A few questions with spring training a few days away

While Orioles fans freeze in the Baltimore area, the sun and warmth of Sarasota is calling. Spring training begins this week.

Almost time to play ball.

Orioles pitchers and catchers report to Ed Smith Stadium on Thursday with their first workout set for Friday. Position players join them for the first full-squad workout on Wednesday, Feb. 25. The first exhibition game is March 3 and the season opener is April 6 in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays.

So with the sound of the crack of the bat set to return, here are five questions facing the Orioles over the next few weeks:

* How do you get six starters down to five?

This is a big one to be resolved in Sarasota. The old baseball axiom that “things have a way of working out” may be what happens here, but how will it get worked out? It would only take one injury to make this five for five spots, but no one wants that, of course.

Ubaldo Jimenez should not be handed a job based on his salary, but he also can’t be optioned. If healthy, he has to break north with some role on this club.

By the way, four of the six starter candidates do have options left: Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris.

* Who will get the playing time in left field and right field?

Is Alejandro De Aza going to get most of the starts in left and Travis Snider in right? Will there be some platooning out there? Earlier, I wrote that four or five players, including Steve Pearce, David Lough and Delmon Young, will all likely get 350-400 or more at-bats in some sort of time share. I’m expecting to see Buck Showalter do his thing - mixing and matching his talent to its best use, especially at these two positions.

Also will someone like Norlan Reimold or Alex Hassan surprise and get more time than expected? Will one of the Cuban duo of Dariel Alvarez and Henry Urrutia impact the roster much this year?

matt_wieters-sidebar_close-up.jpg* Will Manny Machado and Matt Wieters be ready for opening day?

Of the two, Machado seems more likely to be ready. I don’t think the Orioles acquired Ryan Lavarnway and J.P. Arencibia only to compete for the backup catcher’s job. They are also insurance if Wieters is not ready come April 6. Plus Steve Clevenger remains on the 40-man roster.

* What happens come July?

The Orioles have 11 players that can be free agents at the end of this year. That list includes Norris, Chen, Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, Ryan Webb, Wesley Wright, Chris Davis, Wieters, De Aza, Pearce and Young.

If the Orioles get off to a poor start and are not contending by July, will there be a big sell-off of these players? What if the team is on the fringe of contending? The July trade deadline will likely be the O’s last chance to get more than a draft pick for any of these players unless some clear waivers and can be traded after July 31.

* Which team will provide the biggest threat to the Orioles’ push to repeat as American League East champion?

Toronto could be that team. They have a mix of vets and youngsters in the rotation and added Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson to an already powerful lineup. The Yankees have plenty of question marks that start with Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia atop their rotation. The Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval as they try for another worst-to-first climb. Tampa Bay should again have a strong rotation with plenty of question marks on offense.

At least soon we get to see and talk about the Orioles back on the field again.

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