Spring training has begun and season previews are starting to pop up as different publications start giving more coverage to Major League Baseball, so I figured I would do my own preview.
The 2008 season is taking shape as one filled with hope for the future, as the Baltimore Orioles are finally showing a commitment to rebuilding; a movement far overdue as 1997 was its last winning season. The question will be, how painful will the typical pains of rebuilding be for the Orioles? A team who is forsaking the present for the future will have deficiencies on the major league club, and the Orioles are no exception. There are young players that will be worth watching, but not as many as fans would like. On fan sites and message boards, many fans are crying out for certain veterans to be traded and/or cut. Sometimes it just isn’t that easy, as some players have too large a salary to cut or don’t have enough trade value to gather interest from other clubs. The two issues are often tied together to form a particularly frustrating situation. The result for the Orioles in 2008 will be a roster with a few young budding stars and plenty of veteran stop-gaps spread around the field. Let’s take a look, position by position, and see who I think makes the final 25 man roster.
C: Ramon Hernandez (32) – he was a little out of shape and struggled with injuries last season, but looks fit and ready to go this spring.
1B: Kevin Millar (36) – this steady veteran will man first base, but he’ll see a little time at designated hitter, too.
2B: Brian Roberts (30) – trade rumors surround him, but for now he’s one of our star players and one of the best lead-off men in the game.
SS: Luis Hernandez (24) – he’s great with the glove, but not so great with the bat. I can already hear opposing teams chanting, “easy out… easy out”.
3B: Melvin Mora (36) – this aging starter needs to prove that the real Mora is the one who hit 12 homeruns in the first half last year, not 2 homeruns in the second half.
LF: Luke Scott (30) – acquired in the Miguel Tejada trade, he should provide a power boost in left, something we’ve lacked for quite some time. He has impressed Dave Trembley in the cages so far this spring.
CF: Adam Jones (22) – the centerpiece in the Erik Bedard deal, he is a 5-tool star in the making; a cornerstone of the rebuilding effort in Baltimore.
RF: Nick Markakis (24) – voted team MVP in 2007, Markakis is a star on the rise and, should Brian Roberts be traded, the face of the franchise.
DH: Aubrey Huff (31) – he had surgery in January for a sports hernia, but should be ready to go before Opening Day. He’ll be looking to rebound after breaking his streak of 5 straight seasons with 20+ homeruns in 2007. He needs to play well for the fans to forget about some offensive comments he made over the winter. He'll also be backing up Millar and Mora at the corners.
Guillermo Quiroz (26) – obviously you need a back-up catcher, and this former top prospect (with the Blue Jays) is the front runner.
Freddie Bynum (28) – gets a spot due to his versatility. He has great speed off the bench and can back up both middle infield positions and play the outfield. Brandon Fahey (27) could challenge him for this spot, as he’s a better infielder, but his one option remaining (compared to Bynum’s none) is working against him.
Jay Payton (35) – this veteran is a good 4th outfielder, who can play all three outfield positions. There is some concern that he might become a malcontent if he doesn’t get enough playing time, which wouldn’t help his need to rebound after a subpar year in 2007.
Jay Gibbons (31) – as much as we might not want to see Gibbons in an Orioles uniform, he doesn’t have any trade value and he’s very popular in the clubhouse, so he’ll be a fixture on the Orioles bench, seeing time in left field and at DH; that is, after he serves his 15 game suspension for purchasing illegal PED’s. That suspension opens the door for someone like OF Tike Redman (31) or 3B Scott Moore (24) to start the year on the Orioles, but Gibbons will be back.
RHP Jeremy Guthrie (29) – he was a brilliant waiver claim last season, but hit a wall late in the season. He needs to show that he’s the real deal and work on his stamina.
LHP Adam Loewen (24) – he’s being pegged as a future ace, but coming back from a stress fracture in his throwing elbow and only having thrown 147-2/3 innings in the majors, he has much to prove.
RHP Daniel Cabrera (27) – possessing some of the nastiest stuff in the league, he’s loaded with potential, but has been nothing but frustrating. On a positive note, he did throw over 200 innings last year.
RHP Steve Trachsel (37) – the club wants the veteran to make the team in order save some younger arms the innings, but he could get pushed out if enough of them impress this spring.
LHP Garrett Olsen (24) – the rookie has a great track record in the minors, but had a rough time in his call-up last season. This last spot is very much up for grabs, with many candidates fighting for it, but I predict that Olsen’s plus control will win him the job. LHP Troy Patton (22) would be the favorite to win this spot, but he’s got some issues with the labrum in his shoulder and is behind the other starters this spring.
LHP George Sherrill (31) – acquired in the Bedard trade, this left handed specialist is the favorite to become the Orioles closer. In order to be successful he needs to find a way to be more successful against righties, who have hit .261/.384/.352 off him for this career, compared to .167/.227/.291 against lefties.
RHP Chad Bradford (33) – this extreme sub-mariner excels at keeping the ball in the park (only 2 homeruns given up the past two years) and will be matched up against opposing teams’ best right handed bats.
LHP Jamie Walker (36) – this situational lefty led the team in appearances in 2007 with 81, and was second on the team in ERA with a 3.23 mark.
RHP Dennis Sarfate (27) – his power arm was acquired in the Tejada trade. He doesn’t have any options left, so he should make the team. Thankfully, early reports from Fort Lauderdale are that he is throwing well. No one has ever questioned his stuff. It’s his command that will determine how effective he can be.
RHP Greg Aquino (30) – this waiver claim has a slight advantage over younger competition, and he has a good arm. The problem is, his fastball doesn’t move so he’ll have to be fine with his location to be successful. Aquino could be one of the first to get bumped from the bullpen if a young player impresses, such as RHP Jim Hoey (25) and RHP Bob McCrory (26).
RHP Randor Bierd (24) – he was a Rule V draft acquisition so he has to make the 25 man roster, or be offered back to the Tigers. He was dominant in Class AA in 2007 and I hope that the Orioles give him every chance to stay.
LHP Brian Burres (27) – with the state of our starting rotation it is imperative that we have a good long man in the bullpen. Burres showed promise in that role last year, but the role could go to RHP Matt Albers (25), another starting pitcher with relief experience.
Looking over the roster, and the others in the AL East, it’s tough to envision the team not finishing last in our division. But sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better, and things definitely look like they’ll be getting better.