Not Your Father’s Orioles—Dan Hirsch
Pitchers & catchers are set to report. Before you know it, spring will be blooming and the birds, returning home. After an unusually active off-season, you might not completely recognize the team on the field. Actually, in this “SportsCenter” world we live in, the faces on the field may be more recognizable than last year. A wealth of experience is coming to Baltimore this spring.
No less than six impact, veteran players will join the Orioles’ every-day roster: 75% of the infield (1b-Derrik Lee, 3b-Mark Reynolds, and ss-JJ Hardy), 2 key pieces of the pitching staff (RHP starter-Justin Duchscherer, RHP closer-Kevin Gregg, and a slugger to fill the long-vacant, clean-up spot (DH-Vladimir Guerrero).
Part of Buck Showalter’s grand plan—instant franchise turn-around (see Rangers, D-backs, Yankees)—is bringing in quality veteran leadership. They bring play-off, winning, and All-Star histories. Plus, and just as important, these are all guys reported to be “great clubhouse players.” Think of it as the foundation upon which we build.
This core will coexist with the bevy of young talent that teams like the Orioles (13 consecutive losing seasons) are prone to have. This group includes Adam Jones in centerfield and the switch-hitting backstop, Matt Wieters. Lively, young arms look to cash in on Buck Showalter’s “open-competition” attitude. Lefties, Brian Matusz and Zach Britton, and righties, Brad Bergsen, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman, could become real weapons for the club this year.
Incumbent stars from the struggling years return to round out the roster. These guys (Ace-Jeremy Guthrie, 2b-Brian Roberts, OF-Nick Markakis, Luke Scott) are likely chomping at the bit. The prospect of playing among so many other proven talents will come as a revitalizing breath of fresh air.
More positives on the O’s ledger can be found in the often overlooked components of a winning team. Reliable utility players (Cesar Izturis), a staff of real pros to run the dugout (led by former Mets manager Willie Randolph), and a steady and strong bullpen (Jason Berken, Jim Johnson, Michael Gonzalez, Mark Hendrickson, and 2010 closer Kaji Uehara), make up the less flashy pieces of the winning baseball puzzle.
The best part of this time of year, is that there is plenty of room for optimism. And that’s great! We all know that O’s fans could use some optimism. However, it is a long season. The threat of injury looms over every team. And the O’s simply can’t afford to lose ANY major piece and expect to remain competitive into the play-off push.
The downside of signing aging all-stars, is that you never know if they’re heading down the hill to the end. But, in February, we can hang onto the hope that resurgences still remain in their slightly-used bats and arms.
It begins with pitchers & catchers today.