BALTIMORE -- The Orioles' continued search for infield depth now puts them at risk of losing a homegrown product. While reclaiming utility man Pat Valaika off waivers on Thursday, the club designated for assignment right-hander Branden Kline in a corresponding move, potentially ending the Frederick, Md., native’s tenure in the organization.
One of Baltimore’s more regular relievers last season, Kline pitched to a 5.93 ERA in 34 games, with his April debut capping a six-year, injury-laden journey to the Majors. Kline said he cried for 30 minutes before suiting up for his childhood team, then appeared in 17 games at Camden Yards throughout the summer with friends and family in attendance.
Kline flashed power stuff at times, including a fastball that averaged 96.2 mph and flirted with triple digits, per Statcast. But he ultimately struggled with control (10.4% walk rate) and command (9.7 hits per nine innings) and allowed nine homers in 41 innings pitched.
The 28-year-old can remain in the organization if he clears waivers. When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster. Within seven days of the transaction (had been 10 days under the 2012-16 Collective Bargaining Agreement), the player can either be traded or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
That’s been the norm this winter for Valaika, whom the Orioles claimed back less than three weeks after losing him on waivers to the D-backs. The Orioles originally claimed Valaika from the Rockies on Oct. 30, then DFA’d him to clear space for infielder Richard Ureña on Jan. 10. He was then claimed by Arizona, and DFA’d when the D-backs traded for Starling Marte.
Valaika, 27, hit .214 with a .656 OPS in 231 games for the Rockies from 2016-19, mostly in a reserve role. He hit 13 homers as recently as '17, when he saw time at five defensive positions. But Valaika spent much of '18 and '19 in the Minors, hitting just .169 with a .504 OPS across 108 Major League games over the past two seasons. He is expected to battle Ureña and Richie Martin for a bench job this spring.