Recent Baltimore Orioles Acquisitions
Orioles Executive Vice President Dan Duquette has always had a knack for finding quality players to fill out his roster on the cheap. Joey Rickard was a perfect example of that last season as a Rule 5 pickup who gave the O’s a .696 OPS for the tidy sum of $507,500.
Once again, Duquette has been active late in the winter with a series of small moves to add bodies for spring training – and perhaps beyond.
Let’s take a look at a handful of his recent additions and attempt to project whether any of these guys make an impact during the 2017 season.
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Craig Gentry: Signed to minor league contract on Feb. 20
The addition of Gentry to a minor league contract with an invite to big league camp gives the Orioles 12 outfielders in camp. But Gentry stands out in that he is a veteran right-handed major league hitter with speed as well as solid defensive skills. These are not qualities the O’s have a lot of laying around.
Gentry is best suited for a corner outfield spot, making him a potential platoon partner with either Hyun Soo Kim or Seth Smith, or simply as a guy you mix into the lineup based on matchups, and bring in as a late-innings defensive replacement.
As a defensive player, Gentry is good if not spectacular. According to Baseball Savant, Gentry didn’t allow a single hit last season on ball deemed to be “Easy” or “Routine.” He’s not a guy who’s going to go out and make a ton of highlight reel plays, but he’ll catch everything that’s hit to him and he’ll chase down a few difficult balls as well.
He also has some speed on the base paths, having stolen 77 bags in 90 attempts (86 percent) over the course of his eight-year career. He has stolen only one base in two attempts, however, over his last two seasons.
At the plate, Gentry is not a great hitter and has very little power, but he does have a career .707 OPS vs. lefties, as opposed to a .626 mark vs. right-handers.
Expected impact: Gentry has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster. If that happens, however, it could come at the expense of Rickard, who possesses a similar skillset but who has minor league options remaining.
Vidal Nuno: Acquired from Dodgers in exchange for minor league pitcher Ryan Moseley on Feb. 19
Nuno is a well-traveled 29-year-old left-hander who spent time in five different organizations before the trade to Baltimore. The Diamondbacks once thought him good enough to acquire from the Yankees in a trade for Brandon McCarthy. He played with Mark Trumbo in Arizona, then was traded with Trumbo to the Mariners for another future Oriole (Welington Castillo) and others a year later.
The Mariners dealt him to the Dodgers in November for catcher Carlos Ruiz, but he never had a chance to don Dodger blue.
Nuno doesn’t throw hard – his fastball averaged a touch below 90 last season – but he has a decent career ERA of 4.02 and batters hit just .167 against his curve in 2016. Despite not throwing very hard and not being able to stick with any one team for very long, Nuno is a nice pickup as a solid arm who could fill multiple roles for the Orioles.
Expected impact: With Chris Tillman facing a possible DL stint to start the season, Nuno could potentially find a spot in the starting rotation, at least in April. He does have 42 career starts with a 4.40 ERA. But his most-likely role is as a bullpen piece who can dominate lefties (.224 batting average against) and also go multiple innings when needed. It would be a surprise if he didn’t make the big league roster.
Michael Choice: Signed to a minor league contract on Feb. 15
Choice is a former first-round draft pick of the Oakland A’s who has a .573 OPS in 300 career plate appearances. The Orioles are his third franchise, as he spent 2014-15 in the Texas Rangers organization.
Despite his heralded status as a high draft pick, Choice isn’t really a prospect anymore at age 27. Nor is he a speed guy (27 steals in 722 minor league games) and his defense in a corner outfield spot is far from spectacular (-21.2 UZR/150).
If there is a bright spot, it’s that he – as a right-handed hitter – has a .698 OPS vs left-handed pitchers. He also had 13 walks to only 22 strikeouts vs. lefties in his major league career.
Expected impact: Choice was already a longshot to make the Orioles big league roster thanks to the presence of Rickard and Christian Walker, as well as Rule 5 pickups Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander. The signing of Gentry makes the hill an even steeper climb. Choice projects as minor league depth this summer, or even outright release before the season starts.
Juan Francisco: Signed to a minor league contract on Feb. 15
Francisco fits the profile of a Baltimore Oriole – a big (6-2, 245), lumbering corner infielder with lots of power.
A left-handed hitter, Francisco has a career .439 slugging percentage and a HR/FB rate of 20.9%. That latter number would have ranked 16th in MLB last season, just behind Hanley Ramirez (21.1%) and ahead of Mike Napoli (20.5%).
In 2014 with Toronto, his last season in MLB, he hit 16 home runs (and struck out 116 times) in just 106 games. He played in Japan and the Dominican Republic in 2015 (only nine total games) and sat out all of 2016.
Expected impact: Duquette is just taking a shot in the dark with this signing. But even if Francisco has a dominant spring training it’s hard to envision him making this team. Even if something terrible happens, like an injury to Chris Davis, the roster spot would probably go to someone like Trey Mancini, Chris Johnson, Tavarez, Santander or even Jesus Montero before it goes to Francisco. This is minor league depth.
Gabriel Ynoa: Acquired from Mets in exchange for cash on Feb. 10
Ynoa is, in a way, the opposite of Nuno as a high-velocity, high-stuff, high-ceiling guy. He’s also much more of a wild card when it comes to expectations for the 2017 season.
Ynoa, who turns 24 in May, got his first taste of the majors last season in New York and he struggled mightily, allowing 26 hits and seven walks in just 18 1/3 innings for a 6.38 ERA. He did strike out 17, however, and his 2.60 FIP speaks to better things to come.
While his fastball averages in the mid-90s, the Orioles would like to see him refine his off-speed stuff as his slider and curve both were hit well last summer.
His control issues last summer may have been partly nerves and perhaps an adjustment to major league umpires, as his walk rate of just 1.5/9 innings in the minors might suggest. An adjustment there, as well as some seasoning, could help him get closer to his minor league success – 3.36 ERA in 136 games (128 starts).
Expected impact: Ynoa could start or relieve, but the array of weapons in his toolbox seem to suggest a future in the rotation. Whether or not that happens coming out of spring training will depend on how he performs in Florida as well as the health of Tillman. As it is, you can put Ynoa in the group that includes Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson and Logan Verrett as guys who have a chance to make the big league team out of Florida, but who might be destined to start the season in Norfolk’s rotation.
Bob Harkins is a former editor and writer for Time Warner Cable Sports in Los Angeles, where he helped cover the Dodgers and Lakers. Prior to that, he was a senior editor and writer for NBCSports.com, leading the site’s coverage of Major League Baseball for nine seasons. He always believed that Major League catcher was the toughest job in sports -- until he wrote a series on professional rodeo cowboys. Talk about tough!
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