Should the Baltimore Orioles be out on Tim Beckham?
Everyone in Birdland seems to be out on Tim Beckham at the moment, but the Baltimore Orioles have until Friday to decide whether or not to tender him a contract. Why it may not be a bad idea to keep Beckham around
When the Baltimore Orioles acquired infielder Tim Beckham from the Tampa Bay Rays at the 2017 trade deadline, Dan Duquette and company were buying low on a player who’d under-performed his projections since day one.
Drafted number one overall in 2008 out of Griffin High School in Georgia, Beckham was touted as an athletic, bat-first shortstop with potential to be an above-average major leaguer. However, Beckham never lived up to those expectations; it took him eight years to become an every day big-leaguer for the Rays, who promptly traded him just two years removed from his first full season in the majors.
In his initial stint with the Orioles in 2017, Beckham appeared in 50 games and posted an .871 OPS, showing the potential he once possessed as a prospect. But in 2018, the Orioles moved superstar third-baseman Manny Machado to shortstop, forcing Beckham to again switch defensive positions.
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In April 2018, Beckham was diagnosed with a core muscle injury which required surgery to fix. For parts of the 2018 season, Beckham was very obviously not himself; he finished the season with a .661 OPS in 96 games, leaving O’s fans wanting much more.
One of the knocks against Beckham is that he isn’t a great defender, which given the Orioles need for it is understandable. Beckham’s career -4 DRS at shortstop in 1,856 innings suggests he’s slightly below average at the position, but he isn’t the worst option for a struggling Orioles team.
Beckham certainly didn’t look great as a defender last year but let’s not forget he was coming off a surgical procedure to repair a core injury; certain aspects of his game were bound to be negatively affected by it. Add in the Orioles reluctance to give him steady reps at a single position and you can see where he might’ve had issues.
To be fair, the Orioles do need make drastic improvements on the defensive side in order to give the younger pitchers in the organization better opportunities to succeed. The problem for the Orioles is that there aren’t any viable options within the organization to replace the innings at shortstop in 2018.
While Renato Nunez is slated to become the Orioles’ everyday third baseman next year, and Jonathan Villar is seemingly set to man the keystone, if the Orioles move on from Beckham they’ll have to find a replacement in the free agent market. Potential replacements include Adeiny Hechavarria, Freddy Galvis, and Jose Iglesias; none of which have Beckham’s offensive upside.
I get the urge to want to move on from Beckham, both in terms of cutting payroll and in improving the defense. Beckham will likely be due a salary somewhere in the $4 million dollar range next year; MLB Trade Rumors projected him at $4.3 million but he’ll likely be on the low side of his salary projections due to the volume of games played and his overall performance.
I’ll agree that the Orioles should be focused on putting a better defense behind their young pitching staff, but a full year of Villar at second is a good start and a healthy Beckham likely wouldn’t be as bad as some would lead you to believe.
While any of the three mentioned free agents might present an upgrade on the defensive side, Galvis has a career 77 wRC+, Hechavarria is at 72 and Iglesias is at 83; they’re all significantly below average hitters. Beckham’s career wRC+ is 96 and he’s a much better hitter than any of the Orioles’ other options right now.
Maybe the Orioles don’t necessarily need runs in 2019. Maybe they’ll be in full tank mode and the primary objective will be to save as much money as possible while stockpiling as many young assets as they can.
But $4 million dollars isn’t a lot of money in the MLB world, especially for a league-average shortstop with decent contact skills. When you consider that the alternative is a $2 million dollar shortstop who becomes an automatic out in the lineup, the cost savings become marginal at best.
If you’re asking for a prediction, I don’t think the Orioles will tender Beckham a contract by Friday’s deadline. I’d guess that they try their luck in the free agent market and they prioritize infield defense in the offseason.
But if you’re looking for an opinion, the Orioles should consider keeping Beckham around. He’s affordable even at $4 million, he’s a passable defender, we’ve seen him hit and he’s certainly capable of it. Worst case, the Orioles would be out a couple million dollars in what will be a rebuilding year anyway. Best case, Beckham provides a spark in an Orioles offense desperately in need of one and builds a small amount of trade value. It might be worth it to keep Beckham around next year and see if he can add some value to what will be a mediocre Orioles roster.