Outside of potential trades and free agent signings, the biggest off season question surrounding the Baltimore Orioles is probably the starting rotation. Specifically, who’s in it? One name I think you can throw in there right away is probably Jair Jurrjens. Pending a disastrous spring training, Jurrjens is a starter. So that leaves four rotation spots for Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel, Zack Britton, Dylan Bundy, Wei-Yin Chen, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz, and Tsuyoshi Wada. Remember Wada?…the Orioles signed him and Wei-Yin Chen last off season from the Japanese League, however Wada was injured all year last season. But where does he or anyone else end up going into 2013?
I would remind fans that the Orioles had a similar log jam of pitchers going into last season. For the record, my personal belief is that spring training will be the main deciding factor in who’s in the rotation on Opening Day. However if I had to pick four other guys right now, it would be (in no particular order) Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel, and Wei-Yin Chen (plus Jurrjens). I say that admittedly based off of results in the latter part of last season. If there’s such a thing as an “incumbent” in this race, it would be those guys.
But what if some or all of those guys struggle in spring training? I don’t want to throw that possibility into the equation, however I believe it’s something that should be asked in every major league camp. Luckily the Orioles are one of the few teams that seemingly plan for that potentiality. Last season more so than in the past we saw a willingness by Buck Showalter (and of course Dan Duquette) to “hold these guys accountable,” as we said so often. If someone appeared to be going down the road of perpetual ineffectiveness, he soon found himself in Norfolk. I remember being a bit surprised last season when the Orioles sent Tommy Hunter down to triple-A Norfolk early on. I suppose I felt that they would give a guy for whom they traded only the previous August every opportunity to right himself…
…however that was the old mentality. Perhaps that was part of why things were so bad in Baltimore for so long. Admittedly, I suppose that the big leagues isn’t the place for letting guys “work out their issues,” or to “right themselves.” And for a long time I think that Orioles’ coaches might have allowed that kind of mentality. It’s one thing for a guy to have a few issues when he first comes up and begins facing major league pitching. But there should come a point where it starts to click, and after awhile it should be evident that isn’t necessarily happening. Obviously you can’t have too quick a trigger on someone given that you have to give guys the chance to succeed or fail, and I feel the Orioles did that overall with all of their pitchers down the stretch last season.
One name you might notice I omitted in my rotation is Brian Matusz. Buck Showalter said that he was going to go into spring training and give Matusz a chance to be a starter. I have no doubt that he’ll be given a fair shot, and furthermore I believe that Matusz will have a decent spring. However I see him as more of a match-up lefty out of the ‘pen, which is a role in which he was excellent at the end of the season and in the playoffs last year. I’m reminded of him entering the AL wild card game and striking out Josh Hamilton with the game on the line. At the time I argued that might have been the biggest strikeout of the season for the Orioles, and certainly the biggest one of Matusz’s career to that point. I still feel that way, and while I feel Matusz will have a decent spring I also think he’ll be more of an asset out of the bullpen.
The other name you’ll notice I omitted in my starting rotation is Dylan Bundy. I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what to think regarding him. I do believe that he’s going to be a star on the level with a Stephen Strasburg in this league, however I didn’t really think it was wise for the Orioles to bring him up when they did last September. For the record, he came up as an insurance policy of sorts because the Orioles had just gotten through playing an 18-inning marathon game in Seattle, and they wanted a fresh arm in the bullpen. I understood that at the time, however that also started Bundy’s big league clock. I didn’t think it was prudent to bring him up in 2012 unless he was going to be in the rotation in 2013. That’s entirely possible, and for the record I hope that he proves me wrong. However I think that asking someone so young and with so little experience to go out an win a spot in the rotation in spring training (against guys with a lot more experience than he) is a tall order. Then again what do I know…I felt they brought Machado up too early also, and we all know how that turned out.
As we saw last year, the O’s are sending a lot of pitchers out in spring training and will probably pick the five most consistent pitchers as their starters. Granted it’s late in the off season at this point, however I woudn’t rule out the Orioles dealing a pitcher or two if Dan Duquette finds a deal that would improve the club. And keep in mind that trades can also happen during spring training itself…pitchers and catchers report two weeks after the Super Bowl.