An early refrain on the slowly-turning Orioles rumor mill this offseason has been their desire to find a left-handed first baseman/corner outfield/designated hitter-type player. On Friday afternoon heading into next week’s winter meetings, they found a pair of guys who could be competing for that kind of role. FanSided’s Robert Murray first reported on a minor league agreement between the O’s and Franchy Cordero, while the O’s also claimed Lewin Díaz off the waiver wire from the Pirates.
These moves were part of a flurry on the fringe of the O’s roster. In addition to the claim of Díaz, the Orioles also announced that two other outfielders on the 40-man roster have been kicked off. Former Astros/Tigers prospect Daz Cameron was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk, while outfielder Jake Cave, claimed a couple of months ago, was in turn claimed by the Phillies.
Cordero is the interesting one for one simple reason: He has the capability to hit the ball very hard. That’s reflected in his being in the 99th percentile with max exit velocity as measured by MLB’s Statcast. The only MLB players who’ve ever hit a ball harder in a game than Cordero’s hardest-hit of 118.6mph since tracking began in 2015 are Giancarlo Stanton (six times), Aaron Judge (twice), Kyle Schwarber (once), and Manny Machado (once). That’s it.
You might wonder why Cordero had to settle for a minor league contract when that’s a fact about him. Cordero is fresh off a 2022 campaign in which he batted .219/.300/.397 and also missed the last month of the season with an ankle injury. The 28-year-old has played in parts of six MLB seasons but has only accumulated 726 plate appearances for the Padres, Royals, and Red Sox, with a career .676 OPS. His 84 games played in 2022 were a career high.
Boston declined to tender Cordero a contract for 2023 rather than have him on the books for a projected $1.5 million salary. According to Murray, Cordero’s minor league deal with the O’s will pay him $1.35 million if he makes the big league team, and $400,000 in the minors. There are worse guys to have around in Triple-A - and in the spring training mix - in case things finally come together for him.
Díaz, 26, was designated for assignment by the Pirates when they signed veteran first baseman Carlos Santana earlier this week. His career to date has the hallmarks of being a “Quad-A” player - one who’s clearly too good for Triple-A but not able to make it in MLB.
After receiving a seven-figure bonus from the Twins in the 2013 J2 international amateur class, Díaz didn’t make it to a full season affiliate until 2017. He finally popped on prospect radars when he hit 27 home runs between High-A and Double-A in the 2019 season. During that season, Díaz was included in a trade that sent him to Miami for reliever Sergio Romo. (Also in the trade was current Orioles 40-man roster pitcher Chris Vallimont.)
Díaz had 20 home runs in 74 games in Triple-A in 2021, and 19 home runs in 82 games at that level this past season. That’s quality power, at least against Triple-A pitching.
Since the 2020 season, Díaz has also gotten big league time each year with Miami, combining to bat .181/.227/.340 in 112 games. That’s not very good, but the Triple-A success does make him an interesting guy to have in the mix. If the O’s are active on the free agent market, Díaz may not even make it to spring training. He is out of minor league options, hence why he’s gone from Miami to Pittsburgh to Baltimore in the span of ten days.
The Orioles might want to see what he shows in camp, too. He is also a hard-hitter, if not quite as much as Cordero. Díaz’s max exit velo was 81st percentile in MLB this season. While Cordero is surprisingly speedy for a big man (84th percentile???), Díaz moves at a more tectonic pace and is in the 5th percentile.
These are nice depth moves with some real apparent upside to them. If either guy finds another gear with the Orioles and while Ryan Mountcastle’s actual numbers don’t start to live up to his x-stats, it’s not hard to see how they’d get playing time on a contending 2023 Orioles team.
Now, Mike Elias, please go get some better pitchers for the starting rotation.