The stretch run of the MLB season is nearing. Days are getting shorter, the trade deadline is in the rearview, and the potential playoff field is taking shape. As of this writing, the Orioles sit 1.5 games back of the final wild card spot in the American League with a significant three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays looming. Their magical season could be made or broken very soon.
The team’s front office made a conscious decision to not supplement the current roster with big league acquisitions at the deadline. Instead, they sent away two of their better players, Trey Mancini and Jorge López. At the time, GM Mike Elias preferred to focus on the future, saying “We want to get into the Wild Card, but it’s my job to manage the organization as a whole from top to bottom.”
That philosophy has carried into how Elias is dealing with player promotions. As fun as 2022 has been, Elias and his crew are not making moves to buoy this team’s chances at a postseason berth. Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg remain in Norfolk, and Rougned Odor continues to be the team’s everyday second baseman while Terrin Vavra DH’s or rides the big league bench.
No matter how you slice it, Odor’s numbers are bad. He has a .206/.267/.377 batting line with 11 home runs, in the field he has been worth -5 outs above average, and his Baseball Savant page is full of blue numbers. All of that has worked out to be him being a replacement level player worth 0.0 bWAR and 0.2 fWAR.
Compared to some of the awful players the Orioles have trotted out during this rebuild, though, Odor looks like a superstar. Do we need to reminisce about Pat Valaika or Maikel Franco last season, or the Chris Davis saga, or even how awful Dan Straily was way back in 2019? There have been some real stinkers that pale in comparison to 2022’s Odor.
But this year’s team is also on an entirely different plane. They are good. They have a shot at the playoffs. And it is frustrating to see the Orioles continue to give everyday at-bats to a player that could be upgraded at any moment.
We aren’t covering new ground here. Elias and manager Brandon Hyde know what Odor’s numbers are. So why does he stick around anyway?
Hyde spoke about that exact thing earlier this week, touching on his clutch at-bats, turning double plays and leadership on the infield.
“He’s got a bunch of big hits for us. I feel like he takes his best at-bats when we need it late in games.”
“I think experience on the field is very, very helpful, and to have somebody that’s been out there for multiple years, played on good teams, played in winning infields, to be able to be out there has been helpful.”
“There’s some intangibles there that you can’t measure.”
Those quotes came right after Odor had a roller coaster of a game against the Blue Jays last week. He had made a base running mistake and a pair of errors in the field before hitting the go-ahead home run. That is the full Rougie experience.
Hyde is right about the big hits, and Odor’s ability to come up clutch. According to FanGraph’s Clutch metric, Odor has been worth 0.99 wins for that ability alone. That puts him among the top 30 players in baseball, and it is twice as high as anyone else on the Orioles roster.
As for how his experience and leadership manifest, that’s tougher to quantify but it’s easy to see. There is the way in which Odor seemed to calm rookie closer Félix Bautista in a recent rough outing. There’s also the on-base binocular celebration or the home run chain, both of which were Odor’s idea.
“When you have those little things that create more energy in the team, the whole team comes together,” Odor said. “That’s the whole point: to create energy and make the team more together. I think that’s the big key to winning games.”
It’s impossible to deny that Odor has impacted the team’s clubhouse culture for the better. Has that resulted in improved play? At the very least, they seem correlated.
So where does that leave things? As good of a veteran presence as Odor brings, is that enough to overcome the slack he creates on the stat sheet?
Here’s the thing: the Orioles do not have to choose. There is room on this roster for both Odor and an alternative daily solution at second base.
If Hyde prefers Odor’s glove late in games, or his bat in clutch situations then utilize him that way when possible. If Hyde doesn’t like a starting pitching matchup for Vavra, a rookie that has some struggles against southpaws, then give Odor the start that day. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Similarly, Odor does not need to be DFA’d. Even those that are the most critical of Odor could admit that he is not the 26th man on this roster. That distinction likely belongs to Tyler Nevin, Brett Phillips, or one of the relief arms that is often bounced between Norfolk and Baltimore. Odor and Henderson, if the Orioles do choose to promote their top prospect, can co-exist on one roster and both serve a common goal of getting this team into the playoffs.
Odor is unlikely to be an Oriole in 2023. The wave of prospects is coming. Elias has committed to increasing the payroll through both arbitration raises and external recruitment, and Odor doesn’t figure to fit into those plans. But the veteran infielder has played a crucial role in 2022, and it would not hold this group back to keep him around in some edited capacity through the end of the year.