Showalter says Andino “front-runner” for second base job (with Britton note)

Now that Adam Jones is under contract for 2012, we can focus on other matters, like whether the Orioles will sign him to an extension.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette prefers to wait until after the season and avoid any distractions. Those talks remain on the back burner, where they’ve been all along.

In the meantime, Jones can report to Ed Smith Stadium later this month and figure out where he’s batting and who’s setting the table for him.

Jones sorely missed Brian Roberts atop the order last year, even though he set a batch of career highs and was named Most Valuable Oriole. He felt like his run production suffered without Roberts, who’s been a doubles machine and the only real stolen base threat on the team.

Manager Buck Showalter told me last night that in a perfect world, Robert Andino would be a utility player getting “consistent at-bats and moving all over the field.” But in a world where the Orioles can’t count on Roberts being the starting second baseman on opening day, “I would say Andino is the leading candidate,” Showalter said.

“He showed last year that he can do it. He’s a better defender than all those guys, I feel like. And I think Robert’s deserving. Right now, I’d say Robert is the frontrunner if Brian can’t play.”

Andino might have to serve as the leadoff hitter, as well, though finding one isn’t an obsession for Showalter.

“I’m open to suggestions,” Showalter said. “Who’s leading off is kind of like the opening day starter. They’re only assured of doing it one time a game. It’s like who’s going to shoot the first jumper down the court.

“Maybe I’m just saying this because I don’t have one.”

The Orioles have no way of determining right now whether Roberts will be ready April 6. He’s working out in Sarasota, but his baseball activities are limited. He’s in the weight room, playing catch and hitting off a tee and against soft tosses. No live batting practice, nothing against a pitching machine. He isn’t taking a lot of ground balls.

“Nothing negative,” said Showalter, who flew down to Sarasota last week. “He’s been fine so far. I can’t say he’s had anything that would cast any negative thoughts.”

Showalter isn’t hounding Roberts for answers, figuring it’s the last thing the second baseman needs at the moment.

“My big thing basically is to leave him alone right now,” Showalter said. “I’m sure he’s got a lot of inner thoughts, private thoughts about it. I haven’t asked. In the next day or two I might ask how he’s doing, what he’s thinking.

“I think it’s real unhealthy for me and the team to be every day going, ‘Brian, how’s it going?’ And, ‘What do you think now?’ And 10 minutes later, ‘What do you think now?’ Let it be what it is.

“I know I’m going to get questions like ‘What would a healthy Roberts mean to the team and what am I going to do if Roberts can’t play?’ I haven’t dwelled on it. It is what it is. If he plays, great. If he doesn’t, we’ve got to move on.”

Just as the Orioles did last season after Roberts left a May 16 game in Boston and never returned to the lineup.

“I’ve never really seen that guy who was that guy at one time,” Showalter said, “other than I saw him from the other team’s dugout.”

Note: Former executive Jim Duquette tweeted this morning that he’s hearing bad news regarding Zach Britton’s shoulder and the lefty will be limited in spring training. Duquette’s reporting that Britton has lingering soreness, which could be related to last year’s strain. I’ll pass along any updates as they become available.

This would be a recent occurrence, since Britton was fine at last month’s mini-camp at Camden Yards.

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