The Orioles spent last offseason sharing Hanser Alberto with other teams amid a dizzying cycle of the infielder being designated for assignment and claimed on waivers before he ended up leading Baltimore in hitting.
Pat Valaika is filling the early portion of the Alberto role thus far, with the Orioles again claiming him on waivers Thursday, not even three weeks after designating him for assignment themselves. To clear space on the 40-man roster, right-handed reliever Branden Kline, a Frederick native who was Baltimore’s second-round pick in 2012, was designated for assignment.
Valaika, 27, began the offseason with the Colorado Rockies, the organization he had been with since being drafted in 2013′s ninth round. He made appearances for Colorado every year from 2016 to 2019, playing every infield spot with five games in left field while batting .214/.256/.400. Thirteen of his 17 career home runs came in 2017.
The Orioles originally claimed Valaika on waivers Oct. 30, then designated him for assignment Jan. 10 when they claimed infielder Richard Ureña from Toronto. The Arizona Diamondbacks claimed Valaika on Jan. 16, but he was on their 40-man roster only 11 days before they designated him.
Valaika adds infield depth for a team lacking it. Of his 69 career starts, 46 have come in the middle infield. With free agent signee José Iglesias due to be the Orioles’ starting shortstop and Alberto likely to get starts at second, third or both, Valaika rejoins a competition that includes Ureña, Rio Ruiz, Renato Núñez, Richie Martin and Stevie Wilkerson, as well as a handful of non-roster invitees, for jobs on Baltimore’s infield. He could also get playing time at first base in the spring, with Chris Davis, Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle also in the mix.
Kline, 28, made his major league debut last year after a career spent battling injuries. In 34 games, he posted a 5.93 ERA across 41 innings, allowing nine home runs and striking out 34. The Orioles have seven days to trade Kline or try to pass him through waivers.
Speaking at last week’s Brews & O’s event in Canton, Kline expressed gratitude for getting to reach the majors with the Orioles, the team he grew up rooting for.
“It was definitely something special, not more for me but more for my family," Kline said. "Throughout the years, obviously, I’d been tagged with the ‘injury bug’ as you could say, but I had multiple arm surgeries, multiple times where doctors were like, ‘Hey, six, seven months from now, you’ll be fine.’ And then six, seven months will pass by, and I’d do it all over again.
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"The hardest thing for me wasn’t the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to play. It was having to make that phone call to my mom, to my wife, saying, ‘Hey, I’m hurt again. I don’t know what’s wrong.’ Especially this past year, finally getting to Baltimore, finally getting to the big leagues, it was more of a relief and more of an accomplishment, I think, for my family, just because they’ve always been there for me, they’ve always stuck with me, and it’s because of them that I continue to push and push into rehab and into the work, so to be able to finally get to Baltimore and have that opportunity and have the success that I did last year was really special.”