Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to use the phrase "self-inflicted" to describe problems with his players or ballclub that they're responsible for.
Well, the fact that the Boston Red Sox (41-45, winners of eight of 10 and 13 of 18) are hard charging behind the Orioles (43-42) and making the American League East a five-team race entering the All-Star break might ultimately fall into that category, for a pretty unlikely reason.
The Orioles gave up Alejandro De Aza.
The August 2014 trade pickup from the Chicago White Sox was key in the Orioles' playoff run last year, settling in as the everyday left fielder and batting .293/.341/.537 with 11 extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in 20 games, then .333/.391/.476 in the postseason.
But in a crowded corner-outfield situation full of underachievers to start off 2015, the $5 million man De Aza was the first to be shown the door. He was batting .214/.277/.359 through 30 games and essentially forfeited a chance to solidify himself as the team's primary leadoff hitter — he was the only player on the roster with much experience there.
So when the Orioles needed to add Ryan Flaherty from the disabled list in late May, De Aza was designated for assignment.
Boston, which somehow needed outfield depth despite entering the season with a glut of outfielders on the 40-man roster, brought De Aza in. They clearly saw value — the pitcher sent to the Orioles, right-hander Joe Gunkel, is a high-floor prospect with a major league future.
Since then, the Red Sox have been missing defensive liability Hanley Ramirez in left field, and De Aza has hit .306/.352/.588 with three homers and a league-leading five triples. The Red Sox are 14-7 in games he's started. According to Fangraphs, his 1.0 WAR is fifth on the Red Sox, ahead of regulars Ramirez, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, and first baseman Mike Napoli.
In fact, Napoli is on the verge of being removed as the everyday first baseman so David Ortiz can play first, Ramirez can serve as designated hitter, and De Aza can play in left field.
De Aza has been universally praised in the Boston media, culminating with this headline on what's a good analysis from Baseball Prospectus Boston: Alejandro De Aza: The Hero Boston Needed.
How long this lasts for the Red Sox is anyone's guess. De Aza was available for a pair of minor leaguers last year from a White Sox organization that had soured on him, and the Orioles got a month of De Aza with a chip on his shoulder before his production waned in 2015.
If De Aza's going to have a similar fall-off in production, or more likely, there ceases to be a spot for him in Boston's high-priced lineup, he could meet a similar end to the one he found here in Baltimore.
But until then, not only must the Orioles rue the fact that left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who they dealt last summer for Andrew Miller, is giving the Red Sox strong starts every fifth game.
They must also watch De Aza, who at this level of play would be a welcome addition to the Orioles' corner outfield situation, help spearhead a Red Sox resurgence.