The Orioles have acquired first baseman/outfielder Ryan O’Hearn from the Royals in exchange for cash considerations, per announcements from both clubs. O’Hearn had recently been designated for assignment by the Royals. In order to open up a spot on the 40-man roster, the O’s designated right-hander Chris Vallimont for assignment.
O’Hearn, 29, will join a new organization for the first time in his career, as he was drafted by the Royals in 2014 and has been with them until today. He made his way to the majors by 2018 and had a tremendous debut in that season. He was selected to the club’s roster at the end of July and got into 44 games over the latter months of that campaign. He hit 12 home runs in that brief spell and produced a batting line of .262/.353/.597, with his 153 wRC+ indicating he was 53 percent better than league average in that time.
However, the subsequent four seasons have increasingly made that look like a mirage. From the beginning of 2019 to the present, O’Hearn has hit 26 home runs in 298 games and slashed .211/.282/.351, producing a wRC+ of just 68. That production was 32 percent below the league average hitter in that time but was especially disappointing given his defensive limitations. O’Hearn is primarily a first baseman who has occasionally seen time in the outfield corners. Since those positions come with higher expectations for offensive production, a tepid showing like O’Hearn’s was increasingly untenable.
The Royals had already tendered O’Hearn a contract for 2023, avoiding arbitration by agreeing to a $1.4MM salary for 2023. However, once they made their signing of Jordan Lyles official, they designated O’Hearn for assignment and have now sent him to Baltimore. For the O’s, they’ve been busy trying to add left-handed first baseman and/or corner outfielders for most of the offseason. They’ve signed Nomar Mazara and Franchy Cordero to minor league deals and also claimed Lewin Díaz off waivers, though they later designated Díaz for assignment and traded him to the Braves. A similar situation played out with Jake Cave, who was claimed off waivers from the Twins but then lost to the Phillies on a subsequent waiver claim.
The O’s are set to have right-hander Ryan Mountcastle as their primary first baseman in 2023 but they seem to be hoping to find a left-handed option to give manager Brandon Hyde some options in setting his lineups. O’Hearn certainly has noticeable splits in his career, as he’s hit just just .169/.244/.257 against lefties. He’s been much better the rest of the time, with a .228/.302/.414 line, though that’s still below average with his wRC+ coming in at 90 against righties. Regardless, the O’s will take a shot on him and see if they can get O’Hearn to take a step forward. He has one option year remaining and could therefore be sent to the minors for a time for some extra at-bats down there. FanGraphs calculates his service time at 4.002 right now, meaning he can be retained for 2024 via arbitration, though a significant stint in the minors would prevent him from reaching the five-year service mark this year and give the club an extra year of control beyond that.
As for Vallimont, 26 in March, he has yet to make his major league debut. Drafted by the Marlins, he was traded to the Twins in 2019 and got added to Minnesota’s roster in November of 2021 to protect against selection in the Rule 5 draft. He had just finished a season in which he posted a 6.03 ERA over 21 starts in Double-A, but with a huge 31.1 percent strikeout rate. He also walked 14.6 percent of the batters he faced, but the Twins were intrigued enough to give him a roster spot.
In 2022, he returned to Double-A and posted a huge 9.95 ERA over his first seven appearances and was designated for assignment in May. The O’s grabbed him off waivers sent him to their own Double-A affiliate and saw him turn things around for a time. He registered an ERA of 0.69 over three starts and got sent up to Triple-A. However, the new level proved a challenge for him, as he ran up a 5.38 ERA the rest of the way. The O’s will now have a week to trade him or pass him through waivers. Vallimont still has a couple of option years and could interest teams that are looking for some pitching depth.