Because You Asked - Passion of the Crust

SARASOTA, Fla. - It's the Florida edition of our popular mailbag sequel, which means it's tanned, doesn't drain after a heavy rain and thinks the fast lane is only for cars going 25 mph or 125 mph. It also writes checks at the grocery store and becomes confused during elections.

You've got questions. I've got answers. You've got the same questions. I've got the same sarcasm.

Here we go.

Do you think Michael Almanzar can make the club?
It's going to be tricky unless the Orioles can create room for him. The odds improve a bit if Manny Machado goes on the disabled list, but it's still difficult to imagine how Almanzar beats out the other right-handed designated hitter types, especially if his defense at third base doesn't instill the necessary confidence.

Does Manny Machado start the season at third base or the disabled list?
More likely the disabled list, since he still hasn't played in a single Grapefruit League game and the Orioles have no intention of rushing him along. They're leaving the door open for his inclusion in the March 31 lineup, but I'd expect it to slam shut at some point. We'll see.

Is Steve Clevenger the backup catcher?
If the season started today. Unfortunately for Clevenger, there's still time for the Orioles to grab a catcher off the waiver wire before teams break camp. He's obviously the in-house guy with Johnny Monell optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, and he deserves the honor. Plus, I want to keep writing "Pride of Pigtown" as much as humanly possible #PoP.

Have you been to the beach this spring?
Sarasota has beaches?

Any updates on extensions for J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters?
Yes, but I'm keeping them a secret. Actually, there are no updates, unless you consider it an update that they're tired of being approached about it by reporters. Executive vice president Dan Duquette told everyone at FanFest that he hoped to get a deal done with Hardy before opening day. Well, the clock's ticking and there are no indications that the sides have engaged in substantial talks. That's surprising, since you've got to fight for your right to Hardy.

You venturing into the T-shirt business?
I just might.

What's the rest of the rotation beyond Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez?
It would appear to be Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris, unless the Orioles are still the frontrunners to sign Ervin Santana and the Braves don't know it.

Why would the Orioles want Luis Ayala?
Because they thought he was Benny Ayala and wanted to grab another right-handed hitting DH/corner outfielder. Actually, it's the always popular depth move. Put him at Norfolk and maybe use him later. The Orioles are the team of opportunity. But if you want a prediction, I say that Ayala exercises his opt-out clause before getting to Baltimore. See if I'm right.

Did you fill out a bracket?
No, but I can fill out a sweater.

What?
Nothing. I haven't paid much attention to the NCAAs this winter - I needed a friend to break the news that the Terps weren't chosen for the NIT - and would be relying on dumb luck. Then again, that could increase my odds of winning. But you should know that I don't want to hear about your bracket. Same with your fantasy baseball team. It's far more interesting to you than the rest of us. Sorry.

Who's your starting second baseman?
Am I the owner, GM or manager? Just curious.

Who will be the Orioles' starting second baseman?
It depends on Machado's status. If he's on the DL, it could be Jonathan Schoop or Jemile Weeks. If Machado is in the lineup, it figures to be Ryan Flaherty. Schoop is having an outstanding spring. Weeks has blazing speed - he's stolen seven bases and isn't afraid to swipe third - but he's hitting .138.

How does Nelson Cruz look?
Like a doubles machine. The guy can hit. This team can hit. There won't be a shortage of runs.

Does Kevin Gausman make this team?
Eventually. I just think he's destined to start the season at Triple-A unless the Orioles make a trade to clear a spot for him.

What are the chances that the Orioles make a trade before opening day?
Very good. They have some pitching to spare, along with right-handed OF/DH types. Scouts are flocking to Ed Smith Stadium. And have you ever seen scouts flock? It's quite a sight, especially around meal time.

Should we read anything into the Orioles stretching out Brian Matusz?
Not really. They did the same thing last spring. He hasn't been eliminated from rotation consideration - man, that's catchy - but I think the idea is to work on his changeup and improve his splits. He's got to be more effective against right-handers. It's harder to do it if he's making one-inning appearances.

Any chance that (insert name other than Tommy Hunter) wins the closer job?
Not from where I'm sitting. Tommy Hunter was the leading candidate coming in and there's been no indication that manager Buck Showalter has decided on Darren O'Day or Ryan Webb or anyone else in the organization.

Is today's game televised?
Did you turn on your TV and check? OK, seriously, MASN is airing Monday's 1:05 p.m. game against the Red Sox in Sarasota. Keep the remote handy.


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