Opening Day 25 Man Roster

The Orioles finalized their roster yesterday.  It was a good thing too given that 5 PM yesterday was the deadline to set 25 man rosters.  You think the O’s roster is underwhelming now?  Imagine it with only 3 starters, 9 relievers, and a two-man bench. Actually, I am still trying to figure out Buck Showalter’s motivation or thinking behind delaying what were basically inevitable announcements on the last few roster spots, as well as the order of the rotation.  I am inclined to think that the team had a couple of potential trades in the works that never panned out – DanDuquette indicated as much on Tuesday – but that doesn’t explain holding off on announcing that Ryan Flaherty had made the team, not announcing that Tommy Hunter and Wei-Yen Chen officially made the starting rotation until the last couple of days, not naming Jake Arrieta opening day starter until Tuesday, and other things like that.  No big deal, just a little curious.  My semi-conspiracy theory is that this was Buck’s way of trying to get across the point that these spots were all up for grabs and that the players that got them had earned them through their work in camp.  Buck has harped that this year’s roster won’t be “last man standing” and I could see the deliberate way in which he announced the roster as a reflection of that “spots will be earned” mindset.

The 25 man roster is listed below.  All in all, there are very few surprises to be had.  The offense, save for a couple of bench spots, is almost exactly has most of us would have drawn it up back in February.  It is an offense that score 707 runs last season and should be roughly in the same stratosphere this season.  The starting rotation looks far more solid than in years past, but is still largely filled with middle and back-end rotation pitchers.  The hope, as it always is, is that the pitchers who still have some measure of upside can turn that upside into results.  The good news is that Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and to a lesser extent, Tommy Hunter, all fit that bill.  As does Zach Britton who will start the season on the DL.  So there is some hope there.  The bullpen looks solid but trying to predict bullpen performance is a fool’s endeavor as it can vary so much from month to month, from season to season.  If nothing else, there are solid backup options in the minors to fill in when needed.

The story of the 2012 O’s will rest largely on the success, or lack thereof, of the pitching staff.  For the team to reach .500, the pitching staff will have to let up in the neighborhood of 100 less runs than they did a season before.  It is no easy task, but remember – of the twelve pitchers that will take the field at Camden Yards tomorrow, only three (Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, and Jake Aririeta) were on the 2011 Opening Day roster. A fourth, BrianMatusz, would have been had he not been injured (technically, Matusz was on the Opening Day roster but never made a start before going on the DL, so I am not counting him).  That’s a 75% turnover.  It doesn’t mean all of the turnover will be positive, of course.  What it does mean though is this is a very different pitching staff than the one that was around a year ago.  100 or 150 runs better?  I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.

Catchers

Ronny Paulino – Paulino went from late-camp arrival to Opening Day backup catcher in a flash due to Taylor Teagarden’s injury.  I don’t get too worked up over third string catchers, especially since Paulinomost likely will see little playing time with Teagarden expected to return a few weeks into the season.

Matt Wieters – Wieters has looked good (comfortable) at the plate this Spring.  I am not as adamant as some are that Wieters must become an .850 or .900 OPS hitter in order to be a real success.  I’ll be okay with an OPS in the .820 neighborhood along with his Gold Glove defense.  Having said that, an .850+ OPS from Wieters this season wouldn’t surprise me and would go a long way into boosting the team’s offense. Wieters established himself as one of the top catchers in the game last season and I would be somewhat surprised if he doesn’t take another step forward this season.

Infielders

Chris Davis (1B) – If the Orioles have a legitimate question mark in its Opening Day lineup, its Chris Davis.  Davis has had a slow Spring and struck out far too often during Grapefruit League play.  He needs to be given time and plenty of at bats, however.  The Orioles have had a tendency the past few seasons of bringing in upside guys like Davis, then not giving them enough playtime to really find out if they could sink or swim.  Davis might not be the long term solution at 1B, but the 2012 season is the time to find out.

Nick Johnson (1B/DH) – Johnson was a surprise in making the team, only in the sense that he signed a minor league deal, has always had trouble staying healthy, and has been out of the Majors for the majority of the past two seasons.  Most figured that, if healthy, he had a shot at making the team because when healthy, he has always produced.  Well, he stayed healthy and he produced this Spring.  If Johnson can stay on the field, his ability to get on base should be a big help to the offense.  Hopefully Johnson can find plenty of at bats at DH and some at 1B, without taking significant playing time away from Davis early in the season

Bob Andino (2B) – Buck made it clear over the winter that he would prefer to have Andino has a super-utility player rather than the everyday 2B.  I took that to indicate that Flaherty and Matt Antonelli would get serious looks for the starting 2B job.  When camp started however, it became clear immediately that Buck’s comments on Andino’s role were more “in an ideal world” tone and that he viewed Andino has the best 2B option in this non-ideal world.  Andino is likely to the worst offensive regular on the team, but if he can but if he can get on base at a .340 or greater clip and play solid defense as he has in the past, that won’t necessarily be an issue.  If nothing else, Andino’s presence in the everyday lineup will allow me to continue yelling “Bob!” when they play “Charge!” during his at bats, even if it does draw silence from everyone around me and the evil eye from Tim.

JJ Hardy (SS) – Hardy has had a really good finish to the Spring power wise.  If he stays healthy, I would expect 25+ homeruns from him again this season along with his usual stellar defense at short.  Hardy is well on his way to being one of the better acquisitions the Orioles have made over the past few seasons.  I have no problem saying he is a Top 5 shortstop in baseball right now, even if the national media general doesn’t agree.

Mark Reynolds (3B) – You know the story on Reynolds by now.  He is going to play anywhere from passable to terrible defense at third.  He is going to strikeout a ton.  However, as long as he hits around 35 homeruns and produces an OPS north of .800, his other issues can be overlooked.  Reynolds hasn’t hit much this Spring, but he was a slow starter last season as well.  He did continue to draw walks in the Grapefruit league, leading the O’s in the category much to the shock of Gary Thorne who expressed shock at that fact at least twice during the Spring.  Just when I start to really come around and embrace Thorne in all of his goofiness, he makes such an oblivious comment like that one.

Wilson Betemit (1B/3B/DH/OF) – Betemit was brought in to get most of the team’s at bats at DH this season, although he may have already lost some of those to Nick Johnson.  Betemit has what I’ll refer to as “useless versatility” – he can play a lot of positions but plays none of them particularly well.  I’ve seen people get hired for office jobs on the same basis, so it isn’t all that surprising that the baseball world also subscribes to the “any versatility is good versatility” philosophy.  Hopefully Buck realizes that Betemit is best used as a pinch hitter/DH, only occasionally filling in on defense.  Betemit is another high OBP guy, a skill the O’s were sorely lacking in 2011.

Ryan Flaherty (2B/SS/3B/OF) – Like Betemit, Flaherty’s defensive versatility sticks out to you on paper. Unlike Betemit, Flaherty should be at least passable at every defensive position he is listed at.  I’ve been impressed with Flaherty both offensively and defensively during the Spring.  As a Rule 5 pick, I won’t be at all surprised if he struggles at times during the year in his first say in the Majors.  Still, I like his chances to be a very good backup infielder and perhaps more if injuries necessitate it.

Outfielders

Nolan Reimold (LF) – Reimold was given the LF and leadoff spot to lose this Spring.  He hasn’t played well, but not poorly enough to lose the spot.  Reimold has been a slow starter throughout his career.  Like Davis, Reimold needs to be given a full season’s worth of consistent at bats so the team can find out once and for all if he is an everyday player in the Majors.  Nolan is one of my favorites Orioles (he is going to use the NWO Wolfpac theme as his entrance music this season, which has further endeared him to me) and I do truly belief he can be a good everyday player and a very good leadoff hitter.  It remains to be seen if he will be in the top spot come Opening Day and Endy Chavez’s hot Spring has probably earned him some early-season at bats that would otherwise have gone to Reimold, but I still have high hopes for a really solid (.280/.370/.450) type of season from Reimold.

Adam Jones (CF) – Following Jones on Twitter, he seems extremely driven to have a great season.  I know, all pro athletes should be driven to perform their best but he just seems more focused, more aware of what he has to do, and more quietly confident then in the past.  His demeanor during the ST games I watched reflect that attitude.  I don’t want to jinx him, but I am hopefully for a truly breakout season from Jonesy this year.

Nick Markakis (RF) – If Nick performs at the same level he usually does, I won’t be disappointed. Honestly, I am not expecting more from him necessarily.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Markakisdoes reserve his recent trends and gets back up closer to 2008 and 2009 levels of production.  His issue over the past few seasons has been slow starts, lots of tinkering, and never getting into a full groove.  If he can settle in early and find good form right off the bat, there is no reason he can’t have an .850+ OPS season.  Like I said, I am not expecting it nor does he need to have a season like that to contribute, but the ability is certainly still there.

Endy Chavez (OF) – Chavez raked in Spring Training to the point that some are starting to wonder if he will take at bats away from Reimold early in the season.  I think he might get a few more early starts than he otherwise would have, while at the same time still clearly assuming the role of a 4th OF.  Chavez should be a very good, very reliable 4th OF.  Hopefully if he keeps hitting, Buck works him into the lineup more to give Jones and Markakis the occasional off days as well, in order to keep those too healthy.

Starting Rotation

Jake Arrieta – There are lot of reasons to be positive about Arrieta going into the 2012 season – he says his arm has never felt better as a pro than it does not after offseason surgery, he is throwing in the mid-high 90’s, his off speed pitches have looked as sharp as ever, and he got some good results in some of his Spring starts, enough to make him the Birds’ Opening Day starter.  Jake still struggles with his command and consistency, two issues he will have to overcome to truly develop into a top of the rotation starter. The tools are all there to take the next step, as long as he can command his pitches on a more consistent basis.

Tommy Hunter – If Hunter is nothing more than a likeable player that gives the O’s 175 IP at a 5.00 ERA, he will be a solid contributor.  Many in baseball think that is pretty much Hunter’s ceiling.  At 25, I am not ready to say that Hunter “is what he is” at this point, especially since he has pitched to far better results than a 5.00 ERA earlier on his career with the Rangers.  Hunter provides a lot of value in the fact that he is a strike thrower and can give the team innings.  If he can find the right balance, assuming such a balance is achievable with his stuff, between command and getting batters out, I don’t see any real reason why he can’t be a solid #4 for the O’s this year with an ERA in the 4.20 area.

Jason Hammel – As I indicated in the blog at the time, I wasn’t all that high on the trade that sent Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado in exchange for Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.  I wasn’t doubt on it, either – rather I felt the trade would be nothing less than a wash with potential for the O’s to come out ahead.  A lot of that was based on the opinion that Hammel would basically match Guthrie’s production.  Having now seen him pitch a few times during the Spring, I think that assessment is still fair.  Hammel has a lot of similarities to the pitcher he replaced.  He throws in the low to mid 90’s, has solid if unspectacular secondary pitches, and looks to be a pitcher that will keep the team in the game more often than not, which are all traits he shares with Guthrie.  The jury is still out and the O’s would really like to see him pitch more in-line with a #3 starter (some would make the argument that the team needs him to pitch like a #3).  If nothing else, Jim Duquette’s assessment that Hammel is a swing man/#5 starter at best would appear to be very pessimistic based on the results we have seen thus far.

Brian Matusz – Matusz was the feel good story of Orioles’ camp.  Most, myself included, figured Matuszwas Norfolk bound to start the season.  We heard that he worked out with Brady Anderson and was in much better shape.  We hoped the better conditioning would lead to him regaining some fastball velocity. Nobody had any idea if his command would bounce back from 2011 levels.  It was a safe bet, especially with all the pitchers the O’s brought in, that Matusz would start the season in AAA.  Instead, he did almost as well as anyone could have hoped.  His fastball is back in the 90-93 range.  He is great condition.  He went deep into games and logged by far the most innings of an starter in the O’s camp.  His fastball, both in terms of quality and command, is still the one factor that is going to hold him back from becoming an elite pitcher until he can adjust, but there is every reason to believe that Matusz is back to the level he was at prior to the 2011 season.  Given where he was in 2011, I’ll more than take that for now.  I am a big believer in Brian Matusz and one of my biggest hopes for this season is he once again establishes himself as a very good Major League pitcher, while showing signs of becoming a solid #2 pitcher in the future.

Wei-Yen Chen – Chen’s track record speaks for itself in Japan.  The question, as it always is with Japanese players, is how his performance in Japan will translate to the American League East.  I didn’t see a lot of Chen in the Spring (just 5 mediocre innings this past Sunday), but the stuff is there.  I wouldn’t expect him to come close to some of his dominant performances from the Nippon Professional Baseball League, but Chen should be a solid back of the rotation starter if he can stay healthy.  I’m all for the O’s adding asmany quality international players as they can – it makes things more interesting.

Bullpen

Jim Johnson (CL) – Johnson had his second best major league season in 2011 and won the closer’s job back from Kevin Gregg down the stretch.  However, before any of us could get too comfortable with the idea of having a known, reliable closer, Johnson suffered some small injuries early in camp.  When he returned, his velocity was in the low 90’s, a far cry from the 94 – 97 range he usually sits in.  Johnson’s velocity has come back, quelling those concerns for the moment.  JJ has had his fair share of injuries with the O’s, which opens up the concern that he won’t be able to maintain good health for the entire year.  If he truly is healthy, there is little reason to worry about Johnson, regardless of what his role in the bullpen is.

Pedro Strop – Strop looked great after coming over from Texas last season, but everyone seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.  He pitched far better than his career numbers would indicate.  His command was especially improved over his minor league numbers.  I expect Strop’s performance to even out over an entire season, but I think he has all the makings of a good power pitcher.

Kevin Gregg – I am not sure anyone except Kevin Gregg really wants Gregg on the roster.  When you strip everything else away, his career numbers (and even last year’s numbers to an extent) aren’t that bad. They are not great, but they are not terrible either.  It’s the way he goes about producing those mediocre-at-best numbers that earns Gregg so much hate.  His “I never give in” attitude can be extremely frustrating.  He doesn’t seem to grasp or want to grasp the notion that pitching around people demonstrates “giving in” as much (if not more) than coming right at a batter with his best stuff does.  Gregg is on this team almost entirely because of his contract.  He has not been as bad over his career as he was last year, so there is some hope that he’ll be better in a non-closer role.

Troy Patton – Like Strop, Patton was excellent in his late season audition last year.  He showed the ability to get lefties out in a specialist role, as well as being able to work multiple innings when needed.  Patton starts the season as the O’s only lefty in the bullpen, but with Dana Eveland, Tsuyoshi Wada, DontrelleWillis, and Zach Phillips all lurking around, that probably won’t be the case for the full season.  I think Patton is slightly miscast as a LOOGY and hope Buck uses him for multiple innings when needed.

Matt Lindstrom – Lindstrom, the “other” piece of the Guthrie trade, is another right-handed, one inning, power arm.  I haven’t seen enough of him to form an opinion yet.  The Orioles are carrying quite a few one inning, right-handers (Strop, Gregg, Lindstrom, Ayala, and O’Day all fit that bill), which means that in all likelihood, one or more won’t be in the bullpen for very long once the almost inevitable need for a long reliever (or two) presents itself.

Luis Ayala – The signing of Ayala was a lot like the signing of Vlad Guerrero last offseason.  When Vladsigned, the O’s already had Luke Scott at DH and Reimold in LF.  There was no need to Vlad and the production he would bring.  The signing pushed Luke to LF and Reimold to Norfolk.  For his part, Vladhad a poor offensive season before coming to life in September.  In the end, the O’s signed a veteran that took playing time away from others, didn’t perform, and now is gone.  Ayala was given a guaranteed contract to pitch in a bullpen that was already overflowing with candidates.  Like Vlad, he was redundant the minute he signed.  Hopefully Ayala performs better than Vlad and the ccomparisons end there.

Darren O’Day – I had convinced myself that after Alfredo Simon was waived, that Zach Phillips and Patton would make the bullpen, pushing O’Day to Norfolk with his one remaining minor league option. The thinking being, that Patton would serve as a long man and Phillips as a LOOGY.  Instead, O’Daymade the team and Phillips was optioned to the minors.  I’ve always liked O’Day (I like anyone with a unique delivery) and think he will pitch just fine with the O’s this season, even if I think he is filling a role that is already being occupied by four other members of the opening day bullpen.