I really am excited that the Spring Training is getting underway. It is a better sign of the coming of spring than the stupid overgrown rodent dealing with his shadow, or the spotting of the first robin in the yard. And I really am more positive on the Birds than the typical Orioles fan who posts comments on a variety of sites and boards. I was more positive at this point last year as well – not that I predicted 93 wins! Nobody, but nobody, did that!
However, let me be a contrarian for a few paragraphs in the spirit of the lyrics of “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne – “Worry, worry, worry, worry … Worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone.” We cannot have everything go well; not every player is going to repeat what he did last year. There will be some injuries and regressions. So even while hope is as alive as that crocus bursting through the thawing snow, here are the main worries I have as things get underway for this season.
1 … that second base will be a season-long disaster zone. Yes, this is not a unique worry. And like all the worries I’m going to include, I don’t want to see it happen. I hope it won’t happen, because honestly, I like all these people I’m writing about! But I really worry that Brian Roberts is not going to truly return … like really, really return. I think he could truly have the brain injury and hip problems behind him. He may be fully healthy enough. But I fear that a step has been lost, an edge has been dulled … and that he will not be even an average second baseman. And with his contract – sort of like the way the Orioles couldn’t part with Kevin Gregg – I fear the Birds will go into many, many “extra innings” with this really fine person that everyone likes so much. Beyond that, I also fear that the backup options will not really be better.
2 … that Wei-Yin Chen could get drilled this year. Again, it pains me to write this, and I hope I’m an idiot on this entire list! But I am afraid that not only did his ball lose just a little “stuff” as the year went on, but that the league was catching up to him. With the technology that now exists to film and replay what everyone does, the newness factor of the Taiwanese import will have worn off, and the league might hit him much harder and more often. Yet, the guy is an athlete, the coaches are good, and perhaps some new wrinkles can be added to the repertoire to keep the league sufficiently off balance … but I’m worried. I like the translator dude too.
3 … that Pedro Strop is going to have a difficult time repeating anything like last season. Understand, I’m a big Strop fan – at this point last year when he was just a name on the list of possible relievers to make the team, I was YELLING that he HAD TO be kept. And if they had kept Gregg and sent Strop down, you would have heard my protest from Maryland all the way to the press box in Sarasota. But we saw the innings catch up to him at the end of the season. And we saw the stress of it. He played some winter ball. Now he is going to this dumb World Baseball Classic. Really, does all of this put together look like too many cooks in the kitchen adding too many diverse ingredients to the stew?
4 … that J.J. Hardy will never hit again like he did in 2011. Again, I hate to say this, but if Hardy was going to break out of a long-term stretch of offensive funk, why would he have not done it by now? Why does he seem to take the best pitch to hit in every at bat? It seems to me that he has to now, with all the other talent the Birds have, take a spot in the bottom third of the order. If he can recover anything in the direction of 2011, he can be a wrecking crew in that bottom third. Even so, his defense is so awesome that he gets a long, long rope to figure out the offense.
5 … that Brian Matusz will get a too-long look at starting pitcher. Almost 20 years ago I knew a young player in the Blue Jays system who was a 40th-something round draft choice. He hit consistently at every step along the way, but never really had a chance. He watched player after player – with poorer stats – pass him along the way, because they were bonus babies. He said that “high draftees need to prove they can’t play, while low draftees have to double PROVE that they can.” As a first round choice, Matusz is given EVERY opportunity to succeed. He has had stretches of success as a starter. But nothing looked like the person we saw come in from the bullpen at the end of last year. His stats SCREAM for him to be a left-handed reliever.
Here are a few items that I am NOT worried about in the same way many, many Orioles fans and writers are fretting over: that Nolan Reimold is a physical wreck looking for a place to happen, that Chris Davis can’t play first base successfully, that Nate McLouth’s success was from a too-small sample size, that Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez will be unable to repeat 2012, that Matt Wieters will not continue to improve, that Manny Machado will have a sophomore slump, that the Orioles starters will not be the best group they’ve had in many years, that Dan Duquette did not make enough off-season moves.
I will save this article and remember to bring it out next fall when I review the year – to either praise my prescient abilities, or to appropriately mock myself for saying such stupid things. I really hope it is the latter because I so much like every person I’ve written about with concern, but again, not everything will go swimmingly well.