Needing to create roster space for outfielder Anthony Santander, who had to be activated from the disabled list by Thursday after the expiration of his 20-day minor league rehabilitation window, the Orioles optioned outfielder Joey Rickard to Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday night.
Rickard, 26, is batting .254 with a .656 OPS this season while providing exceptional defense. He has produced 12 total zone runs above average in the outfield and hit .333 in his past 11 games.
Santander, the second of two Rule 5 draft picks taken last December — Boston Red Sox farmhand Aneury Tavarez was also selected before being returned late in spring training — has been on the DL all season with a right forearm strain. He has performed well during his rehab assignment, hitting .382/.453/.745 with five doubles, five homers and 14 RBIs in 15 games with Double-A Bowie and one with High-A Frederick.
After Wednesday’s game and before the roster move was made, Orioles manager Buck Showalter acknowledged how tough of a decision it would be to create space.
“Of course they are,” he said.
The Orioles have taken great measures to keep the 22-year-old Santander in the organization, and they’ll have to continue to do so next year since he must still serve 90 straight days on the major league roster and there are only 46 days remaining in the season once he joins the club Thursday.
Still, Santander was selected from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 draft after playing no higher than the High-A level. While he performed well on his rehab assignment in Bowie, there’s plenty of unknown. The Orioles selected him because he’s a switch-hitter, not necessarily for his ability to play defense.
It is easier to carry an inexperienced position player than a pitcher, but it comes at the cost of having a thinner bench, and the Orioles have worked hard to create a strong bench with not only offense but defense and running the bases in mind.
The Orioles decided to option Rickard to the minors instead of designating Craig Gentry for assignment for the third time this season. There was a fear in the organization that Gentry — who has been a versatile weapon with his range on defense and his speed on the base paths — would get claimed at this time of the season with teams in need of bench pieces. Gentry is hitting .360 (9-for-25) over his last 15 games.
Rickard’s stay in Norfolk will be short. At the latest, he would rejoin the club when roster’s expand on Sept. 1, and because he will be in the minors for less than 20 days, he will still accrue major league service time.
With Mark Trumbo clogging the designated hitter spot and rookie Trey Mancini as the everyday left fielder, there were few other options than demoting Rickard. The decision came down to the fact that Rickard has options while Gentry does not.
“I feel confident right now and luckily I’m able to make some things happen, and hopefully just keep it going,” Gentry said after going 2-for-3 on Wednesday. “Get a couple of positive results and it kind of builds your confidence a bit. I feel like I’m swinging the bat lately and hopefully just keep it going.”
Because the organizational 40-man roster is currently at 39 players, the Orioles didn’t have to make an additional move.
The Orioles also must activate utility infielder Ryan Flaherty from the 60-day DL on Thursday, but the likely move there would be designating little-used infielder Rubén Tejada for assignment.