The pending addition of slugger Pedro Alvarez adds another 30-home run bat to the Orioles' power-packed lineup, but it also creates a logjam at the designated hitter spot that the club will have to maneuver around this season.
Alvarez — who agreed to terms on a one-year, $5.75 million deal with the Orioles on Monday night — must still pass a club physical before the deal becomes official. He was scheduled to fly into Sarasota from his home in Nashville on Tuesday afternoon.
When the Orioles' late attempts to sign a corner outfielder failed — their pursuit of outfielder Dexter Fowler proved unsuccessful last month when he returned to the Chicago Cubs and outfielder Austin Jackson turned down more money to sign with the Chicago White Sox this past weekend — the club turned to the best available power hitter on the market.
With Alvarez, the Orioles now have six hitters in their lineup who have hit at least 30 homers in a season.
"We have great hitters here," said Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who hit a career-high 35 homers last year. "He's another 30-homer guy. I think everybody in this lineup could possibly hit 30. I think this guy right next to me [second baseman Jonathan Schoop] is on the verge of hitting 30, so one through nine, we're going to be stacked up."
The left-handed-hitting Alvarez, who hit .243/.318/.469 with 27 homers and 77 RBIs last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, averaged nearly 28 homers over the past four seasons. He also averaged 152 strikeouts a year over that span. In 2013, he led the NL in both homers (36) and strikeouts (186).
Alvarez was a third baseman for most of his career — he led the National League in errors playing there from 2012-14 — and then moved to first base last year and led all NL first baseman with 23 errors.
But the Orioles signed Alvarez to join their group of mashers. They're not paying him to play defense. They're paying him to launch balls onto the right field flag court at Camden Yards.
"I think the guys are going to hit," said Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who pitched against Alvarez in the NL Central. "You look at one through nine, the kind of lineup we have, it's not easy [to face]. You don't get a break as a starting pitcher. … Now adding Alvarez, any one of those guys can hit for power, hit for average, hit the ball the other way and just play the game. I think it's going to benefit us and this club."
"He's a dangerous hitter," Gallardo added of Alvarez. "He's the kind of guy who can do some damage no matter what the situation, no matter where in the lineup he hits. He's got great power and I think he's going to do great. I think he's going to fit into this clubhouse and it's exciting."
The Orioles were interested in Alvarez since early this offseason when it became clear the Pirates –— faced with hefty arbitration raises — were considering not tendering a contract to Alvarez because he was projected to make around $8 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility. Unable to trade Alvarez, the Pirates non-tendered him, making him a free agent.
He sat on the free-agent market all offseason, receiving lukewarm interest. The Orioles — because of their hitter-friendly ballpark and since they didn't need him to contribute defensively — seemed to be the best fit all along.
"He's a powerful bat, as big as there is in the game," said Orioles utility man Ryan Flaherty, who has been a close friend of Alvarez's since their days as college teammates at Vanderbilt. "I think a lot of the things he does is what this team's had success the last four years or so. He can definitely help."
The player most affected by the Alvarez signing is Mark Trumbo, who now projects to be the team's starting right fielder on most days. The Orioles are taking a long look at Trumbo in right — he is regarded as a below-average defender there, with a strong arm but questionable range — but he was also slated get a large slice of the designated hitter at-bats before the team agreed to terms with Alvarez.
Trumbo made a career-high 70 starts in right field last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners. He ranked 21st among qualifying major league right fielders in defensive runs saved, according to The Fielding Bible.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that the fact that Trumbo was doing extra work in the outfield on Tuesday morning with outfield coach Wayne Kirby was little more than coincidence, but it was a sure sign of the effect of the Alvarez signing at work.
"[Trumbo] was out there with Kirb today at 8:30 in the morning while we were all having Corn Flakes," Showalter said. "He's been doing that, preparing for all the possibilities. We knew a possible addition might come and we didn't want to wait until the end. We've been doing it since the day he got here. Whether it's right field, first base or left field, we'll continue to get looks. We haven't done a whole lot in the games in left field, but we've done stuff on the back fields."
Chris Davis has also made 57 career starts in right field, including 29 starts there in 2015, but Showalter said Tuesday that Davis — who received the largest contract in franchise history, a seven-year, $161 million deal — will remain the team's primary first baseman. First base is Trumbo's best position and where he's most comfortable.
Trumbo will likely still get DH at-bats, especially against left-handed pitching. Alvarez is a career .203/.270/.332 against left-handed pitching, compared to a .246/.320/.473 hitter against right-handers. That makes right-handed-hitting outfielders Nolan Reimold and Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard both key figures as the roster rounds out.
Showalter has said there is a way the team can carry both players on its 25-man Opening Day roster. Reimold is one of the club's more patient hitters, something the team needs after adding another low on-base hitter in Alvarez. And Rickard is having a strong spring at the plate and in the field as he attempts to show the club he can play all three outfield positions and hold his own with his bat.
Showalter wouldn't discuss Alvarez and how he hypothetically fit in with the club.
"As we've been down this road a few times, let the process run its course," Showalter said, alluding to last month's foul-up with Fowler. "Then we'll have plenty of time to talk about these things."