Orioles’ top spring training storylines (updated)

One more day before pitchers and catchers report to spring training and the Orioles still haven’t found that elusive veteran starter.

The targeted trio remains unsigned - A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. For that matter, so do outfielder Nelson Cruz, designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales and infielder Stephen Drew.

Anyone surprised that they’re still on the market on Feb. 12?

Think the draft compensation is an issue here?

Burnett doesn’t require a draft pick, but the Orioles aren’t optimistic that they can ride that Monkton angle all the way to Baltimore. It’s such a logical fit, but I’ve heard various reasons why Burnett isn’t placing the Orioles on the top of his wish list - a desire to stay in the National League being one of them.

There’s still no agreement in place with Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon despite last night’s tweet that showed him wearing an Orioles cap. Maybe he’s just a fan of cartoon birds.

A deal could be finalized later today while I’m flying to Tampa or getting stuck in rush-hour traffic on my way to Sarasota. It’s close. It seems inevitable.

Update: Executive vice president Dan Duquette sent the following tweet this morning in response to the Yoon photo:

“We do not have a deal to announce. O’s are continuing discussions to sign veteran pitcher to bolster staff.”

The most interesting story angles in camp, besides whether the Orioles can increase the size of their roster, should be obvious to most fans of the team. For example:

Zach_Britton-sidebar_wind-up.jpg1. Who wins the job as fifth starter if the Orioles don’t sign anyone?

Left-hander Zach Britton would be the favorite, since he’s out of minor league options, but it won’t be handed to him. He could be moved to the bullpen as a long reliever - the 2014 version of T.J. McFarland.

2. Will Manny Machado be ready on opening day?

I hope he doesn’t mind having his locker surrounded by reporters every morning as we check on his knee and inquire whether he’s been cleared to increase his baseball activities. He’s going to be watched, scrutinized, interrogated. Manager Buck Showalter will be asked about him daily.

3. Is Tommy Hunter the closer?

That’s the expectation unless the Orioles pull a fast one and bring in a closer. It doesn’t appear that Showalter is considering Darren O’Day or Ryan Webb. Alfredo Aceves recorded 25 saves for the Red Sox in 2012, but he’s working on a minor league deal and first needs to make the team.

4. Who’s the leadoff hitter?

If I had to guess, I’d say it’s Nick Markakis. Showalter won’t make a decision, or an announcement, until much later. Like, maybe, during the workout at Camden Yards on March 30. But hey, it won’t hurt to ask (a lot).

5. Who’s the second baseman?

Ryan Flaherty is the favorite to win the job unless he’s moved to third base, with Machado going on the disabled list. The wild card is Emilio Bonifacio. If he clears waivers and the Orioles sign him, he will provide stiff competition for Flaherty and Jemile Weeks.

6. Can Nolan Reimold stay healthy?

Reimold is much more encouraged than at any time last year. The corrective surgery on his neck has given him a new lease on his professional life. He’s driven to prove that he can play a full season and be a big-time run producer in left field and as a right-handed designated hitter. The Orioles will give him every chance.

7. Who’s the designated hitter?

It doesn’t figure to be one guy unless the Orioles do the unexpected and sign Morales. Delmon Young has an excellent chance to be added to the 40-man roster and start on opening day against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester. A healthy Reimold also could get plenty of at-bats as the DH when he’s not in left field. But what about the left side? Are the Orioles ready to keep Henry Urrutia? Is he ready to stay in the majors?

8. Can the Orioles reach agreement with shortstop J.J. Hardy on a contract extension?

Executive vice president Dan Duquette confirmed at FanFest, and again on WBAL Radio, that he’s attempting to complete a deal before opening day. He’s made it clear to Hardy. It shouldn’t be a difficult negotiation. Both sides want to get it done and Hardy won’t try to break the bank.

9. Will Brian Matusz be given a real chance to start?

The Orioles will work out Matusz, who celebrated his 27th birthday yesterday, as a starter in camp. They did the same thing last spring, stretching him out before returning him to the bullpen. His chances of cracking the rotation increase dramatically if the Orioles don’t sign another starter, and if he can get out right-handers with the same ease as left-handers. Or at least come close to it. The splits keep working against him.

10. Who’s the backup catcher?

If the season started today, I’d expect Baltimore native Steve Clevenger to back up Matt Wieters. It’s pretty much down to Clevenger and Johnny Monell. The Orioles could bring in another catcher once camp starts, but Showalter is intrigued by Clevenger’s bat and wants to take a long look at him. It would just be nice to have a backup whose average exceeded his weight.

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