When the Orioles signed Rougned Odor last November, the signing looked like something of a standard in the Mike Elias era. It was a low-cost acquisition thanks to the bulk of Odor’s large contract already being paid by other teams who released him. All the O’s had to do was plug in Odor as a bridge from this year to next, when a bevy of infield prospects figured to be ready.
If Odor happened to recover some of the form that allowed him to hit 30+ home runs in three previous seasons, perhaps the Orioles could even flip him at the deadline for a fringe prospect. That’s what happened with one of last year’s veteran signings, Freddy Galvis. Or if he was just so bad that not even a 100+ loss team wanted to keep him around, they could release him with little energy expended, like another of last year’s veteran signings, Maikel Franco.
In the version of the 2022 season that pretty much everyone expected had played out, with the Orioles working their way towards another miserable season, Odor might have been one more guy who came through and in several years it would be hard to remember that he was ever an Oriole.
That is not what happened this year. The Orioles surprised the world with a winning season, finishing three wins shy (if one was against the Rays) of a postseason spot. Every game played after the All-Star Game felt like it mattered, because until the O’s ultimately did slip away, they did matter. With everything under a microscope, it was easy to look around and blame the players who did not seem to be measuring up.
Odor was often at the top of that list, fueling near-daily frustrations at his continued presence in lineups. It is not hard to see why. Among regular Orioles players, he had the worst batting average and the worst OPS. The only other O’s batter who was below league average at the plate was Jorge Mateo, who offered obvious value with his speed on the bases and defense at shortstop.
Boil it all down to the Wins Above Replacement number on Baseball Reference and Odor came out at a negative number: -0.4. The Orioles would have literally been better off having a random minor leaguer playing than Odor. They had better than a random minor leaguer available! An interesting infield prospect in Terrin Vavra was on the roster starting in late July, often on the bench while Odor played. This remains an understandable source of frustration.
Why did they play Odor so often? There is not a satisfactory on paper answer to the question. He was bad at the measurable aspects of being a hitter and fielder. But the Orioles kept plugging him in there. We know that the Orioles are not run by idiots. Elias and company seem like smart guys with a plan that we can now see starting to come together. They must have had some reason.
Phrases like “clubhouse chemistry” and “veteran presence” seem like they are most often thrown around by the kinds of people who haven’t had a new thought about baseball in the 21st century. That’s largely the province of hack columnists and talk radio callers. We’re both too hip for that kind of dinosaur stuff.
And yet... there was something about Rougned, wasn’t there? Almost on a daily basis he was doing something odd and goofy that made it more fun to be watching the Orioles. Beat writer Zachary Silver occasionally added to a tweet thread of out-of-context screenshots that alternate between moments where you can’t help but chuckle and those where you can’t help but smile.
The guy was a delight. When the Orioles unveiled the “Chaos” slogan late in the season, the Odor experience where you never quite know what he’s going to be seen doing, in a fun way, was surely part of that. If his OPS was something like 50 points higher, this might be the primary takeaway that a lot of Orioles fans would have about him.
One of the other habits peculiar to Odor is his tendency to take it upon himself to initiate a mound meeting with a pitcher who seems to be teetering on the edge. You can watch a lot of games and you just aren’t going to see many infielders do this. They might come in and join a meeting after the pitching coach has already come out, but that’s it. Odor would just march right out there and say whatever it is he would say.
On more than one occasion, Odor exercised this by going out to talk to Félix Bautista at times where the O’s newly-minted closer was on the verge of falling apart. After that, as if Odor had said some magic words, Bautista settled down and got back to the business of closing out wins. Maybe this was coincidence. Maybe Odor’s little pep talk was superfluous, and Bautista was bound to figure it out anyway. It’s not so farfetched, though, that a veteran Spanish-speaking player could make an impact on a less-MLB-experienced (if not actually much younger) Spanish-speaking player.
None of the above is enough to overcome, for me, the annoyance that the team didn’t try to improve on its worst-performing position during the season. Elias brought Odor onto the team when it seemed like there were no expectations, so it didn’t really matter. Once the team showed some quality, they needed to do better than Odor.
There was a chance to do this in-season ahead of the trade deadline. They made no meaningful external additions and only subtracted. And Odor kept playing near-daily, presumably with some level of blessing from Elias. He could have been a goof from the bench while Vavra tried to show if his minor league on-base skills would translate to MLB. That is just not the decision the Orioles made. It is weird.
Odor is on the list of memorable one-year Orioles. Not all of them are good memories, but hey, the guy made an impression. He was a part of the team that won 31 more games than last year’s team did. By the numbers, Odor wasn’t a big part, or any part, of the reason why this occurred. Team management seems to have valued his presence anyway. Hopefully the next big clubhouse guy the O’s find has “actually a good MLB player” as one of his qualities in addition to the ephemeral team chemistry stuff.
Tomorrow: Ryan McKenna