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It's Time For The Orioles To Improve Their Bench

December 15, 2016
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter is as competitive as they come. Even though the Orioles have had an exceedingly weak bench throughout his tenure, Showalter simply has to do a better job of getting his starters some days off their feet.

This past season, first baseman Chris Davis played 157 games, outfielder Mark Trumbo played 156 games, third baseman Manny Machado played 157, second baseman Jonathan Schoop played in all 162, center fielder Adam Jones played in 152 (despite a couple nagging injuries) and shortstop J.J. Hardy, who missed 42 games with a foot fracture after he fouled a ball off of it, played in 115 of the remaining 120. Even catcher Matt Wieters played 124, the most he played since 2013, when he played in 148 (due to injury, Wieters played in only 26 in 2014 and 75 in 2015).

I bring up Showalter's competitiveness to partially explain why his best players are in the lineup so often. On any given day, they give him the best chance to win.

However, the old adage is true, “discretion is the better part of valor.” In this case, that means perhaps on the days you sit someone, you don't have your best starting players on the field, and you lose. The occasional rest is good for performance and good for the soul.

I know Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.'s career has long passed. I also know baseball received a lot of goodwill when Ripken eclipsed Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig's 2,130 consecutive game record. But it will always intrigue me to think about the production Ripken could have added to his career had he gotten off his feet for a few games. 

That doesn't mean he had to take days off; rather, if Ripken had not been so stubborn, his innings could have been managed and the cumulative wear and tear lessened. But for those who work between the white lines, there is a badge of honor associated with playing every single day and not letting your teammates down.

I get all that, and I get Showalter's temptation to play several Gold Glove-caliber players whose defense significantly impacts the game almost every contest.

Usually, the Orioles will have 12 pitchers on their 25-man roster, eight regulars who play the field and one designated hitter. That leaves just four extra roster spots. Look who the Orioles carried for much of 2016: utility man Ryan Flaherty, outfielder Nolan Reimold, catcher Caleb Joseph and a combination of outfielders Joey Rickard and Hyun-Soo Kim.

Joseph had one of the worst campaigns you ever saw a major league player suffer through. Reimold, who fans cheered on for many years as he battled injuries, should be transitioned to becoming a coach in the organization; he doesn't belong on the bench of a team really trying to win.

Then there is the Rule 5 draft's Exhibit A, Flaherty, who can give you solid defense anywhere on the diamond but is challenged offensively. But how much of Flaherty and Joseph's respective problems are the undue rust each was asked to shake off?

Nobody is saying these guys should play every day or nearly every day, but there comes a time when players can become subject to the negativity ascribed to them.

Joseph is a guy who can catch 70-80 games, unless you have a top-flight No. 1 backstop. His defense is solid, his arm is solid, and he can bat .245-.260, hit 8-12 home runs and knock in 35-40 runs. I think he got caught up with trying to be too good of a soldier in 2016 and sort of stepped aside to make way for the returning Wieters.

But if Flaherty is going to be on the Orioles' club and be bragged about, he must be given a more substantive role, one in which he starts at least one day per week to give Hardy some time off against the tougher righties. He could also play three-to-four times per month as a fill-in for Schoop and/or Machado.

As for the Orioles' fourth outfielder, whomever they get, it should be someone who can play 12-15 games in center field, in addition to his regular job of late-inning defensive replacement, pinch runner, pinch hitter and generally being ready. Mid-season 2016 acquisition Michael Bourn appears to fit that mold.

While re-signing Trumbo -- if it were to happen -- would be nice, so would re-signing Pedro Alvarez. But, flat out, if Trumbo goes, get Alvarez back to play about 110-120 games as designated hitter; Alvarez played in 109 games in 2016.

In an ideal world, the club could carry five starting pitchers and six bullpen arms, but with the overflow of six starters, it seems more likely the O's will, as they always seem to do, carry 12 arms, which limits the bench to just four men.

Issue 228: December 2016