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Orioles designate outfielder for assignment

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The Orioles announced Monday that they’ve designated outfielder Ryan McKenna for assignment. His spot on the roster will go to veteran Austin Hays, who has been reinstated from the 10-day injured list after missing about three weeks with a strained calf. 

It’s the second bit of outfield shuffling by the O’s Monday. Baltimore previously optioned
Heston Kjerstad to Triple-A Norfolk in favor of Kyle Stowers.

McKenna, 27, was only selected back to the 40-man roster for a second stint with the Orioles on April 26. He appeared in nine games and went 3-for-8 at the plate, popping a pair of home runs in his brief look with the club. Despite that productive cup of coffee, he won’t stick around on the big league roster. McKenna is out of minor league options, so the O’s had little choice but to designate him for assignment once things reached a point where they needed to open his roster spot back up. In all likelihood, McKenna knew it’d be a short stay on the active roster.

A fourth-round selection by the O’s in the 2015 draft, McKenna has now appeared in parts of four seasons with the MLB club. Despite the big showing in this year’s tiny sample, he struggled extensively from 2021-23, hitting just .222/.299/.318 in 508 plate appearances across that three-year span. He owns a productive .261/.359/.561 output in 274 Triple-A plate appearances but also a .234/.327/.357 slash in a much larger sample of 817 Double-A plate appearances.

Baltimore is stacked with outfield talent — and with position players in general — leaving little room for McKenna to wrest everyday at-bats from the team’s other outfield options. Colton Cowser, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and the now-reinstated Hays are all in the mix for at-bats, as is the aforementioned Stowers, who’s joining the club for his 2024 debut after smacking 11 Triple-A homers in his first 165 plate appearances there this season. Mullins has been in a deep slump of late, and Hays struggled a good bit before landing on the injured list himself. However, both veterans have lengthy track records of production that date back several years. Neither was going to be displaced because of a brief hot streak from McKenna.

The Orioles have a week to trade McKenna or else place him on outright waivers or release waivers. He went unclaimed on outright waivers at the end of March, and in doing so gained the right to reject any additional outright assignments for the remainder of his career. As such, if he clears waivers, he’ll have the right to reject a minor league assignment in favor of free agency. Given the glut of outfield talent on the Baltimore roster, it’s possible he’d prefer to latch on with another organization that has far less depth and thus a better opportunity for him to get an earnest look at the big league level.

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