Coming into the trade deadline, it seemed as if the Orioles were interested in selling. Of course, that made sense. At the time of the news breaking about ownership OK’ing the move of top relievers and Seth Smith, the team had about a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to FanGraphs). That hasn’t changed, and the Orioles only realistic shot of making the postseason is to nab a wildcard spot. A spot that, despite a four game winning streak, they still trail by three and a half games. Translation: The Orioles are not making the postseason.
For that reason, the moves they made were even weirder. First, they went out and acquired Jeremy Hellickson from the Philadelphia Phillies. Then, right before the deadline hit, they made a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for none other than Tim Beckham. It’s hard to say that these moves were made solely to contend in 2017. Maybe the Orioles are just infatuated with busted Rays former prospects?
Focusing more on Beckham, this deal does make sense. The cost to acquire Beckham was minor leaguer Tobias Myers, which isn’t that much to give up. If the O’s wanted to keep Manny Machado at third base, they had to find someone to play shortstop. They had entrusted the position to J.J. Hardy and Ruben Tejada, while Paul Janish and Ryan Flaherty also received some innings. Injuries to Hardy have played a significant role, but generally poor play by all parties has made the position somewhat of a glaring hole. Hardy is batting .211/.248/.308 (43 wRC+) over the 239 PA’s he has received this season, and is currently sitting on the team’s 60-day DL. Tejada is preforming slightly better, .230/.293/.283 (55 wRC+) over 124 PAs.
The Orioles have been bad at the plate, and subpar in the field. Besides just poor play, there’s the issue of being able to acquire their (albeit poor) services for 2018. Ruben Tejada and Ryan Flaherty will free agents at the end of the year. J.J. Hardy is in the final year of his deal, but has an option for 2018. The Orioles can either buy him out for two million dollars, or pay $14 million for his services.
The Orioles needed someone who could at least hold their own at shortstop while remaining under club control for multiple years. Enter Tim Beckham.
Beckham is the former first overall pick from the 2008 amateur draft, and he has been essentially league average at the plate this season. Prior to a sprained left ankle injury that sent him to the disabled list in early July, Beckham had been playing very well.
Slashing .150/.227/.225 is decidedly not good, even for just 44 plate appearances. Despite the post-DL skid, he still owns a 95 wRC+ in 345 PA overall, and posted a 98 wRC+ in 2016. It isn’t anything to write home about, but it is more impressive than what the Orioles had been running out. The interesting thing is that Beckham has begun to trade power for average, in addition to walking more.
Of all his hits this season, 75 percent are singles. That’s up from the 55 percent range he has held for the past two seasons. He also garners most of his power output from homers, as they account for 12 of his 20 extra-base hits. In terms of walking, his walk rate has risen from 5.8 percent in 2015 to 7 percent this season. Not a great jump, but it does point to a desire to let pitchers put him on more often.
Putting all of that together, it appears that Beckham has gone against the grain from what a lot of major leaguers have been doing. He is trading power for an ability to get on base more consistently. Maybe Camden Yards helps him hit some more dingers. Maybe he tries to take the ball to all fields more often and become a gap-to-gap hitter. There are plenty of things that could happen. Who knows.
What we do know is that this is the first real shot Beckham will get at playing every day based solely on the people he has behind him. Beckham, who has showcased an ability to play every infield position over the last three seasons, has a real chance to have ownership of an every day spot past just this season. He was also stuck in a bit of a logjam with the Rays, who had acquired Adeiny Hechavarria in June and saw Brad Miller return from his DL-stint. In terms of club control Beckham will go through the arbitration process of the first time this winter, and won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 offseason. It is the perfect fit for the Orioles both in the short and long term, and it also signifies the end of the almost decade Tim Beckham has spent with the Tampa Bay Rays.
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Shawn Brody is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score, producer of In Play, Pod(cast), and pitcher recovering from Tommy John at Howard Payne University. He is a Senior double majoring in Business Management and Computer Information Systems. You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnBrody or email him at Shawnbrody9@gmail.com