Burnes' impact on Orioles bullpen and other camp competitions

I’ve written about the end of a traditional spring training storyline, the blame falling upon the broad shoulders of James McCann. Only an injury can spark a debate over the identity of the backup catcher.

It’s happening again with the Opening Day starter.

The Orioles didn’t trade for Corbin Burnes to put him behind someone else in the rotation. The announcement is a formality. Manager Brandon Hyde will be asked about it multiple times in camp, probably in a joking manner. Or for planning purposes, allowing beat writers to launch their stories.

Kyle Gibson wasn’t the immediate choice last winter, but he morphed into the favorite in Sarasota based on his experience, impressive results and the lack of an obvious alternative. If not him, whom?

John Means was handed the ball in back-to-back seasons, after losing the assignment to Tommy Milone in 2020 – yes, Tommy Milone – due to a “tired arm.”

Andrew Cashner started the first game in 2019 – yes, Andrew Cashner – because Alex Cobb had a right groin strain. Nate Karns was used as an opener in the second game.

Yes, Nate Karns.

These aren’t the same Orioles.

We know who’s first on the mound on March 28 at Camden Yards. It’s anybody’s guess who’s starting for the Angels.

Perhaps it’s camp results and health that dictate the next four and the order, but the likely outcome is Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, Means and Dean Kremer. That’s how I’ll line ‘em up for now. I’m fairly confident in the names.

Means is a possible disrupter of the order. He’s a former All-Star who’s thrown a no-hitter. He could push his way into the middle.

(For you uniform number lovers, Burnes is wearing 39 and Bradish has switched to 38. Did they execute a trade? More to come.)

The camp competitions include the fifth spot. Kremer must be regarded as the favorite, in part due to Tyler Wells’ experience and production coming out of the bullpen. But Wells was the team’s best starter in the first half.

Cole Irvin is out of options and on the club in some capacity. The Orioles need length out of the ‘pen and Irvin can provide it.

Wells could fill any role and profiles as a nice weapon toward the back with DL Hall gone. He tossed 10 scoreless and hitless innings in relief last season. He closed during his Rule 5 year. He’s going to be a key contributor in whatever capacity. Mark it down.

If Wells and Irvin are in the ‘pen, they’re certain to join new closer Craig Kimbrel, All-Star Yennier Cano, Cionel Pérez and Danny Coulombe.

The battle for the remaining spots should be intense and includes Dillon Tate, who’s healthy again and primed to make a big comeback. But he has two minor league options left, which prevents me from putting him in the lock category. What happens to him is going to be one of the more interesting storylines. Follow along.

Jacob Webb, who won his arbitration case, and Mike Baumann are out of options. They also were good for chunks of the 2023 season.

Bruce Zimmermann, recovered from core muscle surgery, Keegan Akin, Bryan Baker, Nick Vespi, Andrew Suárez and Jonathan Heasley have one option. Nathan Webb is recovering from Tommy John surgery and aiming for a much later return than March.

The other competitions leak into the infield and outfield.

Does Jackson Holliday make the club three months past his 20th birthday? Do the Orioles carry Ramón Urías and Jorge Mateo, the latter expected to get more reps in center field? What about Nick Maton and Liván Soto? Is there a spot for Tyler Nevin, who’s out of options?

The major outfield question is whether the Orioles can carry Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser, with Ryan McKenna out of options. I also want to keep an eye on Kyle Stowers and whether he can make a push.

You remember Stowers. He was on last year’s Opening Day roster.

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