Fifteen losses in 18 games have all but turned the September slate of ballgames into nothing but a meaningless battle to avoid finishing in last place for the Baltimore Orioles. As the pitching staff continues to crumble, last season’s 96-win team is nothing more than a nice memory. The 2015 edition of the Orioles showed tantalizing potential at times, but in the end has just been done in by gaping holes in key positions.
For the Orioles, one of the most worst holes has been left field (right field was a gaping hole for most of the season, but Gerardo Parra has served as a stopgap since the trade deadline). On the year, the collection of replacement level players Buck Showalter trotted out to left field has included Alejandro De Aza, Steve Pearce, Nolan Reimold, Travis Snider, and David Lough. If I’m missing anyone, my apologies. It’s been a long year. That motley collection has combined for a .208/.272/.324 line with 11 home runs and 34 RBI’s. It’s no shocker that those numbers rank painfully close to the bottom of the league.
The Orioles thought they could get away with plugging in low-budget options after allowing Nelson Cruz to walk (four year contracts are the worst!). It’s painfully obvious that trying to replace Cruz with career-.250 types with little power was not the best plan in the world. None of the players the Orioles have tried in left field has worked this year, but that hasn’t kept the manager or the front office from continuing to try.
Even as the team flounders, Reimold and Pearce continue to get at-bats. Pearce was good last year. This year, the league has him figured out. Reimold was a top prospect years ago before neck injuries nearly ended his career as a professional baseball player. Both players are grinders and well-respected in the Orioles’ clubhouse, but that does not mean they should figure into the long-term plans of the club.
While every option the Orioles tried in left field floundered, two prospects were flourishing in the minors — Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez. Urrutia came up and hit a walk-off home run against the New York Mets back when the playoffs still looked like a real possibility. Alvarez played in four games before a visa issue tripped him up as the team travelled to Toronto last weekend. Alvarez was not activated prior to the first game in New York.
Alvarez and Urrutia represented the Orioles’ first real foray into the Cuban market. While they were not blockbuster names, both were veteran players who should have needed only a little seasoning in the minor leagues before being ready to help in Baltimore. Urrutia is now 28 while Alvarez is 26. Combined, they have played a total of 38 Major League games. That begs the question, why sign veteran Cuban players only to let them float around in the minor leagues. Even worse, why allow them to produce for Triple-A Norfolk when the rest of the sorry left field options are worse than a replacement level player?
The Orioles totally bungled their outfield situation all season. Showalter kept putting his faith in the wrong players while never giving Urrutia or Alvarez a chance. Over his first four seasons with the Orioles, Buck was always able to find a creative solution for a need in his lineup. This year, however, he kept running out the same old players who were not producing. Was he too loyal? Perhaps. Maybe the team just hadn’t seen enough from Urrutia or Alvarez in Triple-A, but at some point they have to be given a chance to show what they can do, and not just when the team has dropped from contention.
If there is a silver lining in the fact that the Orioles’ second half has turned into a nightmare, it is that there should finally be some impetus to give Urrutia and Alvarez some playing time. The outfield situation is still nebulous heading into 2016. Parra is a free agent and has not exactly impressed in Baltimore. There are now just 25 games left in the season, and they mean very little in the big picture. While it’s difficult for a clubhouse to accept that the season has run its course for all intents and purposes, that’s what has happened for this Orioles team. Those final 25 games must be all about 2016, and that means the time has come for Pearce and Reimold to give way to Alvarez and Urrutia.