After Machado trade, Orioles will still be deliberate in transforming major league roster

As much as the Orioles' trade of All-Star Manny Machado signaled what they call an organizational shift in philosophy that will include all sorts of upgrades to the player development machine in an effort to rebuild the club for the future, it will be a while yet before that forward-focus truly takes hold at the major league level.

Machado's trade opens up a roster spot, and there's plenty of clamor for the likes of outfield prospects Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart to get their major league chances as the first wave of new faces to debut for the Orioles.


At this point, one won't lead to another. The Orioles held infielder Renato Núñez out of Thursday's doubleheader in Rochester for Triple-A Norfolk, and he's likely to join the major league club when play resumes Friday night in Toronto.

Núñez, a 24-year-old infielder from Venezuela, joined the Orioles as a waiver claim May 13 after he was designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers. He hit .167 in 13 games for the Rangers after they picked him up from the Oakland Athletics in April, but once he came to the Orioles, he was quickly designated for assignment and outrighted to Norfolk after clearing waivers.

He's hit .289 with five home runs, 14 doubles and an .804 OPS in 56 games for the Tides, playing mostly third base with some first base mixed in. The Orioles are likely to bump Tim Beckham back to shortstop after he ceded the position to Machado this offseason, leaving Núñez to vie for playing time with Danny Valencia and Jace Peterson at third base. Núñez has also played left field and second base in his minor league career.

It might not be the roster replacement for Machado that garners the most excitement among fans, but he has a reputation as a good hitter and is the type of player who is worth a look for a team with not much at stake.

The same can be said for Mullins and Stewart, but they'll have to wait their turn. Mullins, who the Orioles are developing as a center fielder, has had some of the hottest stretches of any player in the organization. He finished off at Double-A Bowie with a scorching spell once the weather warmed up there, and after a slow start at Norfolk, went on a three-week tear that included a 15-game hitting streak, raising his average to .286 this weekend before he cooled to the .268/.333/.436 line he has now.

But with the Orioles shopping all their pending free agents before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, including franchise center fielder Adam Jones, there's not exactly an everyday fit for Mullins to break into the lineup.

Elsewhere in the outfield, the Orioles have Trey Mancini as their everyday left fielder, and have been using Valencia in right field to keep him in the lineup and further showcase him to contenders ahead of the deadline. That position could be freed up some with third base vacated and Valencia much more suited to play there, but that still leaves Mark Trumbo and Joey Rickard to split time in right field.

Mullins is certainly in the Orioles' plans, and his opportunity could be imminent, but there's a clearer path to getting him everyday at-bats after the deadline, provided the Orioles make the full set of moves that seem to be in front of them. Absent that, Mullins can continue to play every day in Norfolk.

The same applies to Stewart, who has split time between left field and right field for Norfolk this year after adding the latter to his repertoire in spring training. There are some people in the organization who are eager to get him to the majors as well, though he is batting .220 since returning from a hamstring injury in June, leaving his line at .247/.352/.419 for the season. He's doubled 19 times with nine home runs and eight steals in 11 chances.

Stewart has been on a steady development track since the Orioles made him their first-round pick in 2015, and his big league future is a matter of when, not if. But even as the clamoring for him grows, both internally and externally, the International League All-Star would likely be better served by carrying some success into his first taste of the big leagues.