By Dan Connolly and Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
1:14 AM EDT, August 31, 2014
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette mentioned several times this month that he would like to bolster his bench depth, especially from the left side of the plate. Well, in a matter of four days, he added four left-handed hitters to the roster. No sexy names, but potentially role fillers, and that’s a Duquette specialty.
Catcher and left-handed hitter Steve Clevenger came up from Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday. Switch-hitting utility player Jimmy Paredes arrived from the Tides on Thursday. And then, on Saturday night, the Orioles made two trades during their 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins, announcing them about an hour apart.
First they picked up left-handed-hitting outfielder Alejandro De Aza from the Chicago White Sox for minor league pitchers Miguel Chalas and Mark Blackmar. Then they announced that they had received utility player Kelly Johnson from the Boston Red Sox for Norfolk infielders Jemile Weeks and Ivan De Jesus Jr.
The Orioles also reacquired infielder Michael Almanzar, whom they selected in the Rule 5 draft last season and then had to send back to Boston when they took him off their roster. Almanzar now can go the Orioles’ minor league system with no strings attached.
On Sunday, the Orioles will have to make two 25-man-roster moves to make room for De Aza and Sunday’s starter, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen. Johnson won’t join the team until Monday, when rosters expand. So long as he is on the 40-man roster, which he is, Johnson doesn’t have to be on the 25-man roster before Monday to be eligible for the postseason.
The corresponding moves Sunday are incidental. Practically anyone with an option -- Jimmy Paredes, Steve Clevenger, Ryan Flaherty -- could be sent to a minor league affiliate Sunday and be brought back up Tuesday, since the minor league seasons end Monday. And each guy would be eligible for the postseason.
So, really, what this comes down to is that the Orioles have picked up several left-handed options and have a month to decide which ones fit best for October.
Here’s a quick look at each deal:
The Johnson trade: The Orioles gave up Weeks, who was the main part of their December deal with the Oakland Athletics for closer Jim Johnson, and De Jesus Jr., who was signed to a minor league deal. Both played well in Norfolk, but neither was in the Orioles' plans. So giving them up doesn’t hurt the club, even if they do well in Boston.
Almanzar is a pet project of Duquette's. He or his scouts must see something in the 23-year-old. And Duquette has a pretty good track record with these things, so he gets the benefit of the doubt here. And if Almanzar doesn’t pan out, there’s no substantial loss.
This trade is about whether the Orioles can use Johnson in the playoffs. The short answer: maybe. Johnson has played with two postseason teams: the 2005 Atlanta Braves and last year’s Tampa Bay Rays. He has one hit in five playoff at-bats. Yes, he has experience, but not a lot of it.
He’s considered a good clubhouse guy, can play multiple positions and has some power. But he has been awful this season, batting .212 with a .290 on-base percentage in 87 games with the New York Yankees and Red Sox. Strangely, he's hitting left-handers better (.273) than right-handers (.242).
If he can get a couple big hits in September — and he is capable of that — the trade will be a success, even if he doesn’t earn his way onto the postseason roster.
The De Aza trade: This acquisition not only gives the Orioles a veteran who can play all three outfield positions but also a player who could help them beyond 2014.
Above all, he’s a career .275 hitter against right-handed pitching, so he fulfills Duquette’s desire to give the lineup some left-handed balance. But he also has extensive experience in left and center field. His .989 fielding percentage ranks fifth among American League left fielders.
He is also a weapon on the base path, averaging 20 steals over the past three seasons, but his 70 percent stolen-base success rate is only average.
This season, De Aza is batting .279 against right-handers but is just 8-for-76 (.105) against left-handed pitching, so he’s becoming more of a one-dimensional player.
But if De Aza, 30, can recapture any of his 2013 form, with which he set career highs in homers (17) and RBIs (62) while hitting 302/.355/.460 against left-handed pitching, he could be another nice Duquette reclamation project. The Orioles control his rights for another year after this season before he becomes a free agent.
De Aza could start Sunday. He is 3-for-9 with two homers and three RBIs against the Twins' Sunday starter, Ricky Nolasco.
The two pitchers the Orioles gave up, meanwhile, were pretty far down on their prospect list.
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