Orioles overhaul? Not this spring

February 13, 2010|By Baltimore Sun reporter

When a major league baseball team loses 98 times in one season, finishes 39 games out of first place and secures its 12th consecutive campaign under .500, a roster overhaul for the next year is not just possible.

It's expected.

But not this spring, not with these Orioles.

The seismic personnel shift occurred in 2009, when the Orioles used 48 players, including 23 who made their club debut. This offseason, they added first baseman Garrett Atkins, third baseman Miguel Tejada and starting pitcher Kevin Millwood to a crowded lineup and rotation.

Heading into spring training, which starts Thursday in Sarasota, Fla., with the first workout for pitchers and catchers, the Orioles have 21 spots filled on their projected 25-man roster, barring injuries or trades.

"There is much more that has been settled because of the opportunities that occurred last year," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "There were so many guys that came up during the season and contributed nicely, and we are confident they will continue along those lines. And then veteran guys were added ... and they aren't coming to spring training with the understanding that they have to make the club."

Since Trembley became manager in June 2007, he has stressed the need for competition within the club, a concept he believes makes players better. Yet, the reality of the 2010 Orioles is that only the backup catcher and three bullpen spots are genuinely undecided in mid-February.

Even with few openings, Andy MacPhail, the club's president of baseball operations, expects a highly competitive spring training. First, he said, there will be players who might not make the Orioles but will be trying to impress other teams during exhibition games. Also, he said, this will be a time for inexperienced players to make an impression that could help them later in the year when the Orioles need reinforcements.

"We are trying to stack up as much talent as we can at each position," MacPhail said. "It's a long season, and you always start out one way [with a roster] and finish up differently. There will be myriad moves to be made during the season for myriad reasons."

For now, though, the roster is nearly set.

The starting infield will be Atkins, second baseman Brian Roberts, shortstop Cesar Izturis, Tejada and catcher Matt Wieters. The outfield will consist of Nick Markakis in right, Adam Jones in center and, if healthy, Nolan Reimold in left, with fourth outfielder Felix Pie and designated hitter Luke Scott available for spot duty.

Pie will be joined on the bench by middle infielder Robert Andino, corner infielder Ty Wigginton and a reserve catcher, which likely will be veteran Chad Moeller, who mentored Wieters and the young pitchers in 2009.

Also vying to be Wieters' backup are Michel Hernandez, who played in 35 games with the Tampa Bay Rays last year, and Craig Tatum, a former Cincinnati Reds prospect known for his strong, accurate arm.

Perhaps the biggest difference from last spring is the construction of the pitching staff. Last February, the Orioles had 38pitchers in camp and three spots open in their five-man rotation. In 2010, roughly 30pitchers have been invited to camp, and there are no obvious openings for starting pitchers.

Three of last year's rookie starters -- Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman -- are expected to be in the rotation, along with Jeremy Guthrie, last year's Opening Day starter, and Millwood, who likely will have that honor this year.

"That is the way [the rotation] looks like it will be, but you still have to pitch well to earn a spot," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. "In the past, if you don't pitch well and you didn't earn it, you could still maybe get a spot. Hopefully, those days are gone. We are moving forward here."

If Bergesen, who will be at least 10 days behind the other pitchers in spring training because of a strained right shoulder, isn't ready for early April, his spot could be taken by David Hernandez or Jason Berken. Otherwise, Hernandez and Berken probably are in the bullpen mix.

The Orioles are penciling in Mike Gonzalez as the closer, with Jim Johnson as his primary setup man. Koji Uehara, who made 12 starts last year in an injury-riddled season, is expected to have a bullpen spot, as well as last year's most reliable reliever, left-hander Mark Hendrickson.

Hernandez and Berken will compete with Kam Mickolio, Cla Meredith, Matt Albers and Dennis Sarfate for two right-handed openings in the bullpen. Albers, who is out of options, and Mickolio, who has the highest ceiling, are the leading candidates. Another spot might open for a righty if Uehara isn't ready for Opening Day.

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