The Baltimore Orioles and Manager Buck Showalter continue to discuss the need for a utility infielder on the Orioles’ roster, but that just doesn’t make sense.
The utility infielder is a key piece on some teams, but not for the Baltimore Orioles, at least right now. Often, teams in the National League, where double switches happen, a utility infielder is a useful commodity.
On a team where there isn’t as much flexibility in the infield, a utility infielder is useful. Say, for example, the Texas Rangers. Adrian Beltre isn’t playing second base or shortstop. Neither is Joey Gallo. Elvis Andrus has never played second base in the major leagues, and Rougned Odor has never played shortstop. They can use a utility infielder.
A team that has established players at every position can use a utility infielder. For example, if Ben Zobrist is a utility infielder for the Chicago Cubs, it is because the team is established throughout their starting lineup.
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The Baltimore Orioles do not need a utility infielder. Yes, Ryan Flaherty had a role on the Orioles’ roster. He was the backup at third base and second base, and if J.J. Hardy got hurt, would probably enter the game when Manny Machado shifted to shortstop, or he would play shortstop himself. He also could play the outfield, including center field.
No, Flaherty was not a great hitter, but he was a very good hitter, and he did his job well, as Dan Connolly of Baltimore Baseball wrote eloquently earlier today. But, he is in Philadelphia, which I believe is good for the Orioles. However, the talk of needing a utility infielder remain.
There are several flaws in this logic.
Flaw No. 1: The Orioles already have a utility infielder on their roster
His name is Tim Beckham. Beckham can play second base (173 games), shortstop (77 games), and we will find out if he can play third base (9 games) in the near future.
Sure, he hasn’t played the outfield before. But, we will get to why that isn’t a big deal in a moment.
In addition, the Orioles’ shortstop, Manny Machado, can play third base in a pinch. I mean, he is a Gold Glove third baseman…
Jonathan Schoop has played a little bit of shortstop.
Flaw No. 2: The Orioles roster constraints
The Orioles need to keep Anthony Santander on the roster for 44 days as a Rule 5 pick. After that, they can and nearly certainly will send him to the minor leagues.
That’s one roster spot on the bench. Another goes to the backup catcher, whoever that ends up being. That’s two.
A third will go to a reserve outfielder. That player could be Austin Hays, although one would think the Orioles may want him to get regular at-bats. It could be Joey Rickard. It could be Craig Gentry.
That leaves one bench spot left. Ideally, you would want someone who is a strong pinch-hitter, a luxury the Orioles have never had. They don’t have any options like this on the roster, or in the minor leagues. Maybe resigning someone like Chris Johnson or Pedro Alvarez could fill this role.
Or, maybe Chance Sisco is your best pinch hitter. But, then you likely need a third catcher.
Flaw No. 3: The current Orioles competing as utility players
Ruben Tejada, Luis Sardinas, Erick Salcedo, Engelb Vielma and Garabez Rosa. These five are competing for the utility spot. Four are glove-first players. The other, Rosa, has been in the Orioles’ system for a long, long time.
The Orioles are a team that it appears are going to need to outhit opponents. So, the player that replaces Manny Machado or Jonathan Schoop in the lineup will need to be someone who has a bat. Now, this is looking at the current roster. If the Orioles sign Eduardo Nunez or Erick Aybar, then I would change my mind.
With the flexibility offered by the Orioles’ starting infield, a utility infielder is a player that just doesn’t seem necessary.
If an injury happened to one of these starters, the Orioles would be able to get through the game. They could move Chris Davis to third base, replace the injured player, put Mark Trumbo at first base, lose the DH and move on with life.
Yes, a roster move would then need to be made, but why hold a spot for a what-if?
One other option that could come to fruition if the Orioles did not hold a spot for a utility infielder would be the ability to carry 13 pitchers. This is an option, that quite frankly, the Orioles need.
Even if Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Collin McHugh or another solid starter is on the roster, that still leaves two spots likely occupied by a Rule 5 pick and converted reliever. There likely will be hiccups.
Having the option to mix and match in the bullpen would help keep players like Brad Brach fresh.
It would also be beneficial while the team does not have their All-Star closer to shutting down the ninth inning.
Maybe not carrying a utility infielder wouldn’t work for an entire season. However, there are enough rest days in the first month-plus that the Orioles could do it until Santander’s Rule 5 status is up.
A lot of this can change with the amount of quality free agents available. Maybe Mike Moustakas ends up in Baltimore. Or one of the above-mentioned utility guys. Until that time, the Orioles should plan on moving forward with more roster flexibility. Just say no to a utility infielder.