Stopping by the Toy Department for some grilling this week is Dan Connolly, longtime Orioles and national baseball writer. Dan went to Calvert Hall so he never really picked up math or logic. But otherwise, he's a good egg. And Peter Angelos used to refer to him as the cunning Irishman, so there's that.
TD: If you had to convince a lapsed Orioles fan to watch the team this season, what would be your pitch?
DC: What else is there to do in Baltimore in July? How many times can you go down and sweat at the harbor? Or get a fifth receiver's autograph at minicamp? Seriously, the Orioles you see in the second half should give you a glimpse of the future. My guess is at least one of the young, stud pitchers will be up in the second half, and so will Matt Wieters. Endure the first half and there could be individuals worth watching in the second half.
TD: There was a lot of talk about the Japanese media going into this season. Were they much in evidence in Lauderdale?
DC: Once Koji Uehara got hurt, the herd thinned out. They'll be in evidence whenever he pitches, but will probably be elsewhere during the other four days. As O's closer George Sherrill said when asked about his experience with the Japanese media during his time in Seattle with Ichiro Suzuki, after a while you get used to them and they aren't an issue. Besides, as a group, the Japanese media are very respectful. So it shouldn't be a hindrance this year.
TD: What do you think of Uehara? Does he join Jeremy Guthrie and the closer du jour as Orioles
DC: Sadly, I really haven't seen him pitch in games because he was hurt when I was with the team. I expect to see him later this week in his final exhibition tune-up. I think he knows how to pitch and I think he will be solid for the Orioles. He's probably worth a late pick/cheap buy in fantasy baseball. But his injury history and the Orioles' rough schedule stop him from being someone to count on fantasy-wise. But a flier? Sure.
TD: People keep talking about the identity of the Orioles' fifth starter but does it even matter?
DC: No. The back-end of the O's rotation may have more bodies passing through than a 2009 Camden Yards turnstile.
TD: Can Felix Pie hit better than Corey Patterson?
DC: One would really hope so. I liked Corey Patterson, a super nice man and a wonderful athlete who I would love to see do well. But Corey never understood what it would take for him to succeed consistently on the big-league level. I think Pie is open to suggestions from hitting coach Terry Crowley and does not seem to be set in his ways. How much he hits is anyone's guess, but he is worth the gamble.
TD: We know things change after spring training, but has anyone replaced Kevin Millar as the loud, funny guy in the clubhouse?
TD: What's your gut feeling on Nick Markakis' development? Does he take one more step or will we see a bunch of seasons like last year (not that there's a thing wrong with that)?
DC: I think he only gets better offensively. He is 25 for goodness sake. I wouldn't be surprised if he challenges for a batting crown one day. I also think he'll hit a few more homers (maybe 25 or so each season) and steal a few more bases. There are only a few athletes I have covered over the years that could focus on improving one part of their game and then automatically do it. Nick is that type. His defense is a perfect example. Last year he made himself into arguably baseball's best defensive right fielder.
TD: When do you expect Matt Wieters in Baltimore?
DC: Who? Oh yeah, the young catcher. I think the Orioles would like to give him two months to half a season in Triple-A for various reasons. So my guess is late June or early July.
DC: I was in the Fort Lauderdale clubhouse two weeks ago and Wieters thought he was alone. It looked as if he were going to attempt to walk across the whirlpool water. But he stopped just short. I was disappointed. But then I saw him turn the water into wine. And that was cool.
TD: Of the non-Wieters prospects and new arrivals, who are you most intrigued to watch this season?
DC: I think Ty Wigginton is going to have a big year. He is an old-school-Oriole type player – so is Ryan Freel, for that matter – and I think Wigginton has been underrated most of his career. I have only caught glimpses of him over the years, so I am looking forward to seeing him for a full season. As for the prospects, I think Chris Tillman is impressive, and I'd like to see him get a shot toward the end of the year.
TD: Does Dave Trembley get to remain manager throughout the team's rebuild?
DC: Ask Andy MacPhail. I don’t know. Recent history and the Orioles’ revolving managerial door say no. But MacPhail is a patient man and he knows what Trembley is up against. I doubt Trembley gets fired during the year. But will his contract be renewed if they are terrible again? I’m not sure.
TD: You've covered the Orioles through the worst era in team history so where do you think this season will fall on your finely-tuned suck-o-meter?
DC: Well, I covered 34 of the 36 games to end the 2002 season when the Orioles lost 32 of them. That is the Mona Lisa of suckitude in my era. Although last year's collapse was a pretty valuable Picasso. And the 2005 second half of drugs, DUIs and broken arms was masterful as well. My guess is that this one starts as bad as any of them (the April schedule is brutal), but gets a little more entertaining in the second half.
TD: We've also heard tell that you were a national baseball writer. So outside of the Orioles, what story lines and players have you paying the most attention in '09?
DC: Obviously, the Yankees will be a fun one to monitor. A $430 million offseason will buy you some newsprint (In these days, it will buy you a whole newspaper chain). Especially when you have Alex Rodriguez occasionally demonstrating his one weakness: speaking. Like everyone around here, I want to see how Mark Teixeira deals with playing in New York. He's not in Arlington or Atlanta or Severna Park anymore. But he'll hit enough to make that marriage work, I believe. I'm also curious as to how the WBC participants do once the season starts. It's a great concept, but I am not sure how practical it is.
TD: Last but not least, do you ever wake up in a cold sweat, wishing you'd gone to a better high school?
DC: For the record, I went to humble Calvert Hall College High School and this question was asked by a Gilman University For The Chronically Wealthy alumnus. Although it does bother me that I attended an educational institution that did not put proper emphasis on sailing and eating gourmet cheese, I will point out that the CHC Cardinals have beaten the Gilman Silver Spoons roughly the last 87 times they have met on a baseball field. I'm just saying ...