NATIONAL HARBOR — The Orioles' batting splits just became a bit more troublesome.
With the news of a reported blockbuster winter meetings trade that is sending left-hander Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox from the Chicago White Sox, the fact that the Orioles had such trouble hitting left-handed pitching in 2016 is going to become an even bigger problem next year.
Despite having a heavily right-handed lineup, the Orioles were 29th in baseball with a .234 batting average against left-handed pitching, and 27th with a .692 OPS versus lefties.
In 46 games against left-handed starters, the Orioles scored 4.24 runs per game — a half-run less than the 4.73 runs per game they averaged against right-handed starters.
And now they get to face Chris Sale four or five times every year.
Granted, the Orioles could prove to be a different team against lefties in 2017 for a number of reasons. Mark Trumbo, now a free agent, was nowhere near his career averages in batting .173 against lefties last season, albeit with 10 of his league-leading 47 home runs. Catcher Matt Wieters hit .231 against lefties last year, and is also a free agent. And outfielder Nolan Reimold, also on the open market again, played regularly against lefties but hit just .183 off them with a .565 OPS.
Without them, there could be more of a role for rookie Joey Rickard, who was an asset against left-handers before his season-ending thumb injury in July. He hit .313 with an .861 OPS against opposite-side pitching last summer.
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Rookie Trey Mancini hit all three of his home runs in September off lefties and could be the everyday designated hitter, if Orioles manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette are to be believed. Mancini didn't have heavy splits in the minors, but hit lefties better than righties throughout his career.
It helps that the Orioles' best hitter, third baseman Manny Machado, hits lefties well. He hit .329 off them last year, and doesn't have much dropoff in power off lefties either. But searching for balance in a lineup that includes right-handed hitters Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy all penciled into regular roles, the team wants to add a left-hander.
"We'd like to get some balance to our roster," Duquette said Monday. "We have some right-handed power hitters who play in the infield, so we'd like to balance that out with a left-handed power hitter or a left-handed hitter in the outfield."
It might not prove smart to change that approach just because Boston's rotation just got more left-handed. But the division just picked up one of the elite left-handers in the game, who joins a rotation featuring fellow southpaws David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz. Add them to a division with Drew Smyly of the Tampa Bay Rays, J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano of the Toronto Blue Jays, and CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees, and the Orioles lineup could be in store for some headaches in 2017.
Around the horn: Though Orioles left fielder Hyun Soo Kim was included on the South Korea roster released last month, the club hadn't confirmed that he was participating. On Tuesday, the team announced him, along with third baseman Manny Machado (Dominican Republic), center fielder Adam Jones (United States) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (Netherlands) as their confirmed participants so far.