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Orioles' Roster Manipulation Helps Keep Them Alive In The AL East

July 16, 2015

Since it has become something of a farce, let's just call this one "A Parody About Parity," sub-titled: "How the Baltimore Orioles Rely on One-Night Stands to Stay Alive in the American League East Division."

Or, in the case of Orioles prospect Christian Walker, a working day of seven hours, seven minutes and five seconds at considerably more than the minimum wage. If you go by the timing of the press releases announcing Walker's call up from Triple-A Norfolk July 8, to his arrival in Baltimore, and then his departure back to Norfolk, that's exactly how long Walker lasted on the Orioles' roster during his first visit of 2015.

Orioles 2015: Christian Walker (headshot)

That's a short enough stint to make Walker the poster boy for the how the Orioles handle their 25-man roster. It is clever; it is creative, and it has served a purpose as this season went beyond the halfway point. But it has gotten to the point where one has to wonder if this Baltimore-Norfolk (and occasionally Double-A Bowie) shuttle is really worth the effort put into the strategy. Some have even hinted the O's tactics were close to being a farce, which happens to be one of the literary terms to describe a parody.

The Orioles made the announcement at 9:42:03 a.m. July 8 that Walker had been recalled. He was immediately inserted into the lineup batting fifth (really?), went 1-for-2 with a walk during a 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins that closed out a disastrous 1-5 road trip, and at 4:49:08 p.m., he was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk. Hopefully, those seven hours were worth a full day's pay, because at major league minimum prices, a one-night (or day) stand in the big leagues is worth a little more than $3,000, equal to a sizeable percentage of Walker's minor league monthly salary. And had that game July 8 been a night game instead of an afternoon affair, it's possible Walker could have made a three-city round trip -- Norfolk, Va., Minneapolis, Baltimore and back to Norfolk -- without seeing the inside of a hotel room, which surely would have been a record for "one-nighters."

Walker's stay may be the shortest on record, but he is just the latest in a long line of emergency call ups, or optioned players, that have been on or off of the Orioles' 25-man roster through the week leading up to the All-Star break. The roll call really is kind of staggering. Take a look:

Cesar Cabral (I dare you to remember -- I don't, but Baseball-Reference.com said he pitched an inning during two games, so who am I to argue?); Mychal Givens (we hardly had a chance to learn how to spell his name); Oliver Drake (thanks for coming, hope to see you soon, like September); Tyler Wilson (first impressions are important, but good isn't always enough); Mike Wright (looking forward to a return visit, and staying power for 2016); T.J. McFarland (honorary pilot on the Baltimore-Norfolk run); Kevin Gausman (co-pilot hopefully finishing his training); Jason Garcia (needs 30 more days to escape the Rule 5 curse); Wesley Wright (an offseason acquisition who broke down early); and let's not forget Wei-Yin Chen (optioned to Frederick, so he wouldn't have to leave the country and face Toronto's dangerous lineup).

And those are just the pitchers. How about catcher Steve Clevenger (a cameo for a platoon role in 2016), Rey Navarro (hope you didn't blink) and Ryan Flaherty? Plus, Nolan Reimold, Chris Parmelee and Jimmy Paredes, all of whom went on the roster after the season started. Did we miss anybody? Oh yeah, Matt Wieters, one of the pivotal free-agents-to-be who emerged from the disabled list. 

That's a total of 17 players (and chances are I missed somebody) who have moved on and/or off the 25-man roster since the season started -- on a team that was within 1.5 games of first place in the AL East three days before the All-Star break. That's a lot of one-night stands, several of which have turned into a short-stay experience. For guys like McFarland, Gausman, Flaherty and especially Chen, all of whom have had at least one day of minor league time this year, the process is frustrating. But their eligibility to be optioned to the minors is rapidly expiring (and in Chen's case, free agency looms), and any future movement will at least be at the major league level.

For the others, those restricted to a series of one-night stands, the $3,000 per day pay, plus per diem in the comfortable three-figure range, is a nice little perk. And the Orioles figure to be as committed to this strategy to make full use of the 25-man roster as long as the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows. It is a subject certain to come up in the next negotiating session, during which the MLB Players Association can be expected to ask for minimum stay time for minor leaguers called up to the big leagues -- perhaps something similar to one that calls for a player sent to the minors to stay at least 10 days before being recalled, except for cases involving injured players. 

In the meantime, the Orioles are struggling to stay alive in a division in which parity rules and parody plays. Hey, who knows -- this might even be the year Baseball Prospectus is right about the Orioles winning 79 games, which has been the magic number the last three years.

On the morning of July 9, Baseball Prospectus' projections had the Orioles and Red Sox tied for fourth (and last) place with records of 81-81, one game behind the Rays, two behind the Blue Jays and three behind the Yankees, who are pegged to win the division with an 84-78 record. 

The Orioles finish the season at home with four games against the Blue Jays and three against the Yankees, when parity should reign supreme. Hopefully, it won't be a farce, and we can re-visit the idea of a parody at the proper time.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.

Issue 211: July 2015