By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
9:17 AM EST, January 14, 2014
SARASOTA, Fla. -- This is the time in the offseason when savvy clubs are able to make some under-the-radar minor league signings that can help them down the road.
And while the Orioles' signings of Delmon Young and Alexi Casilla over the past few days aren’t groundbreaking -- I know a lot of fans just see it as more frustrating examples of bargain-bin shopping -- and by no means are they going to push the team over the top, they definitely fill some needs.
Because of his strong splits against left-handed pitching, Young -- signed to a minor league deal Monday evening -- can fill the right-handed designated hitter spot left open when the Orioles traded Danny Valencia to the Kansas City Royals.
Young has a .303/.341/.471 line against left-handed pitchers over his eight-year career, while Valencia recorded a .329/.367/.513 mark against lefties in a smaller sample size.
Young can help this team.
The 28-year-old is known as a notoriously aggressive free swinger, but he has a career batting average for balls in play of .322. He is a career .350 hitter on the first pitch of at-bats, but he’s a career .196 hitter with two strikes.
In other words, don’t expect him to work too many counts. See ball, hit ball.
Here’s another interesting fact about Young. In 21 career games at Camden Yards, he has a career .321/.376/.440 line. That batting average is his highest career average at any visiting park where he’s played more than 20 games.
I asked Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette if the club has any concerns about character in bringing in Young, who was suspended 50 games as a minor leaguer in 2006 when a bat he tossed hit an umpire. Young also pleaded guilty for aggravated harassment in 2012 in New York for allegedly uttering an anti-Semitic slur.
"We did a thorough review and it looks to me that, like everybody else, if you start out young enough and you play long enough, everybody makes mistakes," Duquette said. "I think that his capability to help the team is what we were looking at, and at 28, he can still make a contribution to a winning team."
I wrote about Casilla’s value a few days ago. Combine his ability to play multiple infield positions – second base, shortstop and third base – as well as his speed on the bases and his reputation as a good teammate, and he could very well make the team.
If Ryan Flaherty is the Orioles' starting second baseman, the club will need someone to fill the utility role that Flaherty played the past two years. Casilla is the best fit.
And if, for some reason, Manny Machado isn’t back from offseason knee surgery by Opening Day, Flaherty would likely be the one to shift to third base to fill in for Machado. While there are a number of players – Casilla, Jemile Weeks, Jonathan Schoop, Cord Phelps and Ivan DeJesus, Jr., among them – Casilla stands out because of his flexibility.
Since Young and Casilla are signed to minor league deals, the club doesn’t have much invested in them now. If they don’t perform well this spring, they can easily cut them or send them to the minor leagues. Because they’re both veterans, they will likely have opt-out clauses that can help them find work with another major league club.
But the signings will also make it more difficult for the Orioles to keep Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar on the roster. If Young makes the team, he will take right-handed DH at-bats from Almanzar -- as well as outfielders Nolan Reimold and Steve Pearce, who are above Almanzar on the DH pecking order. And Casilla’s value as a reserve could make it more difficult for the Orioles to hold a bench spot for Almanzar, who is a corner infielder who hasn’t played above the Double-A level.
That will be interesting to see, especially given the resources the club put into the Rule 5 draft last month.
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