With spring training days away, what kind of team will Orioles field this year?

February 15, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

Here's the best thing you can say about this awful winter we're having: Spring training is finally here.

Oh, no, not for you or me. We're not that fortunate. No swaying palm trees and lush, green ballparks for us. No leisurely morning workouts under the Florida sun and 2 p.m. tee times.

No, we're stuck here in this snowy, frozen wasteland with our shovels and jumper cables and giant bags of rock salt, getting ready for the next blast of Siberian weather to hit.

But Orioles pitchers and catchers report Wednesday to the team's new spring training home in Sarasota, and the first workout is Thursday. (No, Brad Bergesen won't be joining them. Yes, he actually hurt his shoulder filming a commercial. Don't you want to scream? More later.)

So let's take a moment to see whether this team will be any good this year, or whether we're looking at the same old Orioles.

If there's a central theme to the 2010 season, it's that Andy MacPhail took a page out of the old Al Davis playbook and essentially told the Orioles: "Just win, baby."

MacPhail, president of baseball operations, keeps saying the Orioles are out of "Phase 1" of his rebuilding program.

"Phase 1" is apparently when you start from scratch and get the players you need and try not to slit your wrists when things go badly, such as that nasty 24-50 cliff dive the Orioles did in the second half of last season.

Now they're in what MacPhail calls "Phase 2," where you put the fear of God into this team and tell everyone he had better improve and start winning or you'll be tossing bodies out the door.

"Phase 3," of course, bans travel on all city streets except for first-responders and other emergency vehicles that ... sorry ... still stuck in that whole snow emergency plan from last week.

One thing you can say about the Orioles: For a team coming off a 98-loss season, they sure do generate some buzz.

A lot of it revolves around the four key players the Orioles signed in the offseason: veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood, acquired in a trade with the Texas Rangers, and free agents Mike Gonzalez, Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada.

But if you look at this team clinically, what you see are question marks up and down the lineup.

Here's one: How will Tejada take to third base after spending his whole career at shortstop?

Me, I think the guy will play hard here. He'll look at his second stint with the Orioles as a fresh start and a way to redeem himself after moping his way out of here in 2007.

And how many other teams were willing to give him $6 million for a one-year deal at age 35?

But this is a guy with a lot of pride, too, a guy not used to failure. If he has a rough time with the transition to third, will he sulk and let it affect his hitting? We'll find out soon enough.

Another question mark: Which Garrett Atkins did the Orioles sign?

Did they sign the guy who hit 75 homers and drove in 330 runs from 2006 to 2008 with the Colorado Rockies?

Or the guy who hit only .226 with nine homers and 48 RBIs in 126 games last year when he lost his starting job?

And how much of that Colorado power was because of playing in the rarefied air of Coors Field, where the homers fly as if it were the Jose Canseco Celebrity Softball Game?

But the biggest questions revolve around the young Orioles pitchers.

Look, I liked the move to get Millwood. This guy is so laid-back you want to put a mirror under his nose to see if he's breathing.

The Orioles got him to eat innings and provide stability and experience. They'll be happy if he wins 12-15 games and throw a parade if he wins 20.

But what happens after that?

Does Jeremy Guthrie rebound from his 10-17 record last year? Does Brian Matusz improve on his nifty 5-2 record in eight starts last season?

And does Bergesen (7-5 in 2009 with a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts) come back from this ridiculous shoulder injury?

People are going to rip the Orioles for not monitoring Bergesen during the commercial shoot.

But shouldn't the kid get some blame? C'mon, he's not 12 years old.

You're shut down last year after a line drive nearly severs your shin. It takes forever to heal. You can't throw for months.

Then, all of a sudden, you cut loose filming some stupid commercial because the production company wants you to throw at game speed? Hoo, boy.

So what kind of a season are the Orioles looking at? Tough to say. Too many questions surrounding too many players to know for sure.

They should definitely improve over last season, but that's not saying much. If they play .500 ball, a lot of fans will be thrilled. If they're in third place by the All-Star break, it'll be like Mardi Gras around here.

The snow should be gone by then, too.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

Key dates for O's
Wednesday: Pitchers and catchers report

Thursday: Pitchers and catchers hold first workout

Feb. 22: Position players report

Feb. 23: First full-squad workout

March 3: Exhibition opener vs. Tampa Bay

April 3: Final exhibition game

April 6: Opening Day at Tampa Bay

April 9: Home opener vs. Toronto


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