Two more weeks and I’ll be flying down to Sarasota for the start of spring training. Well, I’ll actually be flying into Tampa, because Southwest still hasn’t located Sarasota on a map. Keep searching, fellas.
The most interesting decisions facing manager Buck Showalter, in my opinion, will center on the fifth starter and the last bullpen spot. We also need to know who’s going to be the primary designated hitter if Chris Davis is penciled in as the regular first baseman.
Will Showalter actually go with a platoon of Wilson Betemit and Danny Valencia? Will Nolan Reimold be the right-handed DH when he isn’t playing left field, which could push Valencia to Triple-A Norfolk? Could Travis Ishikawa change the plans at first base, and also at DH?
Is Brian Roberts the opening day second baseman if he stays healthy? In other words, could Alexi Casilla or Ryan Flaherty beat him out of the job if he’s outplayed in camp?
Roberts doesn’t fit the mold of a utility guy. His days at shortstop are long over. Would he take up a roster spot as a backup second baseman?
I’m assuming that he’s the starter if he’s healthy, but it’s an interesting question.
Roberts wants to play every day down in Florida. He needs the at-bats and he needs to show that his body is sound. He’s prepared to travel and push for his name to remain in the lineup.
Casilla figures to be the utility infielder if he’s not starting at second base, but Flaherty will fight for a roster spot. Mike Bordick, the Orioles’ special assignment instructor when he isn’t working as a MASN analyst, is convinced that Flaherty could be a plus-defender at shortstop as J.J. Hardy’s backup. Flaherty’s arm strength was an issue last year, but Bordick believes it will return with more work at the position.
For the sake of argument, and in an attempt to shape the bench, let’s make Nate McLouth the left fielder, Roberts the second baseman and Betemit the DH. The reserves could include Reimold, Casilla and catcher Taylor Teagarden. That leaves an intense competition for the last seat. Don’t forget that outfielder Trayvon Robinson is out of options.
Going back to the pitching staff, what happens to Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland? Would the Orioles stash him in the bullpen, possibly giving them three left-handed relievers, if he isn’t in the rotation?
Meanwhile, the Orioles will need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster once they announce the signing of former Braves pitcher Jair Jurrgens, who will take his physical later this week. Who’s coming off it?
Four catchers on the 40-man? Hmmm...
Note: It should come as no surprise that Nick Johnson is retiring from baseball.
Johnson appeared in only 38 games with the Orioles last season before pain in his wrist sent him back to the disabled list. His latest comeback attempt became his last.
Johnson retires with a career .399 on-base percentage and more surgeries than any one person should have to endure.