|Bricks from the Warehouse|
For us, spring training fun has always come in two parts. The first is when the Orioles are good; then we have the anticipation of seeing the team come together, seeing the pieces fall into place, and figuring out how the team stacks up against its A.L. East foes. The second should happen every year, but especially in a rebuilding year: we get to see the fight for jobs play out. We get to see prospects going all out to win roster slots, so that they can show what they can do. Again, it's the anticipation: what will the bright, new lineup look like? Will any of these guys be stars? How high are their ceilings?
Of course, unless you've been in prison for the last few years, you know that the Orioles rob their fans of this fun. Jobs are predetermined. Spring training is fixed. A young player can't win a job; all he can do is hope one of the decrepit veterans on the roster gets hurt. And this year isn't really much different, despite the propaganda being put out by the Orioles and their party newspapers, the Post and Sun. There aren't many roster fights, and most of the drama surrounds the question of which young player will be lost in a roster squeeze so that the Orioles can keep some player that should have retired five years ago. And sadly, when the Orioles do select a youngster to promote, they do so on the basis of some strange set of criteria which don't involve age, potential, past performance, or projected future performance.
So what do we have this year? Well, manager Mike Hargrove intends to carry 12 pitchers, for some silly reason. That leaves just 13 roster spots for position players.
Well, that sounds relatively simple. One choice to make, and then all thirteen spots are filled. But there's a problem. Two obvious problems, in fact:
(1) Eugene Kingsale is out of options (meaning he can't be sent down without the Orioles risking losing him) and he's the only potential backup centerfielder on the roster -- unless you consider 37-year old Brady Anderson, moved because of his inadequate defense, to be an adequate backup. In fact, with the injury to Luis Matos, Kingsale may be the only potential backup centerfielder anywhere in the organization, which means that the team cannot really afford to lose him.
(2) There's no backup middle infielder there. Sisco was the frontrunner, but injuries doomed his chances, and he seems to have fallen on the depth chart, perhaps in favor of Brian Roberts, who has never played above A-ball. Delino DeShields, a career second baseman, could play that position -- except that he can't play short. Melvin Mora could play short -- except that he's starting in center, and it would require major lineup shuffling any time regular shortstop Mike Bordick couldn't play. Plus, as mentioned above, there isn't anybody to replace him in center if he moves to the infield.
How will the Orioles resolve these questions? We don't know -- and frankly, we're not sure we care. For all the talk about the team going with youth and having real, honest battles for playing time, what spring training actually comes down to is a fight over the backup catcher, the backup middle infielder, the backup centerfielder, the backup first baseman... See a pattern here? There's no fight for jobs -- just for bench slots. If it were up to us, Jeff Conine would be sent packing, since the last thing the Orioles need is five first basemen, and Conine offers nothing that Mike Kinkade doesn't do better. That leaves room for Kingsale, at least. Of course, if it were really up to us, Bordick, Segui, Ripken, and Conine would all be gone.
Tomorrow: Roster Musings Part Two - The Pitching Staff