In most sports when a team enters camp (as the Orioles will in a few short weeks) they’ll use terms such as open competition with regard to position battles. We see this in the NFL all the time; we’ve got two good quarterbacks and it’s going to be an open competition throughout camp. However to quote the title of a CCR song, there’s generally a Fortunate Son. In saying that I mean there’s rarely a true open competition (contrary to what coaches say), or at the very least there’s a favorite. However as the O’s head down to Sarasota, we may be seeing a true open competition.
First off, how “all over the place” is this column? Not only did I use a great Jack Nicholson film as my title, but I threw in a Creedance reference! (Might I add that Bono and U2 also do a great version of that song…) However that aside, at this point I think it’s safe to say that Jeremy Guthrie has a spot in the Orioles rotation, written in ink at that. No matter how valuable he’s been to the franchise, Guthrie isn’t starting 162 games. So they’ll need four more starting pitchers. The sheer number of arms that Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter are bringing into camp signals that this will be a true open competition. (And keep in mind that I’m talking about players that the Orioles have on the roster at this moment in time; if they make a trade or sign a free agent starter, things could change.)
As it stands now, the Orioles have the following potential starters (in addition to Jeremy Guthrie): Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Zach Britton, Wei0Yin Chen, Dana Eveland, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Alfredo Simon, Chris Tillman, and Tsuyoshi Wada. So narrowing those names down to four guys shouldn’t be too much of a challenge should it?! While I think that Buck Showalter might have an idea in terms of who he wants in the rotation, I do believe that this will be a truly fair competition in that if one or several of these guys dazzles in spring training, he’s going to be in the rotation to start the season.
Speaking for myself, I do think that Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton have somewhat of a “leg up” on the competition. Before ending his season early Arrieta had a 10-8 record in 2011, albeit with an ERA of over five. However I think that in itself is explainable by virtue of the fact that Arrieta was having trouble with his elbow. I’ve always seen him as a guy with pretty good control. As for Britton, he shot out of the gate early in his rookie season last year, but did run into some struggles as the summer wore on. He finished with an even 11-11 record, and an ERA of just under five. Spring Training will be very key for him because if he can show that he’s been able to build off of that marginal success moving forward, he’ll have a great shot at being in the rotation on Opening Day.
That’s two (plus Guthrie); we still need two more. Common sense would dictate that Wada and Chen have somewhat of an inside track since the Orioles brought them in as free agents this winter. I would say that they have as good a chance as anyone based on that point. The O’s also traded for Dana Eveland in December, and Tommy Hunter during the season last year. Alfredo Simon was solid for this team down the stretch last summer as well, and he was the starter in that final game on September 28th against Boston.
While they might not admitt this publically, I personally believe that the Orioles still have too much staked in Brian Matusz to simply give up on him. When the “cavalry” came up a couple years ago none of them did so with more pomp than Matusz. His fastball was deadly, which is tough to find in a southpaw. You could argue this to a lesser degree with Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen. They’ve always been there on the fringes of the rotation, bullpen, and triple-A.
With all of this said, it’s safe to say that each and every pitch of spring training will mean something this year. In the past we’ve seen the O’s come into spring training with a rotation and bullpen already set. This time around it seems that Dan Duquette is going to throw as many arms into the mix as possible, and see which ones stick to the wall. If that happens to be Jake Arrieta, so be it. If Alfredo Simon stands out, odds are he’ll be in the rotation come April. How open the competition really can be is known only to Buck Showalter and company, however the truth is that it does appear to be open. The truth you say…“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”
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