With only a few days remaining until the beginning of the actual baseball season (ahhh … that was a beautiful phrase to write while looking out the window here in Maryland and watching the snow fall), we may recall that just a month ago a whole series of spring training questions were being asked by everyone about the 2014 Baltimore Orioles roster.
Have those questions been answered? There are some definite answers, some probable answers, and some questions still much up in the air.
Definitely Answered Questions
Will Manny Machado be ready to start the season? This has been a daily question, and we now know that the answer is “no.” I never truly expected he would be able to play on March 31st. I’m simply pleased it will only be a few more weeks, in light of all that he has gone through over the offseason with the surgery and recovery. If he can come back at all before April is over and be productive, I would term that to be a “bullet averted.”
Who will be the primary designated hitter? This question was answered rather clearly when the Orioles signed Nelson Cruz. Though he will likely have some games in the field, this looks to be the Orioles’ primary DH. It very much strengthens the center of the batting order, and Cruz has had a good spring season.
Who will be the backup catcher? The Orioles have been working hard to bolster the catching situation throughout the organization. And though both Johnny Monell and Steve Clevenger put up good numbers and demonstrated sufficiently strong defensive skills, the job is going to be given to the latter. Clevenger had half of the Orioles’ hits in today’s 4-1 loss to Minnesota as he went 3-for-3, and is now batting .484. It would be great if this could continue and give Matt Wieters more days off.
Questions With Probable Answers
What will be the composition of the starting rotation? There has been a partial three-part answer in Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez. Beyond that was the assumption that Bud Norris was a likely fourth starter. But with securing Ubaldo Jimenez, along with Norris pitching relatively well, the rotation seems set. But something will happen to change it along the way somewhere – it almost always does morph for almost every team. And when it does, there are good options in players like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, and Kevin Gausman.
Who will be the closer? Though it has not been announced, the presumption continues to be that it is Tommy Hunter. I lack confidence in this, but then again, I lack confidence in almost every closer and would rather see two or three relievers who understand they might be called upon to fulfill that role. But Hunter is as good as any to start with, though I’d almost bet there will be someone else by August or September. Yet I’d love to be wrong on this one.
Questions Yet To Be Answered
Who will play left field, and who will be the utility outfielders / DHs? It would seem almost certain that David Lough will be the most common person in left field, though Cruz may play as well. Henry Urrutia looks destined for Norfolk. So the battle comes down to keeping two of these four: Nolan Reimold, Steve Pearce, Delmon Young, and Quintin Berry. This is difficult.
Who will comprise the seven-man bullpen? Five names were/are certain – Britton, Matusz, Hunter, Ryan Webb, and Darren O’Day. The final two spots will have to come from between Josh Stinson, Evan Meek, Brad Brach, and Alfredo Aceves. I would choose in that order, but anything could happen here. <<Update – Brad Brach has been sent to AAA.>>
Who will be the most regular second baseman? Several events have complicated this question. Since Machado will start the season on the DL, presumptive 2B frontrunner Ryan Flaherty is now the presumptive 3B frontrunner. Yesterday, Steve Lombardozzi was added to the Orioles upon the trade with the Tigers for Alex Gonzalez. And rising star Jonathan Schoop has brought his bulked-up new body to camp and smoked the ball. All three could be kept – with Schoop on second and Flaherty on third.
Another issue involved with this decision has to do with the complicated rules of long-term team control of a player. If the Orioles delay in bringing up Schoop until a specific later time, they will gain an extra year of his services. In this event, Lombardozzi could start at second base with Alexi Casilla as the backup.
Any other year than this year, the preceding scenario is what would be played out with the Orioles. However, this is 2014. This is the year that the Orioles gave a free agent starting pitcher a four-year deal, and in the same immediate timeframe brought in a Korean pitcher in Suk-min Yoon and signed a one-year deal with Cruz. If the Orioles begin the season with Schoop, that looks to me like yet another move in a new “win now” era for the Baltimore Orioles.
Final Word – 20 Baltimore Orioles roster spots are certain. The outstanding questions are the two-of-four choices in the outfield and the final bullpen composition, and the clarification of Schoop or Casilla.