WASHINGTON — The Orioles got younger again Tuesday, swapping out veteran Pedro Álvarez for minor league prospect Steve Wilkerson before the start of their interleague series against Washington at Nationals Park.
They’ll get older again soon, when Andrew Cashner comes off the disabled list Wednesday and veteran position players Tim Beckham and Colby Rasmus are ready to come back from their injury rehabilitation assignments.
This is a team very much in transition, but real change will come in fits and starts as the organization figures out how far it wants to go in rebuilding for next season and beyond.
The Álvarez move was inevitable. The Orioles signed him as an injury insurance policy in late February and the move paid off when Mark Trumbo went down for an extended period with a nagging quadriceps strain. Once Trumbo returned and settled into the starting lineup, there weren’t a lot of DH at-bats available and Álvarez had made just two starts since May 29.
Manager Buck Showalter said before Tuesday night’s game that he hopes Álvarez chooses to accept a voluntary assignment to Triple-A Norfolk — which he’s done in the past — but Álvarez must know that the Orioles already are moving in a very different direction. That much has become obvious with the steady turnover in the clubhouse.
The Orioles have dropped rookie David Hess into the starting rotation, with acceptable results. They think a lot of Wilkerson, in spite of the positive amphetamine test that cut 50 minor league games out of this season. They have elevated left-hander Tanner Scott into an important relief role and given the “Norfolk shuttle” spot starter job to promising young Yefry Ramírez.
Of course, any of those players could be sent back to make room on the roster for the veterans who are soon to return, but that doesn’t change the future even if Showalter doesn’t really want to ponder it just yet.
“We’ve got some moves we have to make here, obviously, with some established guys like Tim, Colby and, of course, Cashner,’’ he said. “There are some [young] guys who are really presenting themselves as good options for us, but you can’t have a 30-man club. You’ve got to make room for them.”
That’s all true. The Orioles also are presumably on the verge of a midseason fire sale that will make a lot of room on the roster. They have four pending free agents who could be dealt by the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline and might also be able to make a market for Danny Valencia and a few other veteran players.
The way this horror show of a season has been going, you’d think that Showalter would welcome the opportunity to work with a fresher roster, but it’s not as easy as that for a manager who has built relationships with a lot of those players and enjoyed a lot success managing them. That was driven home again when he had to tell Álvarez there was no longer room for him on the roster.
“It’s painful,’’ he said. “We’ve got a lot of respect for Pedro. He’s a great teammate and a great person. Who knows, he might get another opportunity. But I’m not going to really handicap it and say that this is going to happen or this is the start of this or that. I’m just taking these 25 players and trying to win a game tonight. Where it takes us? Believe me, there’s a lot of thought that goes into that and a lot of timing, too.”
The midseason trading period is getting underway and trade speculation figures to ramp up soon around Manny Machado, the player who gives the Orioles the best chance of jump-starting a quick rebuild.
The Nationals have wasted no time improving their club with an early deal, acquiring All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera from the Kansas City Royals on Monday for three prospects. They moved swiftly to get an impact player and box out a couple of National League rivals.
The Orioles clearly are hoping that the same kind of dynamic develops among teams that covet Machado and their other pending free agents