I realize that pitchers and catchers don’t report to spring training for 15 more days, but I’m already making a mental list of the most important story lines that I’ll be following through March. I should probably write them down, since I don’t trust my memory, but I’d probably forget where I put the list.
There are three that instantly come to my mind. I’m not exactly sure of the order, but I think it goes something like this:
1. Brian Roberts’ status and what happens if he can’t play.
2. The rotation.
3. The bullpen.
Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada are curiosities, just like Koji Uehara during his first camp. How will they adapt to their new surroundings and blend with their new teammates? How will their preparation differ from the rest of the team?
Having gone through that first spring training with Uehara, I’m no longer expecting to hang on their every translated word. The novelty has sort of worn off, if that makes any sense. I’ll probably treat every side session as if it’s Game 7, but mostly because the rotation and bullpens are so unsettled and the competition will be fierce. I want to see if they can hang, and if they’re worthy of the hype and their respective contracts.
I considered including Nick Markakis in my top three because he’s recovering from surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle. He’ll be hounded by the media when he first reports, and again when he takes his first swings in the cage and against live pitching.
For now, I’m excluding him because I’m fairly confident - taking a cue from Markakis and the club - that he’ll be ready for the April 6 opener. But I reserve the right to change my mind. He’s going to garner a lot of attention, much to his chagrin.
Roberts and the second base/leadoff situation had to rank No. 1 for me. Nobody knows how Roberts will feel when he reports, and that includes Roberts. He’s such an important part of this lineup. Remove him and the Orioles are scrambling for replacements. And I went plural with that last word because the second baseman might not be the leadoff hitter.
The easy solution would be to start Robert Andino at second and bat him atop the order, but he’s extremely valuable in a super-utility role and he’s not in Roberts’ class, no matter how much he improved over the course of the 2011 season.
(I haven’t forgotten that executive vice president Dan Duquette could acquire another hitter. I’m just playing the hand that’s been dealt so far.)
Roberts will spend a lot of time in the trainers room, even if it’s to escape the reporters who will camp out at his locker. He’ll be the primary obsession.
Tracking the rotation competition also will be a daily chore. Chen and Jeremy Guthrie are certainties, and I fully expect Tommy Hunter to be included. Manager Buck Showalter views him as a starter who can eat up innings. And he’ll be a slimmer version when he reports after working out with special assistant Brady Anderson.
That leaves two spots right now and a whole bunch of guys competing for them. Their loss will be Triple-A Norfolk’s gain.
Jake Arrieta would seem to have the upper hand over a few other young hurlers, as long as he remains healthy after having a bone spur removed from his elbow. He’s been saying since early December that he’s 100 percent.
A few of the losers in the rotation battle royal could be assigned to the bullpen if Showalter can make room for them. We don’t know who’s closing. Is it Jim Johnson? Kevin Gregg? Someone else? Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken have another option remaining, which works against them. Dana Eveland, Pedro Strop, Clay Rapada, Troy Patton and Alfredo Simon do not.
Feel free to pass along your top three. I’m going to assume that many of you will include Markakis, and that makes sense. I’m tempted to substitute him for the bullpen issue, but not yet.
Shameless plug alert: Today marks my final day as co-host on “The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report” on MASN. I wanted to lighten my workload for a few weeks before flying down to Sarasota, where I’ll be cranking out blog entries and tweets at the usual breakneck pace.
Will I still keep track of every Capitals and Wizards game?
What do you think?