Saturday marks an important day in Orioles spring training, as it’s the day the club has to make Opening Day roster commitments to multiple nonroster players before they can officially exercise opt-out clauses to become free agents.
One of those players was Danny Valencia, who signed a minor league deal with the club in the first days of March with the caveat that he would not accept a minor league assignment. He was playing to be on the team’s major league roster or he’d try his chances elsewhere.
And on Saturday, Valencia was told that he had made the Orioles’ Opening Day roster, according to an industry source, solidifying one of the final roster decisions the club must make in the days leading up to the regular-season opener.
During Valencia’s previous stint with the Orioles in 2013, he was mainly a designated hitter against left-handed pitching. But Valencia’s ability to play all over the field — he has played both corner infield and corner outfield spots — made him a valuable asset to a team that needs a player to fill that role.
Coming off a season in which he hit .256/.314/.411 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs in 130 games with the Seattle Mariners, Valencia entered Saturday’s game with a .257/.325/.514 hitting line with three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs in 14 spring games.
While Valencia, 33, doesn’t fit the mold of a typical utility man — he doesn’t have any major league experience at shortstop and started just three games at second base — Orioles manager Buck Showalter floated the idea of giving him time at those positions this spring, but that has yet to happen.
Even without a utility player who can play shortstop, the Orioles could shift Tim Beckham there from third base and Jonathan Schoop also played the position in the case the team needs a replacement or day off for starter Manny Machado, while Valencia could play third.
Also, with Mark Trumbo opening the season on the disabled list, Valencia can easily slot into that position in the batting order.
Carrying Valencia makes a potential reunion with former Orioles utility man Ryan Flaherty less likely. Flaherty, 31, is a free agent after asking for and being granted his release by the Philadelphia Phillies because of an opt-out in his minor league deal.
The Orioles also have to make formal decisions on opt-outs for outfielders Colby Rasmus and Alex Presley this weekend. Rasmus, 31, is set to be the team’s starting right fielder against right-handed pitching. Presley, 32, is one of the last players remaining in a battle for the final outfield spot along with Craig Gentry, 34.
Before Saturday’s game with the Minnesota Twins, Showalter wouldn’t announce anyone had been told they’d made the club, but said the team was having those conversations.
“I think with some of the conversations [executive vice president Dan Duquette] has had with agents and stuff, some of them understand it,” Showalter said. “There was a conversation going on when I left to come out here today. There's a lot of people becoming available. You're careful about this time of year, making promises and all this, then all of a sudden, 12 hours later, there's a whole different scenario.”
Showalter stressed that things are fluid for a lot of reasons this year, including roster flux elsewhere.
“I can tell you what we think we're going to do, but it involves a lot of different moving parts,” Showalter said. “I know Dan's beating around things upstairs. It's that time of year where a lot of teams are starting to show their hands. Keep in mind, we don't have to turn in our roster until noon Opening Day. I hope it doesn't take that long, but there's that possibility.”