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Decisions Looming For Orioles As Players Return

June 30, 2013

By Stan "The Fan" Charles

One of the byproducts of being a good baseball team for Orioles general manager Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter is that every once in a while, fitting 28-30 good pieces becomes a bit inconvenient. With second baseman Brian Roberts, outfielder/designated hitter Nolan Reimold and starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen set to return from the disabled list soon, decision days are at hand for the Orioles' think tank. The consequences are not insignificant this year, unlike those losing seasons of 1998-2011, which now seem so distant.

Make no mistake -- there are complications that shade these decisions. Not the least of which is that Showalter has created such a winning environment that, in some ways, the competition for playing time and now roster spots fuels some of that good play.

If those competitions are thrown out as so much bath water, will the team be as good? What if, say, Brian Roberts, as hard as he has worked to get back and contribute, falls by the wayside because of yet another crippling injury?

Start with pitcher Jair Jurrjens, who converted a pitching staff save during the June 29 win against the Yankees with 2.1 innings pitched. With him on staff, the Orioles have 13 arms, and that will prove to be one too many as Roberts will replace him.

That buys one or two days for the likes of Alexi Casilla, Ryan Flaherty, Danny Valencia and Chris Dickerson before the O's take the field on in Chicago July 2. That is the date the club has told Reimold he'll be activated from the disabled list. Reimold, who was coming back from cervical fusion surgery, had hamstring issues he's had to work through.

Although he says he is healthy, his bat didn't exactly light up in numerical measurements. But he is going to get a roster spot -- and he'll have to produce to keep it.

Most likely, Reimold will get a large portion of the at bats at DH for a while. For that reason, it seems the most likely player to lose his spot is a Duquette favorite, Danny Valencia, who historically hit left-handers at a .300 clip or better. Unlike the recently demoted and most likely lost Travis Ishikawa, Valencia is still under team control, because he had no opt-out language in his O's contract.

Next up will be the return of the valuable left arm of Chen, who pitched June 29 at Bowie. That means his next turn in the Baltimore rotation will probably come July 5 or 6 at Yankee Stadium, where, if you haven't been paying attention, the home-standing nine is not faring too well against lefties.

If, and that is a big word here, T.J. McFarland was not a Rule 5 pick, this would be as easy as 1-2-3. But this last bit of roster chess is born out of a contending Orioles gamble to protect McFarland all season long, as the rules require. McFarland must remain on the Orioles' roster or be offered back to the Indians for half the $50,000 the Orioles paid for him.

Therefore, it comes down Chen versus Kevin Gausman or Zach Britton. Because I think Showalter may feel that Britton is the best No. 5 starting option at the moment, especially in Yankee Stadium, it says here that Britton gets the start July 5 against the Yankees, and then, depending upon how he pitches and the health of the rest of the staff, either Britton or Gausman goes back to Norfolk, Va., July 6 to make way for Chen.

Keep in mind that pitcher Steve Johnson is probably another couple of weeks away from being activated from the DL, and then just around the same time (All-Star break) DH Wilson Betemit is due back, and the next round of roster chess will begin.

Then it could happen yet again at the July 31 trading deadline.

In fact, for Duquette, it's unlikely it'll stop at all before the corks of the champagne bottles are popped. Or so, that is the plan.

Posted June 30, 2013