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Trumbo’s pending return will create roster decisions for Orioles

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Trumbo, Davis, Mancini, Stewart, Smith, and Nunez are a lot of players to rotate into the corner outfield, DH, and first base spots. Who will be the roster casualties and how will playing time be distributed?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Minnesota Twins Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Trumbo beginning his rehab assignment creates an interesting and somewhat awkward situation in Birdland. Most Orioles fans who have bought into The Rebuild are probably not extremely excited about Trumbo coming back to the team. Even if he performs at his 2016 level, he won’t turn this O’s club into a winner. He will also be taking a roster spot from a younger player. But if the Orioles want to get something, anything, in return for him at the trade deadline, he needs to play and prove himself to other clubs.

At this point, I would much rather watch the future of the Orioles rather than the past. But Mike Elias surely wants to showcase Trumbo for potential trade partners; such a move would not only clear a roster spot permanently for a young player but also shed some salary. Trumbo will get playing time when he returns.

According to MASN’s Steve Melewski, Brandon Hyde indicated that Trumbo’s rehab assignment has been mapped out for “weeks” so creating a spot for him doesn’t need to happen immediately. Trumbo himself said that he may take the entire 20 days allowed for a minor league rehab stint.

Up to this point in the season, Trumbo’s absence has meant that the Orioles have not faced a first base/designated hitter/corner outfield logjam. Chris Davis has been the primary first baseman and Trey Mancini has played 37 games in right field, allowing Renato Nunez’s bat to get in the lineup at designated hitter. Recent developments have changed that arrangement. Davis went on the disabled list with a sore hip and DJ Stewart was recalled. Stewart’s promotion doesn’t feel like a short term injury fill-in. The former first round pick has been tearing up AAA and Hyde said “This is a position player who’s going to get a lot of everyday at-bats. I think DJ is a part of the future and I think DJ is somebody who’s going to swing the bat well.”

When Davis is healthy enough to return (there have been no indications if he’ll be ready after ten days is up) and Trumbo’s rehab assignment ends, the Orioles could have some difficult roster decisions to make. Trumbo, Davis, Mancini, Stewart, and Dwight Smith Jr. are five players who need to fit into right field, left field, first base, and DH. That is before factoring Nunez, who has been the primary DH, into the equation.

An argument could made that all six of those players should receive significant playing time. Trumbo needs to be showcased for a potential trade. Mancini has been the club’s best hitter. The Warehouse seems intent on getting Davis back to form. Smith has been a pleasant surprise. Stewart was first round pick and got a vote of confidence from Hyde. So who is removed from the roster? How will Hyde write out his lineups?

While they have made some solid contributions, I would remove Hanser Alberto and Rio Ruiz when needed. Ruiz has slashed a pedestrian .239/.318/.346 with four home runs and 14 RBI in 159 at bats. He has provided above average defense at third base (two defensive runs saved, 1.9 UZR). Ruiz has a minor league option remaining and could be sent down to the minors if the Orioles want to keep him in the organization.

Alberto is out of options and would need to be passed through waivers if the O’s try to send him to the minors. He has performed admirably, slashing .302/.317/.403 (entering last night’s game) and providing defensive versatility. The small gap between his batting average and on base percentage is troubling, but he is giving the Orioles more than they expected and has accumulated 0.9 WAR. It is very possible that he passes through waivers and stays in the organization, but he is 26 years old and doesn’t project as a building block.

Replacing Ruiz and Mancini with Trumbo and Davis would have some positive and negative consequences. It would allow Stevie Wilkerson to take some of Alberto’s starts at second and third base. Wilkerson has shown signs of life with his bat, swatting five home runs. The acquisition of Keon Broxton has pushed him out of the center field gig he fell into. Though he is actually a year older than Alberto, he seems to have a slightly higher ceiling and could benefit from an extended stint in the majors. At this stage of a rebuild, the homegrown Wilkerson deserves a look.

Unfortunately, such an arrangement would require Nunez to grab a glove and play third base occasionally. Despite coming up as a third baseman, his suspect defense has resulted in him playing exactly one inning there this season. There would also be no easy solution answer when trying to fit Smith and Stewart into the same lineup. If Mancini is pushed to a corner outfield spot, those two will compete for the other. With both batting from the left side, a platoon situation is not an option.

It is possible that Hyde could get very creative with his lineups and rotate all of the above players in, giving each a day off about once a week. He has shown the ability to be flexible with his lineups. The best case scenario is Trumbo heating up and being traded for a shred of value, lessening this logjam. While his contributions to the Orioles are appreciated (pie situation notwithstanding), I don’t care to see him in orange and black after July 31.

We were told that the first year of a rebuild is painful. Here I am wondering which marginal major leaguers should receive playing time and roster spots. Let’s hope things get better in Birdland soon. Until then, how do you want to see the Orioles roster being constructed upon Trumbo’s return?