BALTIMORE — Struggling offensively and needing to make room for the returning Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles shook up their roster Wednesday by designating outfielder Alejandro De Aza for assignment.
The 31-year-old began the season as Baltimore’s leadoff hitter, but he struggled immensely at the plate, batting just .214 with 34 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances as he eventually lost his regular starting role. Acquired from the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 30, 2014, De Aza provided a spark down the stretch for the American League East champions, but lapses in the field and on the bases in addition to his hitting woes this season clearly led to him falling out of favor with the organization.
“In the long run, it’s going to work out better for him,” said manager Buck Showalter, who also cited a crowded outfield situation. “He’s going to end up in a better situation. I feel good for him in the long run. I think he’ll understand that as he gets away from it. We know he’s capable of better, and he’ll probably be able to do that somewhere else.”
De Aza posted a .636 on-base plus slugging percentage with three home runs and seven RBIs while seeing time in both left and right field. The 32-year-old was cited as an internal option the Orioles had to justify the decision to allow right fielder Nick Markakis to depart via free agency last December.
Even with De Aza’s struggles, the move came as a surprise as most expected the Orioles to designate infielder Everth Cabrera for assignment since Flaherty was being activated from the 15-day disabled list. However, Showalter prefers keeping Cabrera as short-term insurance with Flaherty and shortstop J.J. Hardy both dealing with recent ailments, but the veteran infielder remains on tenuous footing with a .469 OPS.
The Orioles will attempt to trade De Aza to another club, but such a move is unlikely with a hefty portion of his $5 million salary still owed for the remainder of the 2015 season. Baltimore would remain on the hook for the rest of his salary unless he’s potentially traded or claimed on waivers by another club. Some questioned in the offseason whether it was worth tendering De Aza a contract because of his previous decline with the White Sox, but the veteran posted an .877 OPS in 89 regular-season plate appearances for the Orioles last season and hit .333 in the postseason.
“What he did for us the last third of the  season was indicative of what he’s capable of and probably will do this year at some point for somebody else,” Showalter said. “But that somebody else is not in the situation we’re in as a team, and each case is different. Obviously, we wish him well. A good teammate, professional guy, worked hard at it, and it bothered him that he couldn’t get to what he was capable of.”