Spring training competitions

Another day passed without the Orioles signing or trading for a player. The 40-man roster still has an opening.

Perhaps it will be filled during my drive home from Ocean Pines. News tends to break while I’m behind the wheel.

I may have to brake a few times in the snow. Be careful if you’re traveling today.

I’m already looking ahead to some of the anticipated spring training competitions, fully aware that the roster could change at any minute.

In past years, the backup catcher competition has passed for high spring drama. Remember when Craig Tatum beat out Chad Moeller in 2010? It was an unpopular decision in the clubhouse - Moeller had lots of supporters - but Tatum gradually won over his new teammates.

Taylor Teagarden would have to sustain an injury to lose the job in 2013. He’s been re-signed to back up Matt Wieters. And the last time I checked, Ronny Paulino’s car was gone.

The rotation isn’t set and the Orioles aren’t done trying to add to it. As I keep writing, the first four spots are expected to be occupied by Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman. However, one trade could change that outlook. Tillman is out of options and he’s never been viewed as untouchable.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette remains in contact with left-hander Joe Saunders’ agent. Some members of the national media keep trying to link the Orioles to Kyle Lohse, but they don’t give out big contracts to free-agent pitchers and they’d rather hold onto their first-round pick.

The Orioles, not the members of the national media.

Manager Buck Showalter has lots of in-house candidates for the last rotation spot, including Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Steve Johnson and Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland. Showalter has always intended to give them a shot, but he’s also willing to consider them for the bullpen. That’s especially true of Matusz, who thrived as a lefty specialist, and Hunter, who’s out of options.

My guess is the Orioles would prefer for Arrieta and Britton to start at Triple-A Norfolk if they don’t make the rotation.

You can include Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada in the rotation mix if he’s fully recovered from last May’s Tommy John surgery. We were told at the Winter Meetings that he’s ahead of schedule.

The bullpen isn’t under major construction, a winter oddity for the Orioles, but Showalter can go in many directions for the final spot or two. It’s probably down to one if Matusz is the lefty specialist. I always considered Hunter to be the favorite, but McFarland can’t be sent down without passing through waivers and being offered back to the Indians. He may have to be stashed in the ‘pen, which could conceivably give the Orioles three lefties.

(The Nationals remain in the market for a left-handed reliever after Michael Gonzalez reportedly reached agreement with the Brewers on a one-year deal. Just saying...)

mclouth-white-jones-sidebar.jpgNate McLouth and Nolan Reimold are the primary candidates to start in left field. Showalter could platoon them. The Orioles open the 2013 season against the Rays, which means they’ll face left-hander David Price. Does that mean Reimold gets the start?

Second base remains a riddle unless Brian Roberts is healthy on opening day, which he fully anticipates. If he’s shelved again, Showalter must choose between Alexi Casilla, Ryan Flaherty and Yamaico Navarro.

(My New Year’s resolution is to learn how to spell Navarro’s first name without looking it up every single time.)

The composition of the bench depends largely on Roberts’ status. Casilla is the super utility player if Roberts is starting at second base. Teagarden is a second reserve. Wilson Betemit is a third one when he’s not the left-handed designated hitter. Reimold is on the bench when he’s not starting in left field or serving as the DH.

Is Danny Valencia the fourth reserve and a right-handed DH? Does Flaherty make the team? Navarro? Outfielder Trayvon Robinson, who’s out of options? Conor Jackson? Travis Ishikawa? Steve Pearce? Another spring invite?

I’ll close with a leftover quote from closer Jim Johnson regarding the low expectations for the team heading into the 2012 season.

“We heard how everybody told us how bad we were supposed to be and we used it as motivation. It was fun to watch,” Johnson said.

“I’ve been here for quite some time. To be part of the solution rather than the problem and to see how the city responded and everything that went into last year was special. But it was definitely just a starting point.”

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