The time has finally come. After what equates to a minor league exhibition on Saturday, the Baltimore Orioles will travel to St. Petersburg for an Easter workout before opening the regular season against Chris Archer and the Tampa Bay Rays Monday afternoon.
For the reigning AL East Champions, there are still a few things left unsettled as the team wraps up its Grapefruit League Schedule. What we do know is that Chris Tillman will take the ball on Opening Day, Adam Jones will be patrolling centerfield, and Manny Machado will be manning the hot corner. The rest, as they say, is a crapshoot.
With Matt Wieters on the disabled list, it is all but certain that Caleb Joseph will get the call behind the plate as the primary catcher until Wieters’ return. But who will back him up? Will it be Steve Clevenger, a left handed hitter with some pop but defensive limitations? Or will it be Ryan Lavarnway, the once-promising catcher who is trying to recapture what made him one of Boston’s top prospects? My money is on Lavarnway, but I’m also broke.
For Baltimore fans, J.J. Hardy hitting the DL after injuring his non-throwing shoulder is troublesome. For Ryan Flaherty, it is a blessing in disguise as the injury guarantees Flaherty will make the Opening Day roster.
Flaherty, a Buck Showalter guy, appeared to be the odd man out after the signing of Everth Cabrera. Cabrera is a Major League former All-Star with the ability to steal bases, which gives him the edge over the versatile defender that is Flaherty. Jonathan Schoop’s solid spring confirmed what most of us already know: he is the second basemen of the present and the future.
Up until last week, I was certain that Jimmy Paredes would make the team out of spring training, at least for the first game while Chris Davis serves the remaining game of his 25-game suspension for Adderall use. While Paredes’ defense can be described as nothing short of a hindrance, his bat did all the talking he needed to make the team. And then he hit the weight room Thursday night, injuring his back in the process and ticketing himself alongside Hardy and Wieters on the DL.
And then there’s the outfield. As stated earlier, Jones will be in centerfield, the sun will rise, the seasons will change, and we’ll all have to pay our taxes by April 15th. With the oft-injured David Lough also headed for the DL, Alejandro De Aza would appear to be the Opening Day left-fielder, with Travis Snider taking over for the departed Nick Markakis in right.
Things could change, however, as Nolan Reimold, signed back with the team to a minor league contract, did just about everything he could do to make the team. He hit for average and power this spring, showed an ability to get on base (something the Orioles severely lack), and showed the speed that once made him one of the most attractive prospects in the organization. What is working against him is that he may be the 26th man on a 25-man roster once Davis returns.
If Reimold makes the team out of spring training, the Orioles can’t send him down without passing him through waivers as he is out of minor league options. Everybody within the organization knows that there is no way that a player with Reimold’s combination of speed, power, and on-base ability clears waivers.
As for the pitching staff, Buck has laid out the starting rotation, with one glaring omission. Chris Tillman is, for lack of a better word, the staff ace. He will be followed in the rotation by Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Ubaldo Jimenez, though Jimenez will be skipped the first time through due to Thursday’s off day. That leaves Kevin Gausman as the odd man out.
Gausman has nothing left to prove in the minors and will surely make up part of the Orioles’ bullpen, a role in which he has thrived over the last two seasons. The issue here is that he may have the best stuff of any pitcher in the rotation, and the Orioles didn’t draft him fourth overall in the 2012 draft to pitch out of their bullpen. Unfortunately for Gausman, the other pitchers have the experience (and in Jimenez’s case, the fat contract) to keep the LSU product out of the starting rotation–for now.
Speaking of the bullpen, the Orioles once again have more pitchers than spots available. Wesley Wright, Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, and Kevin Gausman will be on the team. Buck loves Rule V pick Jason Garcia and wants to try to keep him on the 25-man roster. It is highly unlikely that both Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland make the squad as that would give the Orioles four left-handed relievers. My guess is that McFarland is headed for Norfolk’s rotation and Matusz starts the season as the lefty specialist out of the bullpen.
Having said that, Matusz was showcased this spring, and he performed at a very high level. A trade could be in the works as Dan Duquette is said to be manning the phones trying to get a deal done. Unless the team decides to go with a short bench and a 13-man pitching staff, a trade could be the likely scenario, opening the door for Garcia to stay on the roster.
All right folks, now that we’ve iron out the roster, or at least shed a few wrinkles, let’s take a look at what the team should look like on Opening Day (keep in mind Chris Davis’ one-game suspension):
RHP Chris Tillman
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
RHP Kevin Gausman-LR
RHP Brad Brach-LR/MR
RHP Jason Garcia-MR
LHP Wesley Wright-MR/LS
LHP Brian Matusz-LS
RHP Tommy Hunter-MR/SU
RHP Darren O’Day-SU
LHP Zach Britton-C
Alejandro De Aza-LF
Note the three-man bench and the 13-man pitching staff. With Davis returning for Tuesday’s game, Clevenger should head back down to the minors, and then there will be an OF/DH/1B platoon between Snider, Pearce, Young, and Davis, though Pearce and Davis figure to get most of the at-bats.
I still think that Matusz gets traded, maybe even before Monday, but for now let’s assume that he will be on the team. Once Wieters and Hardy return, the lineup should clear up a bit. I fully believe that Reimold will spend most of his healthy playing days on the 25-man roster, but his minor league contract and lack of options ticket him for Norfolk to start the season.
So there you have it folks, the Baltimore Orioles 25-man roster for Opening Day. As always, feel free to argue, debate, and disagree, but please do it respectfully. Follow me on twitter @PaulValleIII, and stay tuned for my AL East and MLB previews.