The Orioles made a tough decision, but the right one on Wednesday.
Delmon Young should never have to pay for a meal in Baltimore again after his three-run double in Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series last October, but the 29-year-old was caught up in the numbers game this year. And when the roster consists of several platoon outfielders, it boils down to versatility and how many different ways you can help your club win.
Beyond a decent .270 average, the offensive numbers weren’t pretty for Young as his 2.2 percent walk rate was the worst on the club and his .339 slugging percentage was lower than even the likes of Ryan Flaherty (.400) and David Lough (.340). Despite collecting eight outfield assists, his defensive limitations made Young the most vulnerable of the fringe players on the roster.
In contrast, Steve Pearce can fill a similar role against left-handed pitching while being able to play multiple positions at a higher level. Though his health is always a question, Nolan Reimold has power, solid defensive ability, and better speed. And even the maligned David Lough fills a bigger need — for now — as the backup center fielder until Adam Jones proves his right shoulder injury is completely in the rear-view mirror.
Last season, Young was in the perfect role in making just 56 starts — most of them against left-handed pitching — with the Orioles having a fixture in Nick Markakis in right field. However, Showalter being forced to mix and match at both corner outfield spots this year — with disappointing results — eventually led to the additions of Nolan Reimold and Chris Parmelee to the 25-man roster last month and a reduction in Young’s playing time.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would be wise in attempting to deal Young to a National League contender looking for a right-handed bat off the bench. Given his reputation in the postseason, you’d hate to see the Orioles potentially cross paths with Young this October — or sooner — if he were to end up with an AL club.
With the Orioles still wanting to activate second baseman Jonathan Schoop sooner rather than later, Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will face another difficult decision with so many outfielders remaining on the roster.
However, let’s not forget that these outfielders are all complementary pieces at the end of the day. The Orioles may not consider these as easy decisions, but parting ways with Young — or whoever else they might have chosen — was never going to make or break the season in the long run.
** Another reason why the Orioles felt they were able to part ways with Young was the emergence of Jimmy Paredes, who has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2015 season with a .319 average, 10 home runs, and an .867 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Thursday.
Paredes serving extensively as the designated hitter further diminished the need for Young, and the former’s most recent hot streak likely provided the final confirmation that the Orioles needed.
After hitting a remarkable .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year, Paredes’ good fortune had appeared to run out when he went through a nightmarish two-week stretch from May 28-June 10 that saw his average plummet 59 points. It appeared that opponents had finally figured out how to pitch the switch hitter during a 4-for-41 drought that included 20 strikeouts.
However, Paredes has rebounded dramatically since then, hitting .404 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 56 plate appearances. In recent weeks, he’s shown a little more discipline in laying off pitches outside the strike zone and even drew three walks during Sunday’s doubleheader.
It may be a tall order for Paredes to hit .319 the rest of the way, but he’s certainly shown enough over 242 plate appearances this season to make you think that Showalter and the Orioles have found a nugget with an intriguing future at just 26 years of age.
** Though we shouldn’t read too much into the projected starters for this weekend’s series in Chicago, it was interesting to note that Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined.
For what it’s worth, that is supposed to be Bud Norris’ next turn in the starting rotation, but Showalter revealed that the struggling right-hander will be available in relief on Thursday since Tyler Wilson was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for starter Kevin Gausman on the 25-man roster, once again leaving the Orioles with a six-man bullpen.
What happens after Thursday will be interesting with the Orioles counting down to the All-Star break, a time when they’ve gotten creative with the use of their roster over the last few years. Not only does the four-day break begin on July 13, but the Orioles also have an off-day next Thursday, which could prompt them to option a starter — maybe even two — to the minor leagues before the season’s intermission begins.
Should Gausman pitch well against Texas on Thursday, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for the Orioles to keep him around and elect to give the ball to Miguel Gonzalez on four days’ rest on Sunday, meaning they would skip Norris and use him as a long reliever for the time being. They could then option Gonzalez to the minors on Monday to give them an extra roster spot as they would only need four starters for the remainder of the first half with a day off on July 9.
This could be a desirable scenario if they would prefer Gonzalez to pitch over the break as he’s not far removed from a stint on the disabled list and has been out of sync since returning.
It’s only spit-balling and the Orioles could just as easily option Gausman to the minors immediately after Thursday’s game, but Showalter certainly left the door open to pondering the alternatives by not immediately listing Norris as his starter for the series finale against the White Sox.