BALTIMORE –- The Orioles are concerned about J.J. Hardy’s back, and with Ryan Flaherty returning from his second stint on the disabled list with a right groin injury, they surprisingly designated outfielder Alejandro De Aza for assignment on Wednesday.
De Aza, who was 1-for-14, batted .214 with three home runs and seven RBIs in 30 games. His 34 strikeouts were second on the team.
“It’s all tough. Ryan’s healthy and ready to go. We have to make sure that he and J.J. are fine from an infield coverage standpoint, and we’ve been probably an outfielder heavy,” manager Buck Showalter said.
“I think in the long run, like I told Alejandro, it’s going to work out better for him. It gives us an opportunity to trade him, which I’m sure Dan looked into already; I know he has, gauging interest. If nothing works out to our satisfaction or advantage, he, like he probably would have been at the end of this year, pick and choose from some teams that would have had interest in him. He’s going to end up in a better situation.”
The Orioles acquired De Aza last August 30 from the Chicago White Sox for minor league pitchers Mark Blackmar and Miguel Chalas.
In 20 games with the Orioles last year, De Aza hit .293 with three home runs and 10 RBIs.
“I feel good for him in the long run. I think he’ll understand it as he gets away from it. We know he’s capable of better and he’ll probably be able to do that somewhere else, but we kind of got into a situation [where] we had to make a move. It’s not going to be the first time, either. We’re going to have some more of those coming up, some tough ones with other people coming back to us. That’s also why we had to acquire players for the depth that we’ve had to have for the first part of the season.”
Everth Cabrera, who’s batting .205 in 25 games, represents infield insurance if Hardy, who came out of Monday’s game with a tight back, and Flaherty who’s been twice disabled with a strained right groin, are unable to play.
“I’m not going to get into who the competition was to take off. I know Ryan’s coming back, so a lot of people immediately think it might be an infielder, but [we] want to make sure,” Showalter said. “You still better cover yourself if there’s an issue in case something crops up with J.J. You better be sure you’re covered. We like our depth down there: Paul Janish. Nobody catches the ball much better than him, and of course [Rey] Navarro has presented himself as an option, so we feel good about that, but we want to take each case as it comes and see what best fits for us.”
De Aza took the Orioles to arbitration in February. He lost the case and has a $5 million salary. He began the season as the leadoff hitter, but as his strikeouts mounted, Manny Machado took over the top spot from the 31-year-old. He was 7-for-21 (.333) in the postseason.
“I think what he did for us the last third of the season is indicative of what he is capable of and probably will do this year at some point for somebody else. But that somebody else is not in the situation that we’re in as a team,” Showalter said.
“He showed flashes of it, and he will again. He’s a young man.”
The Orioles had two other left-handed outfielders, David Lough and Travis Snider, both of whom could be under team control next season.
“This is about roster management and where we are at right now, and trying to make sure that we’ve covered ourselves as we go forward. You just do that math of people that are coming back and some places where guys don’t have options. The options are there to protect the player. That’s why at some point they ran out of options so you can’t hoard players,” Showalter said.
Showalter said that Brian Matusz’s impending suspension did not affect the Orioles’ decision.
The manager was fond of De Aza. “Tough conversation with Allie, good kid, good people,” Showalter said.