One of the more depressing things about rooting for a rebuilding baseball team is that you look around the league and see all the fans of the well-to-do teams talking about free agents like kids sharing their Christmas lists.
Yankee fans get to talk about Gerrit Cole rumors. Dodger fans get to dream of landing Anthony Rendon. Last year, you just had to look in the neighborhood to see two teams hoping for Bryce Harper.
And what do Orioles fans get? Well, we get Adeiny Hechavarria talk.
Joking aside, this is a position of need for the Orioles. Jonathan Villar is gone, and with him went a clean in-house plan for shortstop next season. Richie Martin, the only other Oriole besides Villar to play short last year, struggled at the plate and might be destined for further seasoning at Triple-A. There are no players on the big club that are ideal replacements (Pat Valaika is a shortstop, but a worse hitter than Martin. Hanser Alberto has played there, but not since he was a Ranger, and never more than nine games in a season). And there are some shortstops in the system, but none who are ready to step right in from day one this coming spring.
So that leaves the external solution, and the word began coming in late last week that Hechavarria might be the guy. Roch Kubatko had it, mentioning that there’s mutual interest, and our Tyler Young mentioned Hechavarria as a potential avenue for the Orioles during these winter meetings.
So at this point, there appears to be some smoke to the fire. Let’s roll with it and say the Orioles are thinking about making Hechavarria their shortstop for 2020. Does it work?
When it comes to the glove, it certainly does. Hechavarria, 30, has been a plus defender since he broke into the league with Toronto in 2012 and then settled in with Miami. The last time he played more than 100 games, in 2016, he had a defensive WAR of 1.6, and he was a 1.7 the year before. Elias seems to be valuing defense most at shortstop for the dual purpose of cutting costs and making life easier for the Orioles’ young pitchers, and unless Hechavarria has seen his range and skills in the field start to dip now that he’s reached 30, he fits the bill.
Offensively, there’s less to like. Hechavarria has seen his stats dip in recent years, and now is someone who doesn’t offer too much in the way of average, power or plate discipline.
Of course, you have to remember to grade it on the curve of his competition. He hit only .241 between two teams last year...but it beats Martin’s .208. His on-base percentage was only .299...but way above Martin’s .260. And if you want to compare OPS, Hechavarria’s (.742) was considerably higher than Martin’s (.581).
This isn’t to disparage Martin, who just needs a little more time and a little more work at the plate. It’s to point out instead that, even with his modest offensive abilities, Hechavarria would still be an upgrade over the current plan B.
There’s also reasonable hope that Hechavarria could see the numbers get a boost if he made Camden Yards his home. Aside from the fact that the Orioles tend to get better-than-expected production from their offensive signings thanks to Camden’s hitter-friendly confines (Mark Trumbo, Welington Castillo, J.J. Hardy, go down the list), there’s a case to be made that Hechavarria’s constant traveling made it hard for him to get into a rhythm with the bat. He played for six teams over the last three years, bouncing from one hitting coach to another, never reaching 80 games in any one location.
Over the last three years he was in one place for the whole season (2014-16), he batted .264. He hit .281 with a .315 on-base percentage in 2015, his second-to-last year in Miami. Granted, that was five years ago, but it suggests that a rejuvenation of sorts could be coming if he puts himself in a hitter’s park for the duration of the season. He’s shown before that the potential is there - and even provided a reminder last season, batting .328 with a 1.039 OPS and 159 OPS+ in 24 games with the Braves.
And that’s not getting to the best reason Hechavarria would be a fit, which is the moves that came earlier — and, specifically, the message they sent. If anyone needed a reminder about how committed the Orioles are to the rebuild, they provided one by sending Villar and Dylan Bundy packing. This is not a team with any pretense of winning this year, so what’s the worry if the shortstop isn’t an ace of a signing? It’s pretty low pressure, and Hechavarria seems to fit the bill — and he prevents a prospect in Martin from being rushed again at too high a level.
Overall, I’d rather have Jose Iglesias, who’s slightly younger, a more consistent hitter and a better fielder, but if his price tag is considerably higher or if other factors take him out of the equation, Hechavarria feels like a fit. He’d shore up the defense, any offense would be a bonus, and his career offers some reason to think he just might provide some.
Thoughts, O’s fans? Is Hechavarria a mistake in waiting, or the kind of player Baltimore should be considering?