Disorder in an early lineup projection

An offseason exercise that doesn't require a home gym, but makes me sweat as if competing in a triathlon, is creating an Orioles lineup in December. Taking the players on the current 40-man roster and the likely invites to spring training and filling every position.

Go nuts and, if you dare, also craft a bench, rotation and bullpen. But only if you've stretched prior to attempting it.

A national publication seeks my assistance every winter, with a deadline prior to the Christmas holiday. The Orioles conduct much of their business long after the ball drops in Times Square and always are good for a signing or two in Sarasota, Fla.

Shortstop José Iglesias signed his free agent contract on Jan. 7. The Orioles are expected to replace him with another signing after my lineup has been emailed.

Reliever César Valdez agreed to his minor league deal three days later, excluding him from my bullpen projection, which at the time didn't seem terribly important. Catcher Bryan Holaday signed his minor league contract later in the month and reliever Travis Lakins Sr. was a waiver claim from the Cubs on the 31st.

Left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone agreed to terms on their minor league deals in February. Infielder Andrew Velazquez was a waiver claim from the Indians.

I can only work with what I've got.

There are only a few positions that I can fill with full confidence. The easier part is identifying which players are heading north. But where do I put them?

Pedro Severino is being paid $1.825 million, at least over a full season, and it's a simple move to put him behind the plate. Chance Sisco is the logical choice as his backup.

Anthony Santander should return to right field, where he was a Gold Glove finalist. I wouldn't bet my mother's life on it, but maybe a distant relative.

And then what?

Ryan Mountcastle is the left fielder unless he's the first baseman. Trey Mancini is the first baseman unless he's the right fielder or the designated hitter, which would ease him back into competition. Austin Hays is the center fielder unless he's the left fielder and Cedric Mullins is the center fielder. Or is Mullins the left fielder?

Chris Davis is going to fight for his at-bats, as manager Brandon Hyde stated in Monday's Zoom conference call. It's no longer a given that he's the first baseman. A five-man bench on a 26-man roster, which is how it's laid out by the publication, might have to include Davis.

Hanser Alberto isn't the second baseman anymore. Yolmer Sánchez is the early favorite to replace him, but it isn't set in stone. Rio Ruiz is the early favorite to stay at third base, but he's going to have competition in camp.

I'm running with Sánchez and Ruiz this month, which is only a little safer than running with scissors.

Richie Martin can be handed the shortstop job unless it goes to Pat Valaika, with the other serving in a utility role. Those are my choices. Ramón Urías also earned consideration.

Thumbnail image for Mountcastle-OF-Orange-ST-sidebar.jpgI've been touting Mountcastle as the left fielder because that seems to be the team's preference - executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said Wednesday on MLB Network Radio that the rookie is "penciled in" in left - but my early draft of the lineup had Mancini as the designated hitter, which left Davis as the first baseman. It certainly could unfold that way. But keeping Davis in the bottom third of the order really exposed the middle portion.

Like wearing a crop top, but without the six-pack abs.

Having Mountcastle in left puts Hays in center and Mullins on the bench. So I had Hays leading off, Santander batting second, Mancini third, Mountcastle fourth and then ...

You want Davis or Severino fifth? It's not going to be Martin or Valaika. It's not going to be Sánchez. It shouldn't be Ruiz.

This is what happens when Iglesias is traded - the unpredictability of 2020 included his emergence as a productive No. 2 and 3 hitter - Alberto is non-tendered and Renato Núñez is waived.

Now consider this alternative:

CF Cedric Mullins
RF Anthony Santander
DH Trey Mancini
1B Ryan Mountcastle
LF Austin Hays
C Pedro Severino
3B Rio Ruiz
2B Yolmer Sánchez
SS Richie Martin

Putting Valaika at shortstop would lower Sánchez to ninth. Or maybe Sánchez should have been there all along, with Martin eighth. I have no idea.

Davis could go off again in exhibition games and win the first base job. But he batted eighth in eight of his 13 starts this summer, seventh twice and sixth twice.

The rotation likely is going to include a veteran who signs later. In the meantime, it feels safe to go with John Means, Alex Cobb, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann or Jorge López.

A seven-man bullpen could offer Valdez, Lakins, Hunter Harvey, Shawn Armstrong, Dillon Tate, Tanner Scott and Paul Fry. But it also could include someone who fails to make the rotation. It also could include lefty Fernando Abad, who agreed to a minor league deal. And Cole Sulser remains on the 40-man roster after leading the team in saves with five, but also walking 17 batters in 22 2/3 innings.

The 40-man also contains Rule 5 picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells. At least one of them could be placed in the 'pen and eased into major league life.

At least I already know that they exist in the organization. Unlike the starting shortstop.

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