One of the hazards of being a baseball fan is the ever-changing roster of your favorite team. As Jerry Seinfeld once observed, we're basically rooting for laundry. In a short amount of time, I really took a liking to Oscar Salazar, one of those journeymen whose labrynthine paths to the major leagues make baseball worth watching. Today, he was traded to the Padres for reliever Cla (pronounced "clay") Meredith. So I'll try to give him a proper sendoff by telling his story.
Like former O's teammates Melvin Mora and Cesar Izturis, Oscar was born in Venezuela. He signed with the Athletics as an amateur free agent in 1994, when he was just sixteen years old. He hit consistently well in their organization (including .300 with 13 homers in his first crack at AA), but they let him go to Detroit on waivers in January of 2002. He spent a grand total of a week and a half on the Tigers' major league roster, collecting four hits in 21 at-bats. Soon, teams were passing him around like currency; between April 2002 and June 2004, he went from the Tigers to the Mets to the Angels to the Royals to the Indians, never getting so much as a sniff at another big league promotion. When Cleveland released him after two months of a .221 average at AA Akron, it looked like the 26-year-old had reached a dead end. He spent all of 2005 playing for the Cancun Langosteros of the Mexican League, and I can't find any record of him playing pro ball anywhere the following year.
In 2007, the Birds took a flier on Salazar, and stashed him at AA Bowie. The veteran showed an impressive power stroke, hitting 39 doubles and 22 homers for the Baysox. It was enough to convince Baltimore to keep him around in 2008. Playing his first full season ever at AAA, Oscar crushed 42 doubles and batted .316. In June, he spent two weeks with the big league club, his first MLB action in six years. When rosters expanded in September, the floundering O's brought him back and his bat caught fire. In total, he hit .284 with 5 home runs and 15 RBI in only 81 at-bats. Still, the rebuilding Orioles didn't appear to have any room in their plans for a 31-year-old hitter with no natural defensive position.
So Salazar passed through waivers at the end of Spring Training this year and just kept on hitting. Fifty games into his season at Norfolk, the Venezuelan native was hitting .372 with 28 extra-base hits when Izturis' trip to the disabled list created another opportunity for his countryman. Oscar continued to rake, even with irregular playing time. As things stand today, he's batting .419 with a pair of longballs in 31 trips to the plate. He proved invaluable during a recent interleague road trip, delivering three crucial pinch hits in a four-game span. His pinch-hit, three-run homer on June 30 sparked the team's historic 10-run comeback against the Red Sox. For the first time in seemingly forever, Baltimore had a reliable bat on the bench (anyone remember the days of Alberto Castillo, Chris Gomez, and Freddie Bynum?).
But with several other corner infield/designated hitter types on the roster, Oscar knew that his days in orange and black were probably numbered. With Izturis coming off of the disabled list the Friday before the All-Star Break, Salazar was reportedly nervously ducking his head into Dave Trembley's office frequently throughout the day. When David Hernandez was optioned to the minors instead, the veteran slugger finally exhaled and brought his son into the manager's office to meet the boss. But it was a brief reprieve; with all of the shuffling of the pitching staff settling down, and no trades imminent for any regulars, the O's dealt the persistent Salazar to San Diego for a major league talent, rather than risk losing him to a waiver claim.
At this point in his career, Oscar Salazar seems suited for the National League. He certainly deserves an actual shot to stick on a major league roster. After all, he's waited fifteen years for it.