The Orioles have spent almost four years and about $35 million waiting for Brian Roberts to get healthy, so the news that he will soon embark on an injury rehabilitation assignment — which would be prelude to a July return to the major league lineup — should evoke a range of emotions.
First and foremost, it should prompt fans to appreciate just how determined Roberts has been to get back and make a contribution to the team on which he once played a central role. If you review the list of injuries he has had to overcome, you'll probably agree that the easier course would have been to go home a year ago as a very rich young man with most of a comfortable life still ahead of him.
There have been times over the course of his career when Roberts has been his own worst enemy.
He hit himself in the head with his bat, for God's sake, to incur his first of two concussions. He suffered his second concussion — and his latest hamstring injury — on head-first slides. He had that long-ago steroid moment that sometimes gets brought up to try and explain all of his medical misfortune.
But let's not forget that there also was a time when Roberts was one of the few bright spots on a team that otherwise was a civic embarrassment, and that he — like teammate Nick Markakis — played the role of good soldier on a bad club with both class and flair.
So, what exactly should be made of his latest comeback attempt? Could he be the last missing link on a team that has finally grown into a legitimate World Series contender? Could there still be enough hits in that banged-up 35-year-old body to add a big exclamation point at the back end of a very good offensive lineup?
Roberts obviously thinks so, if his upbeat comments the other day are any indication. He said he finally feels like himself after those two years in a fog. He admits now that he was still feeling some residual effects from the two concussions when he made his unsuccessful comeback attempt last year.
"If I was to be 100 percent honest, I still didn't feel great last year," he said last week.
No one could ever doubt his talent or his drive to be the best little second baseman and leadoff man in baseball. And, to be fair, it's going to take a half-season of regular playing time and solid production to even begin to erase doubts about his durability.
Fans got a glimpse of what Roberts might still bring to the table during spring training and the opening series of the regular season.
He sprayed the ball all over the place and opened against the Tampa Bay Rays with five hits in his first 12 at-bats at Tropicana Field. He looked like the old Brian — right up until that slide into second base when a tendon popped in the back of his right leg and he had to be helped back to the training room.
That's why all the "what ifs" are kind of pointless right now.
There is already some chatter about what the Orioles might do this winter if Roberts re-establishes himself as the everyday second baseman and plays a meaningful role in another playoff run. Would the Orioles try to re-sign him after all the money they spent on the 118 games he has played since starting his current contract in 2010?
Of course, the Orioles can only hope that's the most difficult dilemma facing the franchise four months from now.
If Roberts proves he's healthy and plays well after the All-Star break, there are contractual devices that make it relatively easy to reduce the financial risk of a one-year contract for next season, and you can be fairly sure that Roberts would be willing to come back under almost any terms after making so much for playing so little for four years.
The bigger question is what the Orioles might do if Roberts is not able to take back second base, which is why they need him to return in July, so they can find out if they need to look for help at the position at the July 31 deadline for making trades without passing players through waivers.
There isn't much out there — and top minor league infield prospect Jonathan Schoop is still recovering from a back injury — but manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette have proven they are not afraid to think outside the box when it comes to solving problems at the major league level. If you recall, there wasn't an adequate third baseman anywhere in sight when they brought up shortstop Manny Machado last year.
If no better solution presents itself, they probably will gut it out with Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla until the offseason and then decide whether to wait for Schoop or look outside the organization.
Roberts can make things very easy on them by coming back and being just 80 percent of the old Brian.
Even that would have to be considered a long shot at this point, but what have the Orioles got to lose?
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.