a few left-handed hitting outfielders available who could help the team’s OBP.
As the slow-developing offseason wore on, the Orioles were said to have interest in Jarrod Dyson and Jon Jay – two solid options whose expected salaries had lessened considerably as spring training was quickly approaching.
Dyson took his .325 career OBP to Arizona, signing a two-year deal with the Diamondbacks on February 19. It seemed obvious that the Orioles weren’t going to offer anyone a two-year deal and that may have worked out in Dyson’s case. So far, he’s not adjusting well to the National League, hitting .165/. 233/.329 through his first 79 at-bats.
But it was two days after the Dyson signing when the Orioles made their big mistake. Jay and his career .355 OBP still remained on the market. But the Birds opted for the oft-injured Colby Rasmus, signing him to a minor-league deal instead of going hard after Jay.
This seemed like an odd choice given that Rasmus had voluntarily left the Rays last July after appearing in just 37 games, dealing with a slow recovery after hip surgery. How could the health-conscious Orioles rely on a guy with this kind of history – and just a .310 career OBP?
Recovering from significant hip damage can’t be easy, and Rasmus made the Opening Day roster despite looking a bit scrawny, like a guy who hadn’t been able to work out much. Maybe he wasn’t ready. He had 23 plate appearances and a .174 OBP before suffering a hip flexor strain and hasn’t been seen in an Orioles uniform since April 6.
I did, however, see his doppelganger the other day, wearing a tank top and smoking a cigarette on 36th street in Hampden.
As for Jon Jay, the worst part is that he ended up signing a team-friendly, $3 million one-year contract with the Royals – the same deal Rasmus got from the Orioles once he was added to the major-league roster. Jay has played in 32 of KC’s 34 games, maintaining an OBP of .345 over 123 at-bats. This would be good for second, behind Manny Machado, for the Birds.
The Orioles’ primary 2018 right fielder has been Rule 5 keeper Anthony Santander. He may have the muscle tone that Rasmus lacks, but his .247 OBP shows he’s not yet ready for prime time. Thankfully, his required playing time in order to keep him on the team, due to his Rule 5 status, is coming to an end. But who can replace him?
After missing out on signing Jay, the Orioles signed veteran Michael Saunders to a minor-league contract as a depth deal, despite playing in more than 73 MLB games just once in the past four seasons. That was his All-Star 2016 year when he produced a respectable .338 OBP and 24 homers. But with a career OBP of just .305 and history of health issues, he wasn’t a good bet to contribute to the big-league team.
And it doesn’t look like he will anytime soon. Through Saturday at AAA Norfolk, Saunders is hitting just .173/.319/.280 in 75 at-bats.
Perhaps the biggest reason why the Orioles didn’t try harder to sign a legitimate right fielder is their faith that Austin Hays would be ready to produce as an everyday major league outfielder this year. He’s a legitimate prospect, but his current .243/.293/.449 slash line playing for AA Bowie doesn’t scream it’s time.
But the Orioles’ options are limited, and Hays may need to heed the call sooner rather than later. He is currently riding a seven-game hit streak, going 9-for-31, but hasn’t drawn a walk in his past 11 games and has just eight on the year. Let’s hope he can channel his .359 minor league career OBP whenever he joins the team.