HomeMLB RumorsOrioles Option Jackson Holliday - MLB Trade Rumors

Orioles Option Jackson Holliday – MLB Trade Rumors

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The Orioles announced today that they have optioned infielder Jackson Holliday to Triple-A Norfolk. His roster spot will go to outfielder Ryan McKenna, whose contract has been selected. To open a spot on the 40-man for McKenna, catcher David Bañuelos has been designated for assignment.

Holliday, 20, came into this season as the consensus top prospect in baseball. The first overall pick of the 2022 draft, he mashed his way through four levels of the minor leagues last year. He went from Single-A to High-A to Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .323/.442/.499 along the way.

Coming into 2024, there seemed to be a legitimate chance of Holliday cracking the Opening Day roster, despite his young age. Back in December, general manager Mike Elias said as much, telling reporters that it was a “very strong possibility.”

During Spring Training, Holliday seemed to be ticking all the boxes when he hit .311/.354/.600 in official Grapefruit League action. Yet despite that huge stat line, the club decided to send him back to Triple-A to start the year. Elias stated that Holliday needed a bit more work against left-handed pitching and a bit more experience at second base, having only recently moved there from shortstop.

Some observers wondered if this was simple service time manipulation, but the O’s made another surprising move when they called Holliday up on April 9, less than two weeks into the season. He had only played 10 Triple-A games to start the year, hitting a huge .333/.482/.595 in that time, and he was still called up early enough that he could earn a full year of service time by staying up for the remainder of the 2024 season.

Unfortunately, his major league career has gotten out to an incredibly slow start. Through 10 games and 36 plate appearances, he has struck out 18 times, a massive 50% clip. He only has two hits, both singles, and two walks. That leads to a batting line of .059/.111/.059.

That’s a tiny sample size but the O’s have evidently decided that the best move is to send Holliday down to Norfolk and get back into a groove. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that doesn’t take very long. He’s still very young and clearly incredibly talented, while his struggles consist of a small sliver of time in the grand scheme of things. Plenty of star baseball players have struggled initially and still gone on to great success. To use just a couple of examples, Chandler Rome of The Athletic pointed out this afternoon that Alex Bregman had two hits in his first 38 at-bats while Kyle Tucker had just nine in his first 64.

While Holliday could realistically be back in short order and slugging in the big leagues, he’ll first have to catch his breath in Norfolk and string some good plate appearances together, which is likely going to push back his path to free agency and perhaps to arbitration.

A major league season is 187 days long but a player needs only 172 to reach a year of service time, meaning a player can be sent to the minors for 15 days and still get a full year. Holliday missed the first 12 days of this season and was still in position to get to the one-year mark here in 2024 but he’ll now be a pace behind that. A position player optioned to the minors has to stay down for ten days before being recalled. An exception is made if someone else is going on the injured list, but the likeliest scenario is that Holliday will be in Norfolk for at least a few weeks.

He could also earn a full year of service time in the less-traditional way. The latest collective bargaining agreement added measures to combat service time, one of which was the ability for a top prospect to earn a full year of service even if not called up early enough if they finish in the top two in Rookie of the Year voting in their league. Though for that scenario to play out now, Holliday would have to quickly produce better results in order to secure a fast recall and then thrive in the majors for several months. With rookies like Colton Cowser, Wilyer Abreu, Mason Miller and Evan Carter already racking up decent numbers, Holliday would be challenged to end up getting into the top two.

For the club, they will also be taking their prospect promotion incentive off the table for now. Another new measure of the CBA is that teams can earn an extra draft pick if they promote top prospects early enough to get a full service year, and that player goes on to earn a Rookie of the Year award or a top three finish in MVP or Cy Young voting in their pre-arbitration years. That was on the table for Holliday with his promotion a couple of weeks ago but won’t be a factor now. That could still come into play next year if Holliday retains his rookie status through the end of 2024.

As for arbitration, a player needs three years of service to automatically qualify. Each year, a subset of player get in early by what is known as “Super Two” status. That line moves from year to year since it goes to the 22% of players with the most service between two and three years. Holliday could qualify for Super Two status after the 2026 season, depending on how much time he spends in the majors between now and then, as well as where the cutoff is after that year.

In addition to Holliday’s struggles, the O’s are able to make this move because so many other players are performing so well. Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg have both been excellent and seem likely to take the bulk of the middle infield playing time. Westburg had been spending more time at third but could now move to the keystone on a regular basis with Holliday’s demotion, with Ramón Urías getting more time at the hot corner. Urías isn’t hitting well this year but has solid career numbers at the plate and he is considered an excellent defender at multiple positions. Jorge Mateo is available as a depth infielder off the bench.

McKenna, 27, gets back on the Baltimore roster just a few weeks after being removed. He spent the past three years serving as a glove-first bench outfielder for the club. From 2021 through 2023, he hit just .221/.299/.318 but racked up eight Defensive Runs Saved and seven Outs Above Average on the grass. He also stole eight bases in nine tries.

He exhausted his option years in that time and was nudged off the club’s Opening Day roster this year, but was passed through waivers and stuck in the organization. It was reported earlier this week that McKenna was taking some reps at second base to expand his versatility, but he didn’t get a chance to take the infield during actual game action for the Tides before getting added back to the big league roster.

For now, it seems like he will go back to his role as a depth outfielder, behind the regulars Anthony Santander, Cedric Mullins, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad. Once Austin Hays is ready to return from the injured list, McKenna may be in jeopardy of losing his roster spot again, though Kjerstad getting optioned back to the minors is another possibility.

Bañuelos, 27, has been bouncing on and off the roster in the past week-plus, mostly out of convenience. He has been traveling with the team on the taxi squad as an emergency third catcher behind Adley Rutschman and James McCann. Twice in the past ten days, he was added to the roster when someone else was hurt, seemingly because he was there and ready to suit up. In both cases, he was designated for assignment shortly thereafter.

The first DFA led to Bañuelos passing through waivers unclaimed and sticking with the O’s. If he were to pass through unclaimed again, he would have the right to elect free agency as a player with a previous career outright. He has one major league plate appearance, a flyout, and hit .270/.369/.526 in Double-A for the Twins last year.

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