Spring. Training. Baseball. Season. Hallelujah! Baseball is back, and the Orioles are in Sarasota to kick it off for their fans. Spring Training is where the lineups, positions, and rotations are figured out. It’s where players win and lose roster spots. It’s where we get to how that guy comes back from his offseason injury, and then we see that other guy get and injury. The Orioles have their fair share of this, so let’s look at seven headlines going into Spring Training.
1. Can Manny Machado come back from his knee injury for opening day?
In September of 2013 after the Orioles had been eliminated from contention, the fans and the team got the biggest kick in the gut it could get. The Orioles Rising Star Third Baseman went down and couldn’t get back up, and everyone feared the worst. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as it looked, but Machado still opted to have surgery to fix the ligament in his leg rather than rehab it. Now, he’s been cleared for some baseball activities and the big question mark is whether or not he’ll be ready for Opening Day, personally I think he will, but Machado himself keeps on downplaying and questioning the topic all together. If Machado isn’t ready for opening day, the Third base job would either land in the hands of Ryan Flaherty or Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar. As of now, the Orioles and Machado are hoping to be cleared to play by mid-March, here’s to that.
2. Who’s on second?
I think this one is pretty clear cut, but a lot would tend to disagree with me. The Second Base job is up for grabs in Spring Training and the clear favorites are Ryan Flaherty, Alexi Casilla, and Jemile Weeks. I think Flaherty wins it and Weeks becomes the backup, while Casilla stay in the Minors on his deal. But it took Flaherty all the way until June to just even hit the Mendoza line average wise, so I understand the idea of wanting other options. Jemile on the other plan really hasn’t been the same player since his 2011 rookie campaign, where his hit .303 with a WAR of 1.6, since then he’s only hit .219 with a -0.9 WAR and has been demoted. Both are not very enticing options, but they do have a lot of upside, Flaherty has a good amount of pop in his bat and could have 20 homerun power, while if Weeks can recreate his 2011 season, he’d be a great leadoff hitter.
3. Does Davis Duplicate?
Let’s face it, there’s a good possibility slugger Chris Davis doesn’t repeat his 2013 breakout year, but there is good odds that he gets close. The biggest factor for Davis is the amount of protection he gets in the lineup. Hitting behind Adam Jones is great for Jones, but Davis was hung out to dry in that department because of the lack-luster year Matt Wieters had at the plate. If Davis doesn’t change his mechanics and gets serviceable protection in the lineup, I predict 30-40 Homeruns and 80-90 RBIs.
4. Rotation, Rotation, Rotation.
Signing Ubaldo Jimenez to a 4 year/48 million dollar contract can be a big improvement to the starting rotation, but it really makes him only the third pitcher penciled into the rotation, next to Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen. The last two spot are up for grabs in my opinion, and it comes down to Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Brian Matusz, and the recently acquired Suk-Min Yoon. This is a good situation for the O’s, but it’s also tough one, they traded for Norris in the middle of the season last year, and they have first-round picks invested in Matusz and Gausman. Matusz has been the lefty specialist out of the bullpen the past year and a half and now he wants another crack at the rotation. Britton is 26, he’s running out of time and he’s out of minor league options with the Orioles. Gausman is apparently lighting it up in team workouts. Does Norris or Gonzalez get sent to the bullpen in favor of one of the younger arms? Probably not, in my opinion, the rotation probably stays as is and the young arms come out of the bullpen, Britton especially since Troy Patton is suspended, but Gausman might start at AAA. The O’s are definitely in a good spot with their starting pitching.
5. Bounce back for Wieters?
Catcher Matt Wieters had his worst season in the majors in 2013, .235 average, .287 OBP, and a .704 OPS, if you take away his 22 homers and 79 RBIs, that’s bush league. Wieters said before the 2013 season that he was going to focus more on hitting than fielding during Spring Training and he did not get the results anyone was looking for. Those results also lead to me yelling at my TV numerous times. As I said earlier, Wieters offensive struggles also kept Davis from doing the most he could do, and that made his season even worse in comparison. With a contract extension possibly looming in the near future, hopefully that kick starts his offensive abilities and he finally becomes “Mauer with power”.
6. DH Blues
You could compare the DH position for the Orioles last year to an offensive black hole and it seems they are trying to rectify it this off season. They signed Delmon Young and are looking to either acquire Kendrys Morales or Nelson Cruz, both serviceable DHs. I would imaginge if either of them of signed, they are the everyday DH, but if they aren’t, it might get complicated. The DH role would swing between Nolan Reimold, Henry Urrutia, and Delmon Young, probably just Urrutia and Young though. Young is a career .303 hitter against lefties, so he would get them. I don’t think Reimold makes the 25-man roster; because he’s injury prone and Young is probably more serviceable — I can’t believe I said that. DH is still a big question mark for the Orioles that hopefully gets sorted out soon.
7. Extensions for everyone
J.J. Hardy’s contract is up after this season, Nick Markakis only has 17 million dollar club option next year, and Davis and Wieters only have one more year of team control under arbitration. When analysts say the Orioles have a window to contend, they aren’t kidding. Dan Duquette has said the club wants to extend Hardy before Opening Day, but there is no update on it as of recent. Duquette has also said the club has offered a long term deal to Davis, and an unconfirmed source around the league keeps on saying there has been no progress in talks with Wieters. I am a very scared person to hear all this. I think Hardy and Davis get extension this season and Nick signs a new contract during the offseason. Wieters is the wildcard, because Catcher is such a weak position around the league, so it definitely makes sense for him to test free agency and drive his price tag up. But like all things we will wait and see what happens.
Image Credit: Keith Allison