A lot of the Orioles best young pitchers are likely more than a season away (Garrett Olson, Radhames Liz, Brandon Erbe). One guy to watch is Adam Loewen, who has had a frustratingly inconsistent minor-league career. But one scout told me recently that Loewen, a 6-foot-5 lefty who was the fourth overall pick in 2002, was the most impressive and polished pitcher in the Arizona Fall League - and that's an accomplishment. He could make his debut in 2006.
Kevin, Chalfont, Pa.: I think Kevin Millwood is a good fit for the O's this offseason now that Leo Mazzone is in town. What kind of contract do you think he'll demand, and what do you think the odds are that the O's would go after him?
Dan Connolly: Scott Boras. Scott Boras. Scott Boras. Enough said. Millwood had to settle for a one-year contract last year and now he is probably the most coveted free-agent starter. Yes, A.J. Burnett is younger and has better stuff, but he has some baggage that will scare some teams. Millwood has leadership and experience on his side and is taking a dazzling AL ERA into free agency. Boras, baseball's superagent, wins again. Expect a four-year deal that begins at least with a 3. It's impossible to predict the market this early, but he'll get more than the Orioles - and most clubs - want to spend.
Chuck, Washington, D.C.: Will Tripper Johnson or Brandon Fahey be used as trade bait for the O's? They are two quality players. Also where do you project Daigle - the minor league free agent just signed - playing? Ottawa? Bowie?
Dan Connolly: I think any of the Orioles' prospects will be used as trade bait if the deal is right. The exception there is Nick Markakis, the young outfielder that everyone seems to agree is a special talent. The Orioles have a lot more depth in their pitching ranks, and so they are most likely to go there if they deal prospects. Johnson doesn't have the same can't-miss label as he once did, and Fahey may be more of a utility infielder type when he gets to the big leagues, so it's unlikely either will be the centerpiece of any significant trade.
With Miguel Tejada signed through 2009, Fahey is more expendable. Leo Daigle, a power-hitting first baseman who won the Carolina League MVP and Triple Crown for the White Sox organization, is an intriguing pickup for an Orioles system that has little minor-league power. But Daigle did his damage as a 25-year-old in Single-A and struggled at the plate in a Triple-A promotion. Although the determinations aren't made until spring training, my guess is he'd start at Bowie.
Chris, Hartford, Conn.: Any resolution regarding Sidney Ponson's contract being voided and the grievance he filed? Seems like this thing is really dragging out.
Dan Connolly: You ain't seen nothing yet. November was the earliest projection on this case. We're hearing it probably won't be resolved until sometime into 2006. Once it gets to an arbiter it takes another six weeks or so for a ruling. All we know for sure is that Ponson won't be back with the Orioles in 2006 and Peter Angelos believes he has a good case to recoup the money, even though voiding a contract is historically difficult to do.
Oznog, Severna Park: How is Brian Roberts' recovery going? Is he still on track to play at the beginning of the season next year?
Dan Connolly: There have been no reported setbacks, but nothing can or will be determined until he begins baseball-related activities in the spring. Swinging a bat is one thing, swinging it against 95-mph fastballs is something else. Same for playing catch versus making a tough pivot throw. If anybody will work hard enough to return to form, though, it is Roberts.
Pat, Manchester, UK: In my opinion the game of baseball needs instant replay. The umpires make too many wrong calls that can change the outcome of games. Would this be better or worse for the game?
Dan Connolly: I think worse. We all want to be accurate - yes, even journalists. But the game is slow as it is. Inserting instant replay into baseball could extend a game that already often takes three hours. And what we'll find is that the umpires got most of the calls right anyway. Baseball, more so than most sports, is about past triumphs and heartaches. Goats are forever part of the lore and I think it's OK when an umpire (Denkinger, Garcia, Eddings) is occasionally lumped in there. Really, managers will tell you that they are most frustrated by balls-strikes inconsistency not calls at bases. And there's no way to fix that with the exception of computerizing the strike zone. And that gives me shudders.