Though I’ve already made my position clear on where I think Jonathan Schoop should be on Opening Day, the deal that added utility player Steve Lombardozzi to the Orioles roster this week will make it much easier for the club to justify keeping Schoop in the minor leagues for a little longer to preserve his major league service time.
That would be the right move if the only priority is to make sure that Schoop can’t get to arbitration quicker and will be under club control for nearly seven seasons. It’s the wise long-term play. But with third baseman Manny Machado sidelined for at least a few more weeks, this is a perfect opportunity to give Schoop an extended opportunity at second base while there’s another place to play Ryan Flaherty.
Lombardozzi is a nice pickup, and he certainly can hold down one of the infield positions while Machado gets healthy. Schoop is considered the top position prospect in the organization, however, and he has been on a major roll this spring. Sending him back to the minor leagues might be the right move from an administrative standpoint, but the Orioles may end up regretting that decision for a number of reasons.
It would send the message that performance isn’t the club’s top priority as it opens a pivotal season in the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter era. The Orioles also would run the risk of knocking the emotional wind out of Schoop, who has to believe he has earned his chance to start the season in the major leagues.
Most importantly, if Schoop really is the best option at second base and the Orioles waste six or seven weeks of the season filling the position with lesser talent, what are they supposed to tell their fans in October if they fall a game or two short of the playoffs?
We’ll find out by Sunday how the roster will break down, but I think I know. The Orioles will say that Schoop needs to prove it a little longer at Norfolk. They’ll put Rule 5 guy Michael Almanzar on the 15-day disabled list with his knee injury, which will let them hang onto him a little longer. And Showalter will enjoy amazing lineup flexibility – if not optimum offensive potential -- with Lombardozzi, Flaherty and Jemile Weeks.
Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.