The Orioles announced that first baseman Ryan O’Hearn has cleared outright waivers and been assigned to Triple-A Norfolk. He had been designated for assignment last week when the O’s claimed Lewin Díaz a second time.
O’Hearn, 29, had a strong debut in 2018. Over 44 games in that season, he hit 12 home runs and produced a batting line of .262/.353/.597. Unfortunately, he’s been struggling since that time, slashing .211/.282/.351 over the past four seasons while striking out in 26.9% of his plate appearances.
Despite that poor run of late, the Royals still believed in O’Hearn enough to tender him a contract. He and the club avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1.4MM salary for this year. They later designated him for assignment, perhaps hoping to pass him through waivers and keep him in the organization but without him taking up a roster spot. Instead, the Orioles grabbed him off waivers and are now are the beneficiaries of that plan.
O’Hearn can technically reject this outright assignment and elect free agency, since he has over three years of MLB service time. However, only players past the five-year mark can both opt for free agency and retain their salaries. Since O’Hearn is in between those two thresholds, he would have to leave that $1.4MM on the table in order to head to the open market. If there were a team in the majors that thought he was worth something in that range or higher, they surely would have put in a claim this week. That means O’Hearn’s smartest play, from a pure financial point of view, is to head to Norfolk and try to earn his way back onto the roster.
The O’s have been trying for quite some time to pass a left-handed bat through waivers to improve their depth at first base. They have twice claimed Díaz and then designated him for assignment shortly thereafter. The first time didn’t work since the Braves clearly indicated they were interested and sent cash considerations to Baltimore to acquire him. But the Braves then quickly put him on waivers themselves and the O’s swooped in with a claim yet again. Díaz has since been sent into DFA limbo by the O’s for a second time, his fifth of the offseason overall, and is still there for now. If he clears, he and O’Hearn would seemingly have to battle each other to be the one to get the call whenever the O’s feel they are ready to commit a roster spot to one of them.