Questions keep coming as Orioles ready for spring training

The Orioles broke camp last spring with a 28-man roster after Major League Baseball and the union approved its expansion through May 1, one of the changes caused by the lockout. Fifteen of those players weren’t with the club on 2021 opening day: pitchers Jordan Lyles, Félix Bautista, Cionel Pérez, Bryan Baker, Keegan Akin, Joey Krehbiel and Mike Baumann, infielders Kelvin Gutiérrez, Rougned Odor, Jorge Mateo and Chris Owings, outfielders Ryan McKenna and DJ Stewart, and catchers Robinson Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom.

Bautista, Pérez, Mateo, McKenna, Baker, Krehbiel, Akin, Baumann and Bemboom remain in the organization, and the others are with new teams or waiting to sign.

Lyles joined the Royals on a two-year, $17 million deal. Odor and Chirinos also made it through the entire season with the Orioles but are major league free agents.

At least a dozen players could be on the charter to Boston who weren’t with the Orioles last opening day: Pitchers Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, Mychal Givens, DL Hall and Austin Voth, infielders Gunnar Henderson, Adam Frazier and Terrin Vavra, outfielder Kyle Stowers and catcher James McCann.

Rule 5 selection Andrew Politi will try to squeeze into the bullpen. At least one of the non-roster players - a group that includes first baseman Lewin Díaz and first basemen/outfielders Ryan O’Hearn and Franchy Cordero - will try to be counted among the opening day newcomers with the Orioles.

Will the Orioles match or exceed last year’s total? Fifteen seems much too aggressive, so I’m comfortable taking the under.

That’s my own question. Here are a few others that friends texted me this week:

What do you think of Adam Frazier?
I think he’s an upgrade at second base, where the Orioles wanted a left-handed hitter who also could play in the outfield.

I think he’s an appealing alternative to the right-handed-hitting Ramón Urías.

I think he’s going to be better than the version who hit .238 with a .612 OPS in 156 games with the Mariners.

I think he’s worth the cost of an $8 million contract in 2023.

I don’t think he’s blocking a prospect because the Orioles aren’t ready to promote Jordan Westburg, Connor Norby or Joey Ortiz.

Will John Means be back in June?
No one knows for sure until Means gets deeper into his rehab in Sarasota.

Means underwent Tommy John surgery April 27, so June isn’t an unreasonable target. But there’s zero incentive to rush him back.

The team’s goal of making the playoffs isn’t a valid reason.

The month of July might be more realistic, but executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias estimated Sunday on MLB Network Radio that the left-hander will be on the team “sometime July or so, maybe August.”  

Means will pitch for the Orioles in 2023 and could provide a big boost to their playoff aspirations. An impactful addition to the staff without the club making a deadline trade.

Patience is required – from Means and fans.

Is Grayson Rodriguez definitely in the opening day rotation?
As long as he’s healthy, it sure seems that way.

Elias has said multiple times that he expects Rodriguez to break camp as one of the starters. Interviewed this week for MASN’s “Hot Stove Show” that airs on Friday night, Elias said, “He does have an inside track. I think we’re kind of pulling for him to make it.”

Expect a similar response later today when Elias and manager Brandon Hyde greet fans at Bel Air High School to start the Birdland Caravan.

Elias added, “In some ways this might be a slot for him to lose, so to speak, going into spring training because he had really gotten to the point of showing us the performance that we needed to see in Triple-A, and we were in the process of stretching him out and the timing was terrible, but he pulled a lat really close to being called up to the majors.

“I think that the work he’s done in Triple-A, he’s now on the 40-man roster, we have a lot of excitement for him. He’s going to get a very full major league camp with the team, and I hope he makes the rotation.”

Hall also comes to camp as a starter. That’s what the Orioles want him to focus on, though Elias said in his MASN interview that they’re keeping “an open mind” about returning Hall to the bullpen if it makes sense.

“I don’t know that we’ll close off that possibility,” Elias said, “but our hope is for him to be a starting pitcher.”

With so many starters, could the Orioles piggyback someone in a five-man rotation?
Elias said the idea is “tempting” and he sees the logic in it, but there’s concern about shortening the bullpen.

Teams are allowed to carry only 13 pitchers. Using six starters in this manner leaves seven relievers and an increased workload.

Open dates throughout the schedule provide opportunities to give starters an extra day of rest. But I don’t know how the rotation is going to shake out with this many candidates, and especially if Hall earns a spot.

Are the Orioles done making moves before spring training?
Not necessarily.

They seem fine rolling into camp with the current group of players, but they’re always looking for upgrades. A couple of free agents still hold their interest, and another trade could unfold.

Transactions aimed at improving depth could be made in the infield and outfield, and the Orioles will find at-bats at designated hitter if a player becomes available who intrigues them.

There’s room for some maneuvering.

Is Darren O’Day a future Orioles Hall of Famer?
He’s a breakaway layup.

I’ve disagreed with some of the past inductees. Andy Etchebarren’s exclusion will forever puzzle and irk me. But O’Day is an easy call.

Seven seasons in the Orioles’ bullpen and a 2.40 ERA and 0.994 WHIP. Don’t try this at home, or on the road.

O’Day made the All-Star team in 2015 while registering a 1.52 ERA and 0.934 WHIP in 68 appearances. He was an integral part of a bullpen that ranked among the best in baseball. He was hugely responsible for the Orioles returning to contender status. And he was a fan favorite.

The media enjoyed him, as well, though the injuries that followed the four-year, $31 million contract awarded in December 2016 tested his patience and chipped away at his humor.

O’Day’s arrival in Baltimore is its own fascinating story, the waiver claim in November 2011 done after Andy MacPhail left the front office and before Dan Duquette joined it. He battled to make the club in spring training, surviving the last round of cuts. Left-hander Zach Phillips was the last cut despite his 1.35 ERA in 13 1/3 innings.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

A lasting image for me is O’Day standing at his locker inside the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium during the 2012 American League Division Series, his right shoulder wrapped in ice after another scoreless and hitless outing. He had four of them totaling five innings, following two shutout innings in the wild card game in Texas.

I asked O’Day if he would be available the next night if the club needed him. Of course he would. He reminded me that “it’s the playoffs.”

Yeah, dumb question.

Middle relievers and set-up men aren’t prominent in baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., but the Orioles will welcome O’Day with open arms. Or side arms, since it's O'Day.

Is Dexter Fowler a future Orioles Hall of Famer?
Good one.

Only if there’s a wing for players who almost joined the team and provided one of the weirdest moments in spring training history.

Fowler agreed to terms on a three-year contract with the Orioles in February 2016, according to a source. A high-ranking official. Extremely high. Like, nose-bleed high.

I reported the years. ESPN’s Buster Olney followed that the deal was worth “around $35 million.” Other reporters confirmed it.

Center fielder Adam Jones told the media the following day that he spoke with Fowler.

“He should be on his way here now,” Jones said. “He’s excited. I know he was a little bit frustrated with the process. Even players with contracts are frustrated with the whole free agency process.”

Maybe Fowler got lost, because he showed up at the Cubs’ camp in Arizona with his bags and a one-year deal. An absolute stunner, with the news breaking while reporters were milling around the Orioles’ clubhouse.

Fowler’s agent, Casey Close, blasted the front office and media in a tweet that posted while we were attending a Sarasota Chamber of Commerce event.

“Irresponsible behavior”

“Recklessly spreading rumors”

“Chose not to concern themselves with the truth”

It all came back to me after hearing this week that Fowler was retiring after 14 seasons – none with the Orioles.

They had him. And then they didn’t. That’s the truth.

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