This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each of the 38 players currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.
There was a time when the news item of the Orioles signing Rougned Odor would have been some cause for celebration in these parts. Probably around the time Odor was in his mid-20s and hitting 111 home runs over four seasons, and making a name for himself as potentially the best up-and-coming power hitter at the second base position.
If Odor’s name sounds familiar, part of the reason is because you probably remember him being one of the second basemen everyone was trying to grab in your fantasy baseball drafts.
The reason, however, that Odor is in Baltimore and not, say, a team with a prayer of contention this season (if it happens) is that those days feel longer ago than they are. After topping 30 home runs three times from 2016-19, the 28-year-old’s bat has hit the skids. In 2020 he hit 10 home runs in 38 games, but batted .167 with a .623 OPS. Last year, he batted .202 with 15 home runs and a .665 OPS for the Yankees. And now, he’s here.
This isn’t the first time the Orioles have tried the reclamation project route. And some of them have worked. J.J. Hardy looked washed up when he came to Baltimore, but upon moving into Camden Yards turned back into one of the top power-hitting shortstops in the American League. Freddy Galvis came here last year after seeing his stats dip for a few seasons, and turned in a solid, if not spectacular, .720 OPS before being dealt to Philadelphia.
Of course, for cases like those two, there are those like Yolmer Sanchez, the former Gold Glover for the White Sox who was supposed to provide some stability at second base and instead ended up playing as many regular season games with the Orioles as you and I did after being cut in spring training.
Odor is the latest example, and it’s hard to believe he’s in this position after the start he enjoyed to his career. In 2016, a 22-year-old Odor hit .271 with 33 home runs and a .798 OPS. He slumped to .204/30/.649 the next year, but batted .253 with 18 home runs in 2018 and then in 2019 hit 30 home runs with 93 RBI. But even though Odor had signed a $49.5 million extension in 2017, the trend we see today had begun, and Odor hit only .205 while striking out 178 times during that last 30-homer season.
So it’s a low-risk, moderate-to-high-reward scenario to roll the dice on Odor, whose all-or-nothing approach at the plate has now worn out its welcome with two teams, but its a sensible one for the Orioles. They’re not close enough to competing to warrant throwing money at a legitimate candidate for the revolving door at second base (or any position, really) and they don’t have someone yet ready in the pipeline to step right up and take over. So stopgaps are the solution, and hey, you might as well go with a stopgap who has shown a few times he can hit 30 balls out of the ballpark.
Odor also comes cheap. The Yankees and Rangers are on the hook for his salary, and he’ll likely play this season for the league minimum salary. Given his experience and the lack of surefire candidates for second base around him, he’s likely going to be the favorite to begin the season as the Opening Day starter at second, unless his performance in spring training (again, should it happen) is just wretched and gives no indication of an ability for him to find his form from earlier in his career.
If it does look like Odor has righted the ship, then the lightning the Orioles are looking to catch in the bottle could be pretty good. Something like 30 home runs, double-digit steals and solid defense are within reach. The ship has probably sailed on Odor ever being a hitter for even a respectable average, but if he’s providing power and batting around .220, the Orioles would probably gladly take that.
Of course, that could just as easily be 15-20 home runs and a .190 average. That’s the risk you run, but the Orioles are probably well aware of it.
End-of-year prediction: Odor’s batting average continues to hover around the Mendoza line, but aided by Oriole Park’s friendly right field porch, his power returns and he’s again in the mid-20s in home runs. He’s a good bet to stay with the big club, but if his play is good enough to warrant interest from other clubs, the Orioles won’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
Tuesday: Joey Krehbiel