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What Does Nelson Cruz Signing Mean For Nolan Reimold's Future?

February 25, 2014

The Orioles' recent bevy of free-agent signings has infused the roster with veteran talent and jolted newfound hope into many previously disillusioned O's fans.

For some of the Birds' homegrown former prospects, though, the club's spending spree could have more costly ramifications. Several players drafted and developed in the Orioles' system now find themselves in a precarious position for the team's present and future.

The Birds' signings of pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-min Yoon tightened the roster crunch for pitchers such as the out-of-options Zach Britton. More recently, the Orioles' addition of free-agent designated hitter Nelson Cruz -- whose one-year contract the O's made official Feb. 24 -- has complicated the roster picture for a handful of outfield/designated hitter types, perhaps none more so than Nolan Reimold.

Orioles 2013: Nolan Reimold (batting)
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

Most Orioles fans are probably familiar with Reimold's enigmatic and frustrating tenure with the team. Reimold shot quickly out of the gate as a rookie in 2009, hitting 15 home runs and posting an .831 OPS during 104 games. It's been downhill from there. Since 2009, Reimold has been unable to remain healthy and effective for a full season, combining to play 182 games during a four-year span. He has been plagued by off-the-field issues as well as a variety of injuries, most recently undergoing neck surgery in 2013 after a previous botched neck surgery the year before.

It's a little surprising that Reimold, now 30 years old, continues to hold a roster spot after so many years of ill health and non-production. Last spring, I wrote of Reimold: "One thing's for sure: This is a make-or-break season for him. If he gets hurt again or is ineffective, he probably won't be back with the Orioles in 2014."

Shows what I know. Reimold was both hurt and ineffective in 2013 -- posting career-worst statistics with a .195 average and .586 OPS during 40 games -- yet the Birds brought him back for another go-round regardless. In fact, they offered him arbitration (a decision I had argued against) and will pay him $1.03 million in 2014. The Orioles may still think that Reimold can put up numbers comparable with his rookie-year production if he can put his injury woes behind him.

Reimold seems to have noticed the team's patience.

"I'm definitely very happy that they brought me back, because I don't want to go anywhere else," Reimold said, "and also very appreciative, too, because there's probably not too many teams, too many owners, too many front offices that [would bring back] a guy [who] has two neck surgeries -- somebody who's not really a super established player or anything like that. ... And it's one of the many things I can use for motivation, because I want to prove to the organization that they were right giving me another shot."

Reimold said his health was improved after his most recent neck surgery.

"It's pretty good," he said. "It's a lot better than it's been the last few years. I had the surgery again, but they did the procedure a little different. It healed faster. ... So I feel the best I have since it happened."

Still, as patient as the Orioles have been with Reimold, even they can't wait forever for him to salvage his career. Reimold will face more pressure than ever to produce in 2014. And his job got harder with the Birds' signing of Cruz, which could significantly diminish Reimold's playing time.

Entering spring training, Reimold was a candidate to get regular starts at designated hitter. Now, with Cruz likely to fill that role full time, Reimold's most realistic hope may be to battle for a bench spot as a pinch-hit specialist and perhaps spell David Lough in left field against southpaw starters. But he'll be competing with fellow right-handed outfield/DH types, including Steve Pearce and Delmon Young, for that role.

If Reimold scuffles through an ineffective, unhealthy spring training while Pearce or Young shine, Reimold could get squeezed off the Opening Day roster and could find his Orioles future in serious jeopardy. Reimold is out of options, so the O's would have to pass him through waivers to send him to the minors.

"It's in the back of your head, but if you're really thinking about it a lot, nothing good can come of that," Reimold said. "So it's more just relax, play, have fun."

The Orioles' leash with Reimold is likely running short. But that's nothing new, considering that Reimold has seemingly been in a do-or-die situation with the Birds for years on end. Time will tell whether he's able to step up to the challenge.

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