Will Jim Johnson be the closer?

We’ve known all along that Jim Johnson’s role in 2012 would be determined by the moves made over the winter. If the Orioles fortified the bullpen and were short on starters, he would join the rotation. If they signed and traded for enough starters, he would continue to be a reliever.

It’s still December and the jury is still out, but Johnson looks like a late-inning reliever.

Remember how executive vice president Dan Duquette responded two weeks ago to a question about Johnson’s role during the press conference to introduce Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada?

“That’s up to Buck (Showalter) in the spring,” Duquette replied. “I believe there’s a lot of qualified starting pitchers who end up in the bullpen, and I’d rather see them go from starting to the bullpen than the other way around.”

The Orioles signed Wada and traded for left-hander Dana Eveland. Duquette is searching for another starter, though it’s getting a bit crowded.

They had some interest in Colorado Rockies closer Huston Street, who was dealt to the San Diego Padres at the Winter Meetings. Johnson would have been impacted either by becoming a starter or returning to his former set-up role.

I like Johnson as the closer. He instills more confidence than Kevin Gregg, whose tightrope act required two safety nets. Orioles fans needed the blindfold.

Johnson recorded nine saves last season and was 7-for-7 in September. He came in and threw strikes. The drama was kept to a minimum.

Pedro Strop could emerge as a quality set-up man next season. Gregg could work the seventh or eighth innings and fill in for Johnson if the right-hander isn’t available to close. Darren O’Day is in the fold. And the Orioles and Rangers met at the Winter Meetings to discuss a reunion for Koji Uehara, though nothing came of it.

The temptation remains to better utilize Johnson’s assortment of plus pitches - and I’m counting three of them - in the rotation, but the Orioles don’t appear to be saving a spot for him.

Meanwhile, I’ll be heading to Ocean Pines today for a late Christmas with my parents and sister. I’ll be somewhat detached from the blog, though my laptop also is making the trip.

I’ll check in a few times, but my colleague, Steve Melewski, will do the heavy lifting if news breaks in the next few days.

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