By Stan "The Fan" Charles
In Pete Seeger's 1959 adaptation from the Book of Ecclesiastes -- Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season), the opening line reads -- "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
So it is for sports fans of Charm City. As soon as Billy Cundiff's game-tying field goal attempt sailed wide left, local fans moved from a Ravens football season of expectations and heartbreak to an Orioles baseball season that is going to be met initially with mostly yawns.
That won't be the fault of Dan Duquette, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations. What he has done in remaking the Orioles pitching staff during his first 100 days has been nothing short of remarkable. No, he has not brought in anyone remotely capable of really being a dominant starting pitcher. Rather, he has whipped up a level of experienced competition, which can accomplish two things: light fires under those organizational arms that should be those dominant arms -- Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton -- while at the same time buy time for them to develop.
Duquette traded the Orioles' seemingly most capable starter, Jeremy Guthrie, to the Rockies for right-handed pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, which was a stroke of genius in my estimation. Previously, he had created competition in bringing in huge numbers -- Tsuyoshi Wada, Wei-Yin Chen, Dana Eveland, Darren O'Day -- to go with last year's holdovers. With Hammel, that adds up to 12 guys looking to win five spots.
While Hammel may initially have a leg up, the subtraction of Guthrie must feel like throwing live fish to a group of sharks. The guys who formerly made up that so-called cavalry -- Matusz, Britton, Tillman and Brad Bergesen -- now at least can sniff an opportunity.
Alluding to this when introducing Hammel and Lindstrom to the media, Duquette struck a true chord when he said: "If these young guys are not ready, the guys we have brought in will allow them the time to go back to the minors and develop. A 5.00 ERA just isn't good enough."
Duquette, once one of the top GMs in the game, has come in and frenetically worked on adding solid veteran baseball people to his team's brain trust. Simultaneously, Duquette is adding arms from everywhere. One of the key assets he has brought to the job of reshaping this franchise has been a keen awareness of what he does and does not have at his disposal. Essentially, the tools he needs to get better -- prospects in the pipeline -- are virtually non-existent.
While Andy MacPhail gave his pitching youngsters opportunities out of necessity, with seemingly little thought of a Plan B, Duquette has done the opposite in setting up Plans B, C, D, E and maybe more.
The bullpen is no different, as Lindstrom has joined Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Alfredo Simon, Troy Patton, Zach Phillips, Pedro Strop and Jason Berken. During the aforementioned press conference, Duquette hinted he was still looking to add arms to the bullpen.
A lot can happen between now and the opening of spring training, and even more can happen before the season opener, but barring anything bordering on miraculous, these are the 30 players competing for spots on the Opening Day 25-man roster:
Lindstrom, Hammel, Johnson, Gregg, Strop, Phillips, Patton, Simon, Arrieta, Britton, Tommy Hunter, Chen, Wada, Luis Ayala, Matusz
Matt Wieters, Taylor Teagarden
Chris Davis, Robert Andino, J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds, Ryan Flaherty, Wilson Betemit, Brian Roberts
Endy Chavez, Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Jai Miller
Included among those 30 players are two players in italics, with one, Brian Roberts, who could greatly alter things if he is capable of playing. But the more one hears about Roberts' appearance and state of mind, the more doubtful his return seems.
Another player under control of the O's in italics is left-handed Matusz. When in town for FanFest a couple weeks back, Brady Anderson, the new special assistant to the GM, referred to the excellent condition Matusz was in and said he was an entirely different person. If he comes in revamped physically and mentally, Matusz could challenge for a starting spot. If there is any doubt, he will start in Norfolk and be forced to earn his way back to the major leagues.
Issue 170: February 2012