One of my holiday traditions is sending along a projected Orioles lineup for a national publication. It's a challenge in late December, with more roster moves expected before spring training.
It's a real head-scratcher this winter.
I understand that utility infielder isn't a sexy role and it doesn't usually spark much of a debate, but help me out. If the Orioles don't acquire a second baseman and they hand the starting job to Ryan Flaherty, who's backing up shortstop J.J. Hardy?
Jemile Weeks has never played the position in the majors. He's strictly been a second baseman, except for two games in center field this year. He played 23 games at shortstop at Triple-A Sacramento, committing five errors, so I guess that makes him the backup.
Manager Buck Showalter doesn't want to slide Manny Machado to short, so that doesn't appear to be an option.
If you're trying to construct a four-man bench, you can start with the backup catcher. Every team carries one, and Steve Clevenger is the leading candidate. Weeks would be a second reserve, and the Orioles will attempt to keep Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar, a corner infielder and right-handed bat.
That leaves one more spot.
If David Lough is in left field, Showalter could go with a DH platoon of Nolan Reimold and Henry Urrutia. Whichever player isn't in the lineup serves as another reserve.
But what about Steve Pearce, who's out of options? Who's squeezed off the roster if he makes the club?
No offense to Almanzar, but he still seems to be mucking up the works unless he rakes against lefties as Danny Valencia did before being traded to the Royals for Lough. The Orioles will give him every chance to do it and justify the roster spot.
I want a full-time designated hitter - I'm still beating the Kendrys Morales drum - which allows Reimold to serve as an extra outfielder (and occasional DH) and Henry Urrutia to play every day in left field at Triple-A Norfolk. He's raw and needs the reps.
Reimold, Clevenger, Weeks and Almanzar are on the bench in this scenario. Again, that's assuming that Flaherty is the starter at second base. Pearce is still on the outside. And Weeks is still backing up Hardy.
Re-signing Brian Roberts or signing Mark Ellis would have allowed Flaherty to back up at all of the infield positions and Weeks to start somewhere at Norfolk, but those ships have sailed.
As for the lineup, I've got Nick Markakis leading off unless someone else comes along to take over those responsibilities.
Here's one possibility:
Nick Markakis RF
Manny Machado 3B
Chris Davis 1B
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
J.J. Hardy SS
David Lough LF
Nolan Reimold/Henry Urrutia DH
Ryan Flaherty 2B
I'm pretty much alternating left-right here.
Wieters may be too high at fifth with his plummeting average and on-base percentage, but I was separating Jones and Hardy. And Wieters still gives the club 20-plus home runs.
Now if the Orioles signed Morales, he'd be the switch-hitter in the fifth slot.
Anyway, let's see whether executive vice president Dan Duquette finds another bat.
I'm going to find my way to Ocean Pines today for a late Christmas celebration with my family. Steve Melewski will be monitoring Twitter and handling any breaking news, though my laptop won't be far away.
My parents know that Paul Blair was my favorite player growing up, so they understand how his death last night really hit close to home. I'm sure we'll talk about it.
I'd lay in bed listening to the games on radio, hear Chuck Thompson say, "Long fly ball to center field, Blair's on his horse ...," and know that the ball would be caught. He was such a comfort, a brilliant defensive center fielder whose movements were effortless. He just glided to the alleys and the warning track, as if wearing skates instead of spikes.
He was, quite simply, the best center fielder I ever saw or heard.
I got to know Blair over the years from his appearances at FanFest and Camden Yards, and while he worked out at my gym in Eldersburg. I'd spot him on one of the treadmills, and I was immediately transported back to my youth. That feeling never went away.
It's still hard to believe that he's gone. Still hard to accept that another piece of my youth went with him.
RIP No. 6.
Note: Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos issued a statement on Blair's passing:
"It is with great sadness that we learned of Paul Blair's passing last evening. Paul was a key member of many of the Orioles' most memorable and successful teams, as his contributions at the plate and his Gold Glove defense in center field helped the club to two World Series and four AL pennants. After his on-field career, Paul made the Baltimore area his home and stayed involved with the organization through his appearances in the community and at the ballpark. On behalf of the Orioles I extend my condolences to his wife, Gloria, and his family."