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Roster moves looming for the Orioles with Means and possibly Davis

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Combine Chris Davis’ mysterious absence last night with the imminent return of ace John Means and it would seem the Orioles could have multiple potential roster moves to make.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Most of you are familiar with the general timeline at this point. The Orioles traveled to Miami after their game in Boston on Sunday and the following morning news broke that multiple Marlins players had tested positive for coronavirus. The Orioles’ two games in Miami and the following two against the Marlins in Baltimore were postponed, with the Fish getting their schedule paused by MLB until at least Monday.

Sometime in there, when the Orioles were stuck in limbo, Chris Davis expressed increased concern and an intention to start wearing a mask at first base. Then before the Yankees game yesterday evening at Camden Yards, the O’s announced that Davis was not at the ballpark, having been designated as ‘unavailable’ while manager Brandon Hyde declined to share any possible re-entry date.

It is speculation at this point, but if Davis is placed on the COVID-19 related injured list, is symptomatic, or has decided to opt-out of the season, the Orioles will need to make other arrangements.

One of the most high profile potential additions would be number four on the Orioles top prospect rankings. The arguments against Ryan Mountcastle’s promotion in the past were his arbitration clock, lack of a true position in the field and low rate of walks versus strikeouts.

Although he was drafted 36th overall in 2015 out of Florida as a high school shortstop, he has since moved to third base and is now more of a left-fielder/first-baseman type. If Davis is out for a longer period of time, the O’s can fill a positional need with Mountcastle on either an occasional or rotational basis.

The Super Two deadline has yet to truly be determined for this season and again, that’s where things really get murky. But given the circumstances, when does the potential risk/price tag of promoting Mountcastle to the majors outweigh the developmental cost of missing an entire year of game action?

The young right-handed power hitter turned 23 years old in February and has been in pro ball since 2015, earning a stop at every rung of the minor league ladder along the way, including 553 plate appearances in 127 games with Triple-A Norfolk last year.

Can a hitter like Mountcastle reach the ceiling of someone like maybe Adam Jones? In 14 years in the majors, Jones hit .277/.317/.454/.771. In five seasons in the minors, Mountcastle has hit .295/.328/.471/.799. Both are aggressive, free-swingers with power who are not known for taking walks.

GM Mike Elias discussed the potential of Mountcastle’s MLB debut this year and the need for him to focus on defense in left field and walk rate recently in this piece.

Another potential candidate for promotion could be 25-year-old Dilson Herrera, a member of the three-man taxi squad. He’s put up a batting line of .289/.354/.465 across parts of nine minor league seasons and a .203/.293/.394 line in three MLB seasons, the most recent of which came with the Reds in 2018.

Herrera does possess the type of versatility that the Orioles are known to value. Over the course of his career, he’s seen time at first, second, third and both outfield corners. It’s drawn from a small sample size but his strongest position in the majors — and the only one at which he has garnered a positive UZR rating (1.5) — is second base.

On the other hand, if the Orioles want to lean in a pitcher-heavy direction they could replace Davis with John Means, who is rumored to be starting tomorrow night against the Yankees.

Among the various changes being made to rosters and transactions during this irregular season, Mark Feinsand reported in late June that there is no maximum for the number of pitchers a team may carry. Even though they currently have 16 pitchers on the active roster, maybe the Birds can get by for a while with some combination of Rio Ruiz, Renato Nunez and someone like Pat Valaika.

If the Orioles were to make multiple moves, keep in mind the active roster players with the least amount of playing time so far. Not counting backup catcher Chance Sisco, the four position players with the fewest at-bats are Valaika (6), Dwight Smith Jr. (5), Cedric Mullins (3) and Andrew Velazquez (1). The only pitcher yet to appear in a game is Kohl Stewart.

Another facet of the 2020 rules relayed by Feinsand is the incremental reduction of roster size as the season goes on. Two weeks into the season rosters go from 30 players to 28, and two weeks after that, down to 26. So the roster decisions are only going to get more difficult as time goes on.

We should be expecting a lot of creative roster shuffling in the midst of such an unusual season. And it could start happening soon.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.