During an appearance on Rob Long's radio show on FOX 1370 AM last week, Long snuck a quick Orioles question into our conversation about the Ravens' offseason. Putting me on the spot, he asked me if the Orioles would climb out of the AL East cellar this summer. I thought about it for a few seconds, let out a few "ums" -- my answer to Ray Lewis' "bottom line" -- and guaranteed that the Orioles would finish fourth. Hey, now is the time for optimism, right?
You know you're in Birdland when picking the hometown team to finish in next-to-last place is considered ratcheting up the hype machine. But there is so much positive momentum with the Orioles right now, I find it hard to believe that Buck Showalter's bunch won't capitalize in 2011.
Of course, I've been burned by buying into the hype before, and I know I'm not alone on that one. I thought for sure the Orioles would finish ahead of the Blue Jays last season, but they were doomed by an awful start and eliminated from playoff contention midway through their first homestand. Well, at least it felt that way whenever I popped my head inside the clubhouse.
With spring training set to begin later this month, I feel guilty for thinking about a couple of scenarios in which the Orioles would fall into another one of those midsummer swoons. But given recent history, I can't help but think about the large negative territory in the realm of possibilities.
What if Andy MacPhail's latest crop of offseason additions turns out to be another mixed bag?
Vladimir Guerrero turns 36 on Wednesday -- happy birthday, Vlad -- and he's probably already on AARP's mailing list, which means it's no sure thing he'll top 25 home runs or 100 runs batted in. Age is also an issue for first baseman Derrek Lee, who is 35. New third baseman Mark Reynolds could continue to hack away like a glorified softball ringer like he did as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Justin Duchscherer, who has made just five starts the past two seasons, could spend more time on the disabled list than the pitching mound at Camden Yards. And J.J. Hardy could end up hitting like his predecessor, Cesar Izturis.
OK, who am I kidding? There's no scenario in which Hardy will be that awful at the plate.
I think the deeper potential pothole is the development -- or a lack thereof -- of young Orioles such as Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz, Adam Jones, Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, etc. Those guys all seemed to thrive in one way or another during Showalter's impressive two-month managerial stint last summer. They need to continue to develop as hoped for the Orioles to have a fighting chance against the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and the rebuilding but still formidable Rays.
If they don't, the buzz will fizzle out in a hurry and it will be another long baseball season here in Birdland. Let's not speak of such a thing now, though, and stay optimistic about the Orioles.