Bricks from the Warehouse

March 2
Key questions

Key questions for 2001? It's something of a trick question; usually it refers to the issues that will make or break a team's season. But for the Orioles, that's just silly. Nothing is going to make or break their season. It's broken. Still, there are a few things for fans to look for:

  1. Will Albert Belle recover? Albert Belle was perhaps the best AL hitter of the 1990s. In 2000, his offense ranked at the level of noted superstars Steve Cox, Lee Stevens, and Garrett Anderson, as he was diagnosed with a potentially career-ending hip problem. Now he's coming back supposedly healthy -- but will he be the right fielder who was the best hitter in the AL in 1998, or the designated hitter who hit just 5 home runs in the second half of the season?

  2. Will the Orioles lose young players in roster squeezes? Jay Gibbons is a Rule V draftee, and both Mike Kinkade and Eugene Kingsale are out of options, meaning all three must be kept on the roster all year, or any other team will be able to claim them. But with the 12-man pitching staff favored by Mike Hargrove, and if Ripken is healthy, there's no room for these guys unless Jeff Conine and Delino DeShields are traded. Even if that happens, there's no roster room for Kingsale, and there's no lineup role for Gibbons. Will the Orioles look towards 2002, or will they pretend that the difference between 5th place and 4th place is important enough to throw away prospects?

  3. Along the same lines, will 33-year old career middle reliever Chuck McElroy get more starts than prospects John Parrish, Jay Spurgeon, Josh Towers, and Luis Rivera? Assuming that Pat Hentgen, Sidney Ponson, and Jose Mercedes are rotation locks, that leaves two slots for many candidates to fight over. Will the Orioles do what they can to rebuild, or will they throw away starts on someone with little chance of current success who has no part in the Orioles future?

  4. Was Jose Mercedes' 2000 just a fluke? He had a genuinely good second half last year, but everything about him screams "Jeff Ballard." In 145 innings, he gave up 150 hits and 64 walks, and he struck out just 70 batters. Nobody can be successful in the majors with numbers like that. And those numbers were not unusual; he has always performed similarly in the past. And to make his situation even more precarious, he has never thrown more than 160 innings in a season -- and that only once.

  5. Will the move of home plate protect the team's pitching, or expose the team's lack of outfield defense and their already powerless lineup? The Orioles ranked near the bottom of the league in power in 2000 (8th in HRs, 10th in extra base hits and slugging percentage, 11th in runs). Despite what the media thinks, it's impossible to predict the effect of moving fences, but if it does make the already-pitcher friendly Camden Yards even more pitcher-friendly, the Orioles may struggle to score any runs. Meanwhile, with old players who have lost a step (Brady Anderson), injured players (Belle) or converted infielders (Chris Richard, Melvin Mora, Delino DeShields) playing in the outfield, a lot of hits by opposing batters might roll all the way to the wall.

  6. Will Cal Ripken go out in a final blaze of glory, or will his career end with a whimper? Things don't look good on this front, since Cal has already come down with a significant rib injury which will keep him out a month. It's bad enough he's been hanging on, but it would be nice if he could at least avoid embarassing himself and ruining our memories of him any more than he already has with his play the last couple of years. Don't get us wrong; we love Cal. But we want to remember the old reliable guy who was out on the field every day, not the guy who has missed 48% of the team's games the last two years.

© 2001 The Orioles Warehouse
Batteries not included.
Last Updated: March 2, 2001