The Orioles have moved righty Ubaldo Jimenez to the bullpen, tweets Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. The 33-year-old Jimenez is struggling for the second consecutive season, posting a 7.17 ERA, 6.8 K/9 and a way-too-high 5.3 BB/9 in 42 2/3 innings over nine outings so far. Jimenez is in the last season of a four-year, $50MM deal that largely hasn’t worked out for Baltimore. It appears the O’s will go forward with a rotation of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Wade Miley, and Alec Asher, who has thrived in a bullpen role this season and who’s set to start tomorrow. Here’s more from the American League.
The Orioles announced that shortstop Luis Sardinas, whom they just claimed off waivers earlier this week, has now cleared waivers and been assigned outright to Triple-A Norfolk. By outrighting Sardinas, the O’s have opened a spot on their 40-man roster while still retaining control over the 24-year-old infielder.
Sardinas once ranked among the game’s Top 100 prospects according to both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus (2013-14), but his bat has never fully come around in either the upper minors or in the Majors. He was praised as an excellent defensive shortstop while ascending through the minors, though that hasn’t borne out in his brief MLB experience to date, either.
The switch-hitting Sardinas did post an impressive .287/.353/.417 batting line in 120 plate appearances with the Padres last season after being acquired from the Mariners, but his production cratered in 2017. Overall, he’s posted a very modest .229/.278/.293 batting line through 480 big league plate appearances and a .278/.313/.348 triple slash through 888 Triple-A plate appearances.
Sardinas will provide some infield depth for the Orioles and could eventually challenge veteran utilityman Paul Janish for a spot on the big league roster.
Here are the day’s minor moves:
- The Orioles released outfielder Henry Urrutia, per a club announcement. The 30-year-old had been removed from the 40-man roster last year after seeing minimal major league action in 2013 and 2015. Urrutia, who the O’s signed out of Cuba, had struggled to a sub-.500 OPS in seventy plate appearances this season at Triple-A. Through parts of five seasons and over 1,000 plate appearances at the highest level of the minors, he owns a .277/.327/.374 batting line with 13 long balls.
- Outfielder Jeremy Barfield is heading to the Red Sox after his contract was purchased from the indy ball Sugar Land Skeeters, per an announcement from Boston’s Double-A affiliate. Barfield, 28, has spent quite a bit of time in the upper minors with the Athletics and Rockies organizations but has never cracked the major leagues. He was performing well again for the Skeeters early this season, leaving him with a composite .299/.379/.539 batting line in 878 trips to the dish in Atlantic League action since leaving the affiliated ranks in 2015.
The Orioles have claimed shortstop Luis Sardinas off waivers from the Padres, per a club announcement. He had been designated for assignment recently.
Sardinas, a switch-hitting 24-year-old, gives the Baltimore organization another piece of infield depth. The club had an open 40-man spot to work with, but will need to make an active roster move as Sardinas is out of options.
Things haven’t gone well thus far for Sardinas, who slashed only .163/.226/.163 in his 53 plate appearances with San Diego this year. He has seen action in each of the past four MLB campaigns, including this one, though he has compiled just 480 total plate appearances and owns a lifetime .570 OPS.
That said, Sardinas ranked among the game’s Top 100 prospects according to both MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus in 2013 and 2014. He was praised as an excellent defensive shortstop while ascending through the minors, though that hasn’t borne out in his brief MLB experience to date. With the Orioles, Sardinas figures to serve in a utility capacity — a role that veteran Paul Janish is currently filling with the big league club.
The Orioles have released outfielder Michael Bourn, according to a club announcement. Bourn exercised his opt-out clause yesterday, per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter), and the team obviously elected not to add him to the active roster.
Bourn thrived with the O’s late last year, hitting .283/.358/.435 over 55 plate appearances. And he might well have earned an Opening Day roster spot had he not gone down with an injury during camp. At this stage, though, the opportunity wasn’t there.
While Baltimore surely would’ve preferred to maintain the depth that Bourn offered, there wasn’t really a place for him at the major league level. The club already carries two part-time, left-handed-hitting outfielders in Seth Smith and Hyun-Soo Kim, with righties Trey Mancini and Joey Rickard also part of the outfield picture alongside center field stalwart Adam Jones.
It’s possible, though hardly certain, that Bourn could command a big league job with another organization upon his return to the open market. His ability to handle center field is an obvious benefit. And he has reached base at a .373 clip through eleven games at Triple-A on the year, with ten walks against eight strikeouts, and has swiped three bases.
At the same time, Bourn carries only a .220 batting average through his 51 plate appearances at the highest level of the minors and has managed just two extra-base hits in that brief span. It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that Bourn had largely struggled at the plate over the prior two seasons before landing in Baltimore.
- Orioles manager Buck Showalter was evasive when the subject of Ubaldo Jimenez’s spot in the rotation came up with reporters, as MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko writes. Showalter noted that Jimenez’s next scheduled start is set for Sunday and said, “…we’ll see what happens,” regarding the potential outing. Right-hander Alec Asher is the top candidate to step in for Jimenez prior to Sunday, Kubatko notes, but Showalter suggested that taking Asher out of his current late-inning relief role would only open another need. “…[H]e’s shown the ability to serve a need in our bullpen with Zach (Britton) being down,” said the skipper. “There’s some different challenges in our bullpen with Zach out that you need to have an optionable bullpen, you need to have some versatility down there and some guys that can pitch physically more than once every four days down there.” The 33-year-old Jimenez is in the final season of a four-year, $50MM contract and has followed up last year’s 5.44 ERA with an even more unbecoming 7.17 ERA through 42 2/3 innings in 2017.
- Per an Orioles announcement, catcher Francisco Pena has been outrighted to Triple-A after clearing waivers. The out-of-options 27-year-old has seen limited action in the majors in recent years, but has slashed .249/.295/.452 in his 1,221 career plate appearances at Triple-A. While he’s a highly regarded defender, Pena may need to boost his on-base abilities before he’ll earn a full shot at the majors.
- It seems the Orioles will go without infielder Ryan Flaherty for a reasonable stretch. Per Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com, via Twitter, the veteran utilityman is going to need a platelet-rich plasma injection after suffering an injury to his shoulder/upper-back area. Flaherty, 30, is expected to need more than the minimum ten-day stay on the DL.
Recently, I took a quick look at all of the players with vesting options for the 2018 season, noting that many of the outcomes within will have significant ramifications for both the upcoming free-agent market and the future of those players’ respective teams. The implications are even greater for the eight players that have opt-out provisions of some type at the end of the current season. In some cases, the opt-out in question could either liberate that player’s team from more than $80MM in future commitments or saddle them with that same burdensome amount. (And, in most cases, if the player isn’t opting out, the remaining salary is indeed a burden, as the player either performed too poorly to opt out and/or got hurt.)
Here’s a look at the opt-out decisions that are looming at season’s end…
- Justin Upton, Tigers: The disastrous start to Upton’s six-year, $132.5MM contract now looks like a distant memory. After struggling to a .228/.286/.369 batting line through his first three months in the Motor City, Upton has surged with a .255/.342/.535 slash and 31 home runs over his past 471 big league plate appearances. Strikeouts are still an issue for Upton, but he’s also walking more than ever (15 percent in 2017). He’s on pace to finish the season right around the 30-homer mark, and if he can do so with an OBP in the mid-.300s and respectable marks in left field — he’s currently at +4 DRS and +3.4 UZR — then the remaining four years and $88.5MM on his contract will pose an interesting decision for Upton, who is currently playing out his age-29 season.
- Johnny Cueto, Giants: Cueto looked like an ace in his first year with San Francisco but has stumbled to a 4.50 ERA through his first 58 innings with the Giants in 2017. He’s still averaging better than eight punchouts per nine innings to go along with solid (but diminished) control. However, he’s seen his ground-ball rate plummet from 50 percent to 39 percent, and paired with the increase in walk rate (1.8 BB/9 to 2.5 BB/9), that has led to some issues. There’s still plenty of time for Cueto to get back on track, but the remaining four years and $84MM on his contract doesn’t look quite as easy to walk away from as it did just seven weeks ago. He’ll be 32 next season.
- Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: Cueto’s slow start looks Cy Young-worthy when juxtaposed with Tanaka, who has logged a ghastly 6.56 ERA through 48 innings in 2017. Like Cueto, Tanaka has seen his control take a step back, though his strikeout and ground-ball rates are consistent, and his velocity is fine. Tanaka’s average on balls in play is up, however, and his homer-to-flyball rate has skyrocketed from 12 percent to 24.5 percent. Given his age (29 in November), Tanaka would be a virtual lock to opt out of the remaining three years and $67MM on his contract with a good season. If he can’t overcome his home-run woes, however, he may instead opt for the substantial amount of guaranteed cash remaining on his deal.
- Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins: Chen’s opt-out is perhaps the easiest to determine of any player on this list. Unfortunately for the Marlins, that’s due to the fact that he’s currently sidelined indefinitely due to arm troubles. Chen is on the disabled list with arm fatigue, though it’s been reported previously that he’d been pitching through a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, which was sustained in 2016. Chen hasn’t pitched well as a Marlin even when healthy, and at this point it would take a quick recovery and a dominant finish for him to even consider opting out of the remaining three years and $52MM on his contract.
- Ian Kennedy, Royals: Kennedy has logged a solid 3.74 ERA in 233 1/3 innings since signing a five-year deal with Kansas City, but he’s already in his age-32 season. His strikeout rate and control have taken a step back in 2017 as well, and he’s remained homer-prone despite pitching half his games at the spacious Kauffman Stadium. Kennedy turned in a very strong final four months in his last contract season — which helped him land this surprising contract in the first place — but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll opt out of the remaining three years and $49MM on his current contract.
- Greg Holland, Rockies: To be clear, Holland cannot technically opt out of his contract just yet. The one-year, $7MM contract that he signed with the Rox contained a $10MM mutual option that can vest as a $15MM player option if Holland finishes 30 games. At this juncture, though, it seems as if an injury is all that can stop Holland’s player option from vesting. He’s already finished 20 of the 30 games he needs, and he’s currently boasting a preposterous 0.96 ERA with a 26-to-6 K/BB ratio through 18 2/3 innings. Apparently, pitching at Coors Field suits Holland just fine, though if he keeps this up, it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll turn down the one year and $15MM he’d receive for a second season at Coors and hit the market in search of a lucrative three- or four-year contract.
- Matt Wieters, Nationals: The stagnant offseason market for Wieters’ services culminated in a two-year, $21MM contract with the Nats that offers Wieters the opportunity to test free agency once again next winter, if he wishes. To this point, it’s looking likely that Wieters will pass on that player option. His walks, hard-hit rate and BABIP are up, none of which has come at the expense of his strikeout rate. Wieters is hitting a solid .283/.358/.442 with four homers on the year. His caught-stealing rate is down (23 percent), and his framing remains questionable, but the improved offense makes it seem likely that, even if Wieters again struggles to find the strong multi-year deal he craves, a contract comparable to the one year and $10.5MM he can opt out of will once again be available on the open market.
- Welington Castillo, Orioles: Castillo’s two-year, $13MM contract with the Orioles was a pleasant surprise for a player who had previously been locked into arbitration in Arizona before surprisingly being non-tendered. He’s off to a torrid .348/.375/.543 start to the season with four homers and six doubles through 96 plate appearances. There’s a fair bit of luck involved in that production, as evidenced by the 30-year-old’s .418 BABIP. But his strikeouts are down this season, and he’s thrown out a career-best 41 percent of attempted base thieves. His framing marks, while still below average, have improved on a per-pitch basis as well. His glove may prevent him from fully cashing in, but Castillo’s bat could make the remaining one year and $7MM on his contract easy enough to walk away from, assuming he’s healthy.
- The Orioles have selected infielder Paul Janish’s contract from Triple-A, per a team announcement. He’ll fill in for reserve infielder Ryan Flaherty, who went on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain. The defensively adept Janish is in his third season in the Orioles organization, but he has collected just 28 plate appearances with the O’s to this point. While Janish got off to a .255/.364/.378 start this season in 118 PAs with Norfolk prior to his promotion, he’s only a .216/.284/.289 hitter in 1,277 major league trips to the plate.