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Open Season

February 9, 2009

There Are Few Sure Things As Orioles Begin Readying For A Long, Hot Summer

By Pete Kerzel

After getting a late-season look in Baltimore last year, Chris Waters will be among 37 pitchers getting a look in spring training.
(Mitch Stringer/PressBox)
Another spring training is upon Dave Trembley, and the Orioles manager is once again in serious number-crunching mode.

Pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 14 to Fort Lauderdale Stadium, position players arrive Feb. 19 and the whole squad works out until 19 Grapefruit League games commence with a Feb. 25 home contest against the New York Mets.

Sixty-six players in camp will have to be pared to a 25-man roster before the April 6 opener at Camden Yards against the New York Yankees. Nowhere is the competition more fierce than on the mound, where 37 pitchers will battle for 12 or 13 places on the staff, with young hurlers getting a long look-see.

"Our spring training is going to be tougher. We have (37) pitchers in camp, and we're going to have to try to find a way to give them enough innings and make the determinations when we can," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said.

"You want to be flexible, you don't want to lock yourself into potentially losing players on your roster. Those that have options, or you have flexibility with, you have to keep in mind as well."

A late offseason flurry of MacPhail's machinations kept the roster in flux into February.

The Orioles shipped left-hander Garrett Olson and minor league right-hander Henry Williamson to the Chicago Cubs Jan. 18 for outfielder Felix Pie, who was out of options and a long shot to make the Cubs' roster. The next day, right-hander David Pauley, who was 14-4 with a 3.55 ERA at Triple-A Pawtucket, was acquired in a trade with Boston for right-hander Randor Bierd.

Catcher Gregg Zaun signed as a free agent Jan. 21, inking a one-year, $2 million deal with a team option for 2010. That move came a day after outfielder Nick Markakis agreed to a six-year, $66.1 million extension. On Feb. 2, the Orioles acquired left-hander Rich Hill from the Cubs for a player to be named and designated for assignment left-hander Brian Burres, who was claimed on waivers by Toronto.

Then, on Feb. 4, Baltimore signed left-hander John Parrish, an ex-Oriole, to a minor league contract. Six days later, a two-year, $6 million deal with infielder/outfielder Ty Wigginton became official after two rounds of physical examinations.

When the dust settled and the moving van was packed for Fort Lauderdale, the Orioles were still left pondering many perplexing questions. Chief among them was: Who will emerge from the flock of arms to fortify the rotation behind right-handers Jeremy Guthrie and lefty Koji Uehara?

"I don't know that we are going to want to get so veteran-loaded that we preclude ourselves from giving innings to those guys who were viewed as prospects here in the past," MacPhail said.

All of which boils down to a final numbers-related question that will impact the final roster composition: Do the Orioles go with 13 pitchers, leaving them with only three bench players, or will Trembley be comfortable enough with his rotation, bullpen and starting nine that he can afford the luxury of an extra reserve?

There are plenty of competitors for the final three rotation spots, and Hill and Pauley are both out of options, meaning they have to be kept on the final roster or passed through waivers before being optioned to the minors.

Hill, who was 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 2007 before injuries and control problems beset him last year, is being reunited with pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Alan Dunn, both of whom worked with him in his Cubs tenure. Pauley, first viewed as minor league depth, could force his way into the rotation with a solid spring. And the Orioles have righty Brad Hennessey, who went 17-23 during five seasons in San Francisco, as a minor league invite.

Most of the options Trembley is considering are right-handers: Matt Albers, Danys Baez, Brian Bass, Radhames Liz, Hayden Penn and Alfredo Simon. Hill's southpaw status could prevent an all-right-handed rotation, or the Orioles could turn to left-handers Mark Hendrickson (a free agent signee after going 7-8 with a 5.45 ERA with the Marlins) or Chris Waters, who got a late-season look in Baltimore last year. It's likely either Hill or Hendrickson will win a rotation spot, with the other getting long-man duty in the bullpen.

Once the pitching staff is settled, the Orioles will know the makeup of their bench. One reserve spot will go to a backup catcher, and there are seven non-roster backstops competing to second Zaun. Prospect Matt Wieters will probably be going to Triple-A Norfolk, meaning veterans Guillermo Quiroz, Chad Moeller or Robby Hammock will be a temporary placeholder for Wieters.

Utilityman Ryan Freel, acquired in a trade with Cincinnati for catcher Ramon Hernandez, has the versatility to play either infield or outfield and Trembley likes his energetic makeup. But he'll be battling non-roster invites Chris Gomez, Jolbert Cabrera and Donnie Murphy for a utility role.

It was assumed that Pie would get the lion's share of time in left field, pushing Luke Scott to full-time designated hitter duty with Aubrey Huff the new first baseman. But Wigginton's arrival further muddles the picture. Wigginton can play first, third and the corner outfield spots and he's a right-handed power bat, which the Orioles need.

That leaves no room for outfielder Lou Montanez, first baseman Oscar Salazar or outfield prospect Nolan Reimold and could mean MacPhail will be wheeling and dealing well into spring training.

"I can't tell you right now what the final roster will look like," said Trembley, "but I can promise you we'll take the best 25 guys north."

Issue 134: February 2009



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