The Orioles’ re-signing of Craig Gentry on Wednesday fills a need for this season’s team — providing a proven veteran reserve who can capably fill all three outfield spots while providing base-running speed and solid defense off the bench as a late-game substitute — but it also complicates matters.
Gentry, 34, signed a minor league deal, so he can open the season in the minors. Last year, he joined the team on a minor league deal but forced his way onto the Opening Day roster.
If the Orioles carry a 12-man pitching staff to open the season, leaving them with a four-man bench, that would include a backup catcher and a utility infielder still to be determined.
That leaves two outfield spots — provided Mark Trumbo serves exclusively as the everyday designated hitter — on the bench. And if the Orioles are going to fulfill Anthony Santander’s Rule 5 requirement by keeping him on the active roster for the first six weeks, that leaves just one outfield bench spot.
With Adam Jones starting in center field and Trey Mancini returning to left field, that would leave Austin Hays, Joey Rickard and Gentry battling for two spots.
Signing a left-handed outfield bat — a yet-to-be-fulfilled offseason priority — to balance a batting order that currently has just one lefty in first baseman Chris Davis would further clutter that mix.
Hays, who emerged as the Orioles’ top prospect last year, will have the opportunity to earn the everyday right-field spot during spring training. And now he might have to do just that to make the team, because a roster crunch could force him down to the minors to open the season, at least until Santander can be optioned.
Though he had just a .621 OPS last season, Rickard graded out well defensively. His 10 defensive runs saved was tied for ninth among American League outfielders who played at least 600 innings, according to FanGraphs, through his strength is playing the corner spots.
Gentry seems to be a favorite of manager Buck Showalter, who likes the little things that the veteran provides. He might be the team’s best base runner, and is a weapon on the base paths alone. And Gentry is likely the best and most seasoned center fielder of the three, which will be important in deciding the final roster spot.
Again, the Orioles signing a left-handed outfield bat would further complicate the mix, especially with Trumbo clogging the designated hitter spot and not likely to play much in the outfield.
Gentry’s signing doesn’t end the Orioles’ pursuit of a left-handed bat, especially a proven veteran who could be had on a minor league deal — such as Gentry — who would provide some flexibility because he wouldn’t have to open the season on the Opening Day roster.
A left-handed batter would have to be able to play the outfield. Otherwise, that would force the Orioles to occasionally play Trumbo in right, or spot Chris Davis there occasionally, both situations they’d like to avoid.
Ultimately though, it’s Santander who makes the outfield situation so murky. He can play only the corner spots, and it’s likely he would be shipped back to the minors when he’s eligible to return. The Orioles already invested one season in attempting to keep him and his high-upside bat, but his inexperience at the major league level — at the plate (eight strikeouts in 31 plate appearances) and especially in the outfield — makes him difficult to hold for that long to open the season.