SARASOTA, Fla. — Before the game of hot potato began, Adriel Reyes attempted to prepare his client, Lewin Díaz, for the possibility of an offseason full of movement.

Díaz had been designated for assignment by the Miami Marlins on Nov. 15 and, given his age (26) and high-upside ability at first base, Díaz’s agent told him two things. One was a positive: Reyes expected Díaz to be claimed. The other was a negative: That claim likely wouldn’t be permanent.

“He was crystal-clear throughout the entire process,” Reyes said.

That made the first pass of the potato easier. The Pittsburgh Pirates claimed Díaz on Nov. 22. But it didn’t make the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth transaction of the offseason easier to stomach.

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At the beginning of it all, Díaz would hear from friends congratulating him on a new opportunity. He went from the Pirates to the Orioles in December, then was designated for assignment by Baltimore, traded to the Atlanta Braves, designated for assignment by the Braves, and claimed by the Orioles again.

Then he was designated for assignment a final time, and by finally going unclaimed, he remained in Baltimore’s organization for an uphill battle to the major leagues during spring training.

Toward the end of that whirlwind, the congratulatory text messages stopped appearing as frequently on his phone.

“They kind of stopped reaching out,” Díaz said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “They’re like, ‘You know what? Maybe we feel bad for him. Let’s not reach out.’”

And in a sense, Díaz felt it, too.

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In that silence, Díaz leaned on the support of his wife, Silenia, who remained in Miami while he played winter ball for Las Estrellas in the Dominican Republic. His manager, Fernando Tatís Sr., and hitting coach, Pedro López, could tell the uncertainty of his major league career played on his mind and worked to keep him upbeat.

Still, Díaz told his wife how tired of the waiver process he had become. She reminded him to stay patient and keep working toward his goal.

Playing in the Dominican Republic helped Díaz find a purpose during it all. It served as his “refuge,” he said, a place he could find value in himself as a baseball player every day, even as he hit .167 in 16 regular season games. Once the playoffs arrived, though, Díaz showed his value. He blasted three home runs and drove in 11 runs during the round-robin series.

“The team out there in the DR, they were competing, they went to the finals,” Reyes said. “He was focused on winning and contributing at the time. Lewin is a champ. To me, he is a big leaguer. But that absolutely helped us get over the hump.”

There were other complications, however. While Díaz lives in Miami, the Dominican Republic-born first baseman required a work visa to return to the United States. The Marlins ensured Díaz was approved, but with every new team, Díaz needed his new organization to schedule an appointment so he could receive a physical copy of the visa.

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After the Orioles outrighted Díaz to the minor leagues, Díaz remained in the Dominican Republic for an extra week and a half, waiting for approval to travel back to the states.

“One thing that we’re absolutely going to embark on is making sure we petition for his U.S. residency,” Reyes said, “so in the event that anything like this ever happens, he can be comfortably at home with his wife.”

The transient offseason left Díaz hoping he’d pass through waivers unclaimed in January, even though it meant he’d be off the Orioles’ 40-man roster and face a tougher path toward an opening day roster spot with the Orioles. He was ready for an end to the transactions.

Díaz has excelled at the Triple-A level, and Reyes said if he can replicate 80% of what he does at that level, Díaz could be an everyday player in the majors. But so far, he hasn’t.

Díaz hit .252 with 19 homers for Triple-A Jacksonville last year but hit .169 with four homers for the Marlins. There’s a high upside to him, especially on the defensive side, but he has aimed this offseason to improve his plate discipline and on-base percentage.

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It leaves him in Sarasota striving to prove himself amid a vibrant competition for a backup first base role between nine total options. The odds aren’t the easiest. But then again, nothing this year has come easily for Díaz.

“He’s going to have to turn it up to 200% here so he can really get some at-bats and provide that Gold Glove defense that we all know he has,” Reyes said. “We got to where we were going to get to. We just need to tie up our cleats and get in that box and make things happen and really ride this one out.”

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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