With the Orioles squad, it’s always going around
Opening Day is less than three weeks away and the Orioles remain on hold with their key roster decisions before flying to Boston.
Don’t ask them about the five starters in their rotation or the makeup of an eight-man bullpen. Don’t ask about the primary backup for first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, or whether an off-roster invite could be introduced on March 30 or feet on the orange carpet for the first home game.
You just don’t know.
I still don’t know how Tyler Wells was ousted from the top five starting contenders after his impressive first half in 2022, other than someone has to go and the Orioles Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Grayson Rodriguez have. Rodriguez starts this afternoon against the Red Sox’s split squad in Sarasota.
What on earth would have happened if DL Hall hadn’t had a lower back condition prior to his arrival at camp, preventing him from racking up the necessary innings to be a starter?
Wells could remain a starter, of course. He’s not eliminated from the contest, and Thursday’s recovery from the leadoff home run surrendered to Philadelphia’s Bryson Stott reminded us how good he can be when the next three batters strike.
The other choices are putting Wells back in the pen where he lived as a Rule 5 pick and evolving into a high-leverage man, or picking him so he can start Triple-A Norfolk. I’m going to make the same point I made with Hall: he’s too big a weapon to remove from the roster. But I will also see the value of developing younger pitchers in the minors, in their projected roles, rather than using them to fill a specific need in the majors.
Eh I’m still pro-Wells and pro-Hall in the pen when they don’t start. Agree to disagree.
My mock rotation remains Gibson, Irvin, Bradish, Kremer and Rodriguez, although I don’t feel good about Wells’ exclusion.
The five bullpen locks dwindled to three, with Dillon Tate on the injured list and Félix Bautista still waiting to pitch in his first game. But he’s expected to debut on March 16, and that’s ample time to set him up, whether it’s in Grapefruit League games or on the backfields.
Mychal Givens, Cionel Pérez and Bryan Baker are in, Austin Voth is out of options and can help the Orioles as a long runner and occasional starter, and Rule 5 selection Andrew Politi has intrigued the Orioles to the point where he could be better than 50-50 to go north. I’ll say again, as others have, that they really like his stuff.
Politi is not the only apparent complication. What fun would that be in the second week of March?
The Orioles want as many innings eaters in the pen as they can reasonably carry, especially early on since starters must be carefully stretched. Keegan Akin got a lot of praise from Hyde on Thursday and he’s left-handed so I’m pretty confident he’ll be in Boston.
This is where things really get mixed up because we don’t know if Wells is tied to the opener or if the Orioles would go into reverse and break camp with Hall as a backup. And there’s Spenser Watkins, Bruce Zimmermann and Mike Baumann to consider. Watkins starts Monday’s split-squad game against the Braves in North Port, with the Orioles looking to extend it to four innings.
The most anticipated news for me regarding the opening day roster is what the Orioles are doing with Wells, Hall and Politi.
Just behind that is whether a left-hander with no roster can crash the party. I’m looking at you, Ryan O’Hearn and Lewin Díaz and Franchy Cordero and Josh Lester. There’s room for one at most, unless a guy on the 40-man list got injured.
When Terrin Vavra sat on baseball’s proverbial bubble, his hot start on the plate and practice at first base seemed to hop him off to present himself as an even more viable option. Kyle Stowers and Ryan McKenna appear to be seeded as additional outfielders, with the former likely to get plenty of starts as the designated hitter.
I will continue to jokingly mourn the loss of a backup catcher drama.
The club must love its depth with Anthony Bemboom, Mark Koloszvary and Maverick Handley. They had also invited Ramón Rodriguez as a non-squad before reassigning him on Thursday