RN: He’s a little younger than Markakis and I would expect to see better seasons from him. Again, three years ago, I thought he was going to be a big star. I’m not convinced of that anymore. … He hasn’t been the player that I expected. He’s not headed for the Hall of Fame which I thought was a possibility four, five years ago.
MV: It's going to be an interesting spring battle in the outfield with Luke Scott moving back to the field and Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold competing for the fourth outfielder spot. Do you prefer Pie or Reimold, and do you think it would be wise to move Scott to make room for one or both of them?
RN: I do, but if you lose Scott, you’re probably going to lose a few extra games this year. Well, if you factor in Scott’s defense, maybe not. It’s interesting because the Orioles seem to have put in a lot of chips to win this season so they’re probably not going to trade one of their better hitters in Luke Scott. But thinking about 2012 and beyond, if I’m doing that, maybe I try to get Pie or Reimold more at-bats. The problem is that neither one of those guys is a kid anymore. They still have potential but it’s not like they’re young players you’re going to build your team around.
MV: How much do Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee have left to give? Vlad showed up in Sarasota with a Superman T-shirt, which is fitting considering the fans' expectations for the 36-year-old slugger.
RN: Guerrero was OK last year. I don’t think he’s a better hitter than Luke Scott. Fans are excited mainly because they have heard of Vladimir Guerrero, who used to be a great player. I think he’s going to the Hall of Fame someday and it’s kind of fun to have those guys, but he’s no savior. Derrek Lee, he’s coming off a rough year, so I wouldn’t expect those guys to be great. But they will be upgrades over what the Orioles had last year. I’m not saying Guerrero will be better than Luke Scott, but he’ll be better than whoever they had playing left field last year with Scott taking over in left.
I think they’re going to be upgrades, but I have questioned the kind of money the Orioles had to spend to get those upgrades. I wouldn’t have done it, but I do understand the organization wants to show the fans that it’s time to turn things around, and if it shows up in attendance and TV ratings, then that’s fantastic.
MV: When it comes to competing in the big, bad AL East, are the Orioles taking the right plan of action by piling up prospects -- especially pitchers -- and rounding out the roster with castaways and stopgap veterans? And do you see it working?
RN: Well, it can work. We saw it work with the Rays. It’s just such a tall mountain to climb, trying to get 90-plus wins in that division. And the Rays have done it, amazingly. Can another team do it? Boy, I don’t know. … The way to do it is to stockpile young players, especially pitchers, because it’s impossible to buy good starting pitching on the open market unless you’re the Yankees or the Red Sox. I really can’t quibble with the overall plan that we’ve seen other than spending $15 million or whatever it was on Lee and Guerrero.
MV: Is there another way for them to do it in the AL East?
RN: Not really. You could be hyper-aggressive and try to trade Brian Roberts -- not that you can get anything [for] him at the moment -- but they could have a year or two ago and probably have gotten a pile of prospects for him. You always have to ask yourself about a veteran player, “When we’re ready to win, will this guy still be there for us? Will this guy be a key component?” Because if the answer is “no,” you usually might as well trade him.
That’s really the only other option, to trade all your valuable players who won’t be there when you’re ready to win for prospects, and the Orioles really haven't done that and who could blame them? If I were a fan or if I worked there, I probably wouldn’t want to see Brian Roberts going away, either.
MV: What's your season outlook for the Orioles? Will we actually see a winning season here in Baltimore?
RN: I am somewhat bullish on the Orioles. I think I said that they’re going to win 82 games and some of that is due to the Showalter factor, which can’t be quantified. If not for him, they would be around a 75- or 78-win team on paper even with the additions. And I’ll give you a little bit of extra credit for Showalter. I was blown away by what that team did when he took over last season and I think there might be a little bit of a carryover there.