Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the decision to designate outfielder Alejandro De Aza for assignment Wednesday was because of a severe roster crunch and not meant as a wake-up call to the club's struggling veterans.
"This is not about firing some shot across the bow, it's about where we are and what we have to protect ourselves with," Showalter said. "Everybody would love to have a 27-man roster and keep Alejandro because we know he's capable of better. We've seen it and y'all have, too."
De Aza, 31, was the Orioles' starting left fielder and leadoff hitter on Opening Day, but he struggled at the plate in recent weeks. He was 1-for-16 over his last six games and hit just .186 with 16 strikeouts in 43 at bats in May after he was dropped in the batting order. In 103 at-bats this season, he hit just .214 with a .277 on-base percentage and .359 slugging percentage.
He's not the only Oriole who has struggled to hit; only three have logged consistent at-bats and batted over .250 in May: Jimmy Paredes, Manny Machado and Travis Snider. Five Orioles with 60 or more at-bats this season have hit .220 or worse.
Despite its appearance, though, Showalter said there was no underlying message in the decision to jettison De Aza to make room for infielder Ryan Flaherty, who was activated from the disabled list Wednesday.
"I don't think that, but I could see how it looks that way. I understand, I would ask the same question," Showalter said. "This is about roster management. … You just do that math of people that are coming back and some places where guys don't have options. The options are there to protect the player. That's why at some point they ran out of options so you can't hoard players."
With shortstop J.J. Hardy dealing with recent back stiffness and Flaherty returning from a lingering groin injury, the Orioles opted to hold onto middle infielder Everth Cabrera, who seemed to be the most likely to go. But De Aza was one of six outfielders on the team's 25-man roster, and none had minor league options.
"A lot of people immediately think it might be an infielder, but we want to make sure," Showalter said. "There's no other tests or things that you can go through that Ryan hasn't gone through. You still better cover yourself if there's an issue in case something crops up with J.J."
The team now has 10 days to trade De Aza, waive or outright release him. Executive vice president Dan Duquette is currently gauging trade interest in De Aza, who is making $5 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility before free agency.
"We're going to see if his contract has value with some other clubs. … There are a couple clubs that were interested in him," Duquette said. "We'll see. I think he'll be able to land a major league job."
The Orioles still owe De Aza roughly $3.55 million for the remainder of the season, so a team trading for him would be on the hook for that financial commitment unless the O's agreed to take on a portion of that salary.
Acquired in a trade with the Chicago White Sox last August for minor league pitchers, Mark Blackmar and Miguel Chalas, De Aza hit .293 with 11 extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in 20 games with the Orioles down the stretch. He was also 7-for-21 in the postseason.
Following that performance and the free-agent departures of outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, Duquette and Showalter leaned on De Aza to play a prominent role in 2015, but he didn't hit consistently.
"It's like a stack of dominoes. If the foundation of the base is not there, some of the dominoes fall," Duquette said. "So you've got to have the balance left and right handed and you have to have a number of players contributing up and down the lineup to score the runs required to be competitive."