- The Orioles reinstated DJ Stewart from the 10-day IL, and Stewart is set for his season debut tonight, scheduled to hit fifth in Baltimore’s lineup. Due to a left hamstring strain, the outfielder hasn’t seen any game action since a Spring Training outing on March 5. While strikeouts continue to be a troublingly large part of Stewart’s offensive game, he has hit .224/.334/433 with 14 homers at the MLB level, good for an above-average 107 OPS+/108 wRC+ over 301 career plate appearances.
- Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge wasn’t in their lineup against the Orioles on Wednesday because of soreness in his left side, Bryan Hoch of MLB.com writes. Manager Aaron Boone doesn’t seem all that concerned, as he said, “With the off day tomorrow I don’t want to take any chances.” Still, it’s notable in light of Judge’s extensive injury history. He missed a large amount of time in 2018 after suffering a fractured wrist on a hit by pitch, which was obviously just a bad break, but then sat out a combined 92 games from 2019-20 because of oblique, rib and calf problems. Judge has been excellent when healthy, though, and has begun this season with an eye-popping .364/.391/.636 line with two home runs in 23 plate appearances.
- Orioles outfielder DJ Stewart might be back in their lineup this weekend, according to manager Brandon Hyde (via Joe Trezza of MLB.com). Stewart hasn’t played yet this year on account of a hamstring issue that has shelved him for a little over a month. The 27-year-old lined up in the corner outfield in all 31 of his appearances in 2020, and he put up an unusual .193/.355/.455 batting line with seven home runs 112 trips to the plate. Despite a low batting average and a 33.9 percent strikeout rate, Stewart’s ability to draw walks (17.9 percent) and hit for power (.261 ISO) carried him to an impressive wRC+ of 124.
8:52pm: Hays has a mild strain, according to manager Brandon Hyde, who’s optimistic he won’t miss much time (via Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com).
4:48pm: The Orioles have placed outfielder Austin Hays on the 10-day injured list with a right hamstring strain, per a team announcement. In other moves, the Orioles activated right-hander Shawn Armstrong from the IL, recalled outfielder Ryan McKenna and optioned righty Cole Sulser.
The 25-year-old Hays is a promising piece for the rebuilding Orioles, but injuries – including to his ribs, ankle, wrist – have dogged him during his professional career. He only appeared in 33 of 60 games last year, owing in part to a rib fracture, but bounced back from an awful start to finish with a roughly league-average .279/.328/.393 line with four home runs in 134 plate appearances. He began this season with two hits in 10 PA during the Orioles’ three-game sweep of the Red Sox.
McKenna, 24, will give the O’s more outfield depth as they await Hays’ return. He hasn’t yet played above Double-A ball, where he hit .232/.321/.365 with nine HRs and 25 steals in 567 PA in 2019, though FanGraphs does rank McKenna as the organization’s seventh-best prospect. Eric Longenhagen wrote last month that “McKenna can fly and he has all-fields, doubles power, peppering the right-center gap with inside-out swings,” adding he could mix average offense with quality defense in the bigs. The 24-year-old will join Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle and Pat Valaika as outfield options on Baltimore’s roster.
TODAY: Sanchez has cleared waivers and been granted a release, the Orioles announced.
MARCH 27: The Orioles have acquired right-hander Adam Plutko in a trade with the Indians, The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli reports (Twitter link). The O’s have officially announced the deal, noting that Plutko was acquired for cash considerations. Infielder Yolmer Sanchez has been designated for assignment in a corresponding move to open a spot on Baltimore’s 40-man roster.
Plutko is out of minor league options, so the trade allows Cleveland to receive at least a modest return for a player who wasn’t likely to make their Opening Day roster, rather than lose Plutko for nothing on the waiver wire. Plutko’s 40-man roster space can now be filled by Bryan Shaw, who was in camp on a minor league contract and had already been told that he will make the team.
Originally an 11th-round pick for the Tribe in the 2013 draft, Plutko has a 5.05 ERA/5.71 SIERA over 217 1/3 big league innings, starting 36 of his 50 career games. Plutko doesn’t miss many bats (only a 16.9% career strikeout rate) and he’s had a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the park, with a 2.03 HR/9 over his four MLB seasons. On the plus side, he doesn’t issue many walks, and he has displayed some elite spin on his curveball.
Plutko is already 29 years old but still controllable through the 2024 season, which is undoubtedly of interest to the Orioles. Plutko wasn’t consistent enough to lock down a regular starting job with the pitching-rich Indians, but he’ll immediately become a candidate for the fifth spot in a Baltimore rotation that includes John Means, Matt Harvey, Dean Kremer, and Wade LeBlanc. Alternatively, Plutko could also be deployed out of the bullpen as a long reliever or swingman.
The Plutko trade is a logical pickup for the Orioles, but the follow-up transaction is unusual, as Sanchez was projected to be the team’s starting second baseman. The O’s claimed Sanchez off waivers from the White Sox in October, and while Baltimore could simply be taking a calculated risk that another team won’t claim the former Gold Glover, the DFA would seem to indicate that Sanchez isn’t seen as a big factor in the Orioles’ plans.
Sanchez avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1MM deal for the 2021 season, but since arb contracts are only guaranteed once the player makes the Opening Day roster, the Orioles will only owe Sanchez 45 days of termination pay (roughly $250K) for being cut in the last half of Spring Training. While not a huge savings, the financial aspect of the Sanchez DFA can’t be overlooked as a notable factor, considering how the Orioles have been looking to save money whenever possible this offseason.
If Sanchez ends up elsewhere, Pat Valaika, Ramon Urias, Jahmai Jones, and non-roster invite Stevie Wilkerson are on hand as second base options. The Orioles could juggle playing time between multiple members of this group rather than stick with a true everyday second baseman.
1:19pm: The Orioles announced that Hernandez has requested and been granted his release. He’s not expected to re-sign a new deal with the O’s, tweets Joe Trezza of MLB.com.
For awhile this spring, it looked like King Felix would indeed win an opportunity to begin the season in the Orioles rotation, but an elbow injury knocked him out of action in mid-March and undermined his efforts. Had he made the roster, he would have been in line for a $1MM salary.
Prior to the injury, Hernandez made three starts, threw 5 2/3 innings, and allowed five earned runs, six hits, two walks, and a hit batsman. He also struck out five. But there simply wasn’t enough evidence that Hernandez would even be healthy enough to take a turn every five days.
Hernandez last pitched in the Majors in 2019. He has a 169-136 record in 2,729 2/3 innings over 418 career starts – all with the Mariners. The soon-to-be 35-year-old put up 50.3 bWAR/54.1 fWAR over 15 seasons in Seattle.
Anthony Santander isn’t in the Orioles lineup today, and it seems as if the outfielder will miss his fifth consecutive spring game. Manager Brandon Hyde told MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko and other reporters that Santander has been bothered by a sore oblique, though Santander has still been working out and could potentially get back on the field as early as Monday.
The Orioles have placed first baseman Chris Davis on the 60-day injured list with a lower back strain, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com was among those to report. The team also made the re-signing of left-hander Wade LeBlanc official. LeBlanc is in the mix for the Orioles’ rotation/long man role, while that is no longer the case for lefty Keegan Akin. The O’s optioned Akin, outfielder Jahmai Jones and infielder Richie Martin, per Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com, and they reassigned lefty Fernando Abad and first baseman/outfielder Chris Shaw.
Manager Brandon Hyde implied earlier this week that Davis could be headed for the long-term IL, so this news doesn’t come as any kind of surprise. Nevertheless, it’s the latest unfortunate development for the 35-year-old Davis, whose career has been an abject disaster since the Orioles re-signed him to a seven-year, $161MM contract before 2016.
When Davis received his deal, he had established himself as one of the game’s fiercest sluggers, as he smashed 53 home runs in 2013 – his lone All-Star season – and added another 47 in 2015. Davis was a 38-HR hitter in the first year of his deal, though he has totaled a mere 28 (none during an injury-limited 2020) with a .169/251/.299 in 929 trips to the plate since 2018. The Orioles have stuck with Davis during his massive on-field decline, and he still has another year on his contract after this one.
MARCH 26: LeBlanc has rejoined the Orioles on a split contract that comes with a $700K salary if he makes the majors, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
MARCH 25: Left-hander Wade LeBlanc has opted out of the minor league contract he signed with the Orioles in February, per Dan Connolly of The Athletic. He’s now a free agent, though Connolly notes that a return to the Orioles isn’t out of the question.
The well-traveled LeBlanc, 36, spent last season in the Baltimore, where he endured immense struggles. LeBlanc finished the year with six starts and 22 1/3 innings of 8.06 ERA/5.77 SIERA pitching, and he managed a paltry 4.9 strikeout-walk percentage along the way. He fared decently this spring with eight innings of two-run, three-hit ball and seven strikeouts, though he did walk five hitters.
LeBlanc was one of a few experienced starters the O’s signed to minors deals during the offseason, when they also inked Matt Harvey and Felix Hernandez to minors deals. Harvey earned a roster spot Thursday, while Hernandez’s status is uncertain as he recovers from elbow discomfort.
The Orioles have selected the contract of veteran right-hander Matt Harvey, per a club announcement. The move fills Baltimore’s 40-man roster and assures Harvey of a spot on the Opening Day club. Harvey had an opt-out clause in his contract yesterday, which gave the O’s 48 hours to add him to the roster or cut him loose, Dan Connolly of The Athletic tweets.
Harvey inked a minor league deal with the O’s back in mid-February and reported to camp as non-roster invitee this spring. He’s started three Grapefruit League contests, during which he’s yielded six runs on 10 hits and a walk with six punchouts through 10 innings of work. He and fellow veterans Felix Hernandez and Wade LeBlanc have been vying for spots on an extremely inexperienced pitching staff. Lefty John Means is the only other true lock for the rotation, though young righty Dean Kremer and southpaw Keegan Akin both seem likely to leave Spring Training with starting jobs.
Harvey, 32 this weekend, is years removed from his status as one of the game’s most promising young aces and from the “Dark Knight” moniker that took baseball by storm. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Harvey was in the big leagues by 2012 and flat-out dominated opposing hitters early in his career. Through his first 427 big league frames, the righty notched an outstanding 2.53 ERA while striking out 26.6 percent of the batters he faced against an excellent 5.6 percent walk rate.
Injuries, however, have wreaked havoc on what looked to be a brilliant career in the making. Harvey missed the 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, and while he was terrific during his 2015 return, he dealt with shoulder discomfort in 2016 before ultimately undergoing the much more ominous thoracic outlet surgery. The general track record of pitchers coming back from a thoracic outlet procedure isn’t great in the first place, and Harvey is one of few pitchers who underwent both Tommy John surgery and thoracic outlet surgery in a span of under three years.
Unsurprisingly, Harvey simply hasn’t been the same since. He regained some velocity following a trade to the Reds in 2018 and parlayed a decent showing with Cincinnati into a one-year, $11MM free-agent deal with the Angels. However, that contract proved regrettable for the Angels, who released Harvey that July. A 2020 comeback attempt with the Royals was similarly unproductive.
Overall, since returning from throacic outlet surgery, Harvey has tallied 319 innings in the Majors and limped to a 6.09 earned run average. He’s yielded 365 hits, including 67 home runs, in those 319 frames while watching both his strikeout and walk rates trend in the wrong direction. His fastball, which averaged 95.9 mph at his peak, sat at 93.2 mph with the Angels in 2019 and 94.1 mph with Kansas City last year (when he was working in shorter stints).
The Orioles will hope to catch lightning in a bottle and see Harvey bounce back to an extent, although at this point the expectations for a rebound should be rather low. Harvey’s deal guarantees him just a $1MM base salary, so it’s a low-cost roll of the dice for a tanking Orioles club.
The seven-year, $161MM contract the Orioles gave first baseman Chris Davis before 2016 continues to look worse: Manager Brandon Hyde admitted Monday that the lower back strain that has sidelined Davis since early this month could force him to begin the season on the 60-day injured list, according to Dan Connolly of The Athletic. Davis, who turned 35 last week, has gone from star to liability over the past few years. He slashed a horrendous .115/.164/.173 with no home runs during an injury-shortened, 55-plate appearance 2020. Davis is in the penultimate season of a contract that has long been an albatross for Baltimore.