The Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday cut loose infield prospect Jose Bautista, a move that signals their burgeoning faith in Melvin Mora's progress at third base. Looking deeper, the move may reflect an increased sense of optimism within the organization for a sustained run at contending this summer.
The unexpected move came on a day of frenzied roster activity for the Orioles, who just completed a disappointing 2-4 western road trip. To replace Bautista, the Orioles called up third baseman Jose Leon, who was hitting .339 with 11 homers at Class AAA Ottawa and who becomes the team's top right-handed pinch-hit option.
In another significant move, the Orioles called up top pitching prospect Denny Bautista (no relation to Jose) to shore up their disappointing late-inning relief picture. Bautista, 23, was 2-4 with a 5.10 ERA at Class AA Bowie in primarily a starting role. To make room on the roster, the team sent down struggling right-hander Rick Bauer.
Denny Bautista, a first cousin of Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, said he spoke with Martinez on Monday. "He said, 'Keep going. You have a chance right now. You have to be aggressive,' " Bautista said.
The team also swapped backup catchers, casting away veteran Keith Osik, who was hitting .080 this season, and bringing up Robert Machado, who was hitting .325 at Ottawa.
Finally, the team activated lefty Matt Riley from the disabled list and optioned him to Ottawa, where he will join the Lynx's starting rotation in order to build up innings.
However, of all the moves, the most significant was the one involving Jose Bautista, whom the Orioles selected from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule 5 draft, because it leaves the organization without a viable third-base prospect for the next several years -- an indication of the team's satisfaction with Mora, who is signed through 2006.
"I think Melvin has made the adjustment [to third base] very well," Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Beattie said. "We feel a lot more comfortable with that."
By sacrificing a potential piece of their future in favor of the immediate lift provided by Leon, the Orioles may be signaling a more aggressive stance towards contending this season.
While playing down such a stance, Beattie said, "There were [factors] that came into [the decisions], with respect to an evaluation of where we are and an evaluation of the talent."