Ten of the 24 pitchers on the team's 40-man roster heading into last year's spring training aren't in the organization anymore. Four of the five members of last year's Opening Day rotation are now former Orioles, as are three of the seven members of the bullpen.
Nowhere is team president Andy MacPhail's rebuilding project more obvious than in the reconstruction of the Orioles' pitching staff, one of the major leagues' worst during the past several seasons. When pitchers and catchers have their first workout Saturday in Florida, the competition to make the 12- or 13-man staff will begin in earnest and immediately become the prevailing story this spring.
Six or seven spots on the 2009 staff will be up for grabs, with a cast of many vying for them.
Beyond the team's only returning starter, Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles have reached far and wide through free-agent signings (such as Koji Uehara) and trades (Rich Hill) and gone deep into their farm system (Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta) and beyond (Alfredo Simon, who played most of last season in the Mexican League).
"We've done what we needed to do in terms of creating an inventory to create competition and to give our coaching staff a chance to pick out the very best," MacPhail said. "We don't have a solid experienced core of starters. We're going to have to pick from a variety of guys with a variety of skills to fill out those last spots in the rotation. How good I'll feel about it, I'll know much more on May 1 than I do now."
MacPhail acknowledged that it's not ideal to bring 37 pitchers into camp, even with spring training extended this year to seven weeks because of the World Baseball Classic. It puts pressure on manager Dave Trembley and pitching coach Rick Kranitz to find everyone enough innings to get ready for the season.
But, in some respects, the Orioles had little choice because of how much uncertainty exists with their staff. While the starting rotations of the three American League East heavyweights - the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox - are pretty much set heading into spring training, the Orioles have only two starters who are considered locks barring injuries. Guthrie, a 10-game winner last year, is expected to be handed the ball for a second straight Opening Day, and Uehara, the team's first Japanese player, will likely slot in behind him.
After that - and even Uehara is a wild card, as most teams see him more as a middle reliever - question marks dominate. Will Hill, the once-promising left-hander the Orioles acquired from the Chicago Cubs, regain his confidence and command now that he's back working with Kranitz and bullpen coach Alan Dunn?
Are Matt Albers and Troy Patton healthy enough to make it through spring training and be counted on every five days? Can perennial prospects Radhames Liz and Hayden Penn ever show enough consistency to earn and hold a rotation spot? Are veterans such as John Parrish, Brad Hennessey, Brian Bass, Mark Hendrickson and Danys Baez better suited for the bullpen or rotation?
Hill, Penn and David Pauley are also out of minor league options, further complicating Trembley's decisions.
"We'll obviously have some very difficult decisions to make," said Trembley, who has already scheduled intrasquad games on three of the team's previously scheduled spring days off, just to make sure pitchers get enough work and enough of an opportunity. "As of right now, we're 100 percent healthy, which is good. We need to get guys out there quickly, evaluate what we have, give guys an opportunity, and hopefully I'll make the right decisions. For me, the theme this spring is opportunity and competition."
The Orioles are vowing to be patient with their top starting prospects. Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman will be at major league camp, but their stays in Fort Lauderdale are expected to be short.
After securing Uehara and Hendrickson, MacPhail tried to sign an additional free-agent starter, but he quickly found their prices too high (Jon Garland and A.J. Burnett) or their interest in becoming Orioles too low (Braden Looper and Ryan Dempster).
That leaves Trembley and Kranitz to sort through an inexperienced and mostly flawed group. Of all the pitchers at camp, only four (Guthrie, Hendrickson, Hennessey and Hill) have made more than 30 career starts, and only one (Hendrickson) has made more than 60. The Yankees and Red Sox each have only one starter in their rotations (Joba Chamberlain and Jon Lester, respectively) who has made fewer than 60 starts.
No Orioles pitcher who will be in Fort Lauderdale has won more than 11 major league games in a season. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who projects as Boston's fourth or fifth starter at least until 210-game winner John Smoltz is healthy, has won 11 games or more 10 times.
"The way I look at it is these guys have a tremendous opportunity," Kranitz said. "They have to see what's in front of them. Somebody needs to step up. It's not just by performance but how they walk into spring training. Did they do work in the offseason? Are they mentally prepared? Are they physically prepared? We'll know right away. I think it's going to be quite a competition."
The Orioles' bullpen will be a little easier to sort out and stands, at least on paper, to be one of the team's strengths. Trembley, who still is deciding whether to carry 12 or 13 pitchers, said he could use George Sherrill, Chris Ray and Jim Johnson interchangeably from the seventh to ninth innings, though Sherrill is in line to get most of the save chances.
Dennis Sarfate will return as a bridge to the bullpen's back end, while Hendrickson is likely to settle into the swingman role. With Baez and left-handed specialist Jamie Walker due a combined $10 million in the coming season, they would probably have to pitch their way off the roster. However, in jettisoning Jay Gibbons and absorbing the remaining $11.9 million on his contract last year, the Orioles showed that money won't always be the decisive factor in roster decisions.
"Obviously, there are a lot of factors that are considered, but our mind-set going in is: Let's see if we can get the best guys in the best roles," Trembley said. "The biggest factor will be ability and what the guy brings to the club. It's an interesting dilemma, but I think it's a good one to have."
Saturday: Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Next Sunday: First workout for pitchers and catchers
Feb. 18: Position players report
to Fort Lauderdale
Feb. 19: First full-team workout
Feb. 25: First Grapefruit League game,
vs. Mets at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, 1:05 p.m.
March 4: Exhibition, Orioles vs. Dominican Republic (WBC) at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, 1:05 p.m.
April 2: Last Grapefruit League game,
vs. Mets at Port St. Lucie, 1:10 p.m.
April 4: FanFest at Camden Yards, 10:30 a.m.; exhibition, Orioles vs. Nationals at Nationals Park, 6:05 p.m.
April 6: Opening Day, Yankees at Orioles, 4:05 p.m.
The Orioles will have 37 pitchers in training camp, far more than any other team in the American League East and four more than they brought to spring training last year. A week before the first workout for pitchers and catchers at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, only about half of the team's 12- or 13-man pitching staff appears set. Here's a look at what's shaping up to be the top competition this spring.
Jeremy Guthrie (R)
* Last year: 10-12, 3.63 ERA
* Primed to start in the opener against former teammate CC Sabathia.
Koji Uehara (R)
* Last year: 6-5, 3.81 in Japan
* Most clubs saw him as a reliever, but he'll likely be O's No. 2 starter.
On the bubble
Matt Albers (R)
* Last year: 3-3, 3.49
* Team officials will watch him and hold their breath, hoping his shoulder holds up.
Brad Hennessey (R)
* Last year: 1-2, 7.81
* Digestive problems cost him weight and velocity, but he's back on track.
Rich Hill (L)
* Last year: 1-0, 4.12
* Will a change of scenery, less-pressurized environment cure his wild ways?
Radhames Liz (R)
* Last year: 6-6, 6.72
* Has explosive stuff but less polish than most of his rotation competitors.
Troy Patton (L)
* Last year: Did not pitch
* Likely ticketed for the minors after shoulder surgery in 2008.
John Parrish (L)
* Last year: 1-1, 4.04
* Returns to O's as a hopeful starter, though he's going to need a good spring.
Hayden Penn (R)
* Last year: 6-7, 4.79 in Triple-A
* Without options, Penn is fighting for a rotation spot, future with the club.
David Pauley (R)
* Last year: 14-4, 3.55 in Triple-A
* Had no chance of cracking Red Sox's rotation. His odds are better here.
Alfredo Simon (R)
* Last year: 0-0, 6.23
* That he managed to stay on the 40-man roster all offseason says something.
Chris Waters (L)
* Last year: 3-5, 5.01
* A dark horse, though no one expected him to shut out the Angels in O's debut either.
* Left-handers: Brian Matusz
Mark Hendrickson (L)*
* Last year: 7-8, 5.45
* In a perfect world, he would be a swing man, but O's might not have that luxury.
Jim Johnson (R)
* Last year: 2-4, 2.23
* Very hard to dispute he was Orioles' best pitcher last season.
Chris Ray (R)
* Last year: Did not pitch
* Watching him let loose a 95 mph fastball will be a welcome site.
Dennis Sarfate (R)
* Last year: 4-3, 4.74
* Overpowering when he's on, but consistency remains his biggest issue.
George Sherrill (L)
* Last year: 3-5, 4.73
* All-Star will likely be asked to anchor what could be a solid bullpen.
On the bubble
Danys Baez (R) *
* Last year: Did not pitch
* Wants to start, but making the roster probably a better short-term goal.
Brian Bass (R) *
* Last year: 4-4, 4.84
* Showed flashes last year to put him in the thick of bullpen discussion.
Bob McCrory (R)
* Last year: 0-0, 15.63
* Has struggled to stay healthy and throw strikes. Sound familiar?
Jim Miller (R)
* Last year: 0-2, 1.17
* Becoming Triple-A Norfolk's closer probably a more likely scenario.
Wilfrido Perez (L)
* Last year: 0-0, 2.31 in Double-A
* Nice numbers last year, but making the jump is little too much to expect.
Jamie Walker (L)
* Last year: 1-3, 6.87
* Front-runner to be situational lefty assuming he's back to the Walker of old.
* Right-handers: Scott Chiasson, Fredy Deza, Jim Hoey, Ryan Keefer, Kam Mickolio, Andy Mitchell, Ross Wolf
* Left-hander: Alberto Castillo
* Also candidate to start
if you go
First workout: Pitchers and catchers hold their first workout next Sunday. The first full-squad workout is Feb. 19.
Stadium: Fort Lauderdale Stadium (Orioles' 14th year). Address: 1301 NW 55th St., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 33309
Phone number: 954-776-1921
Directions: From Interstate 95: Take Exit 32 for Commercial Boulevard and travel west, half mile to NW 12th Avenue, also known as Oriole Boulevard, and make a right. Fort Lauderdale Stadium is the second stadium on your left.
From the Florida Turnpike: Take Exit 62 for Commercial Boulevard, travel east to NW 15th Avenue and make a left. Fort Lauderdale Stadium is the second stadium on your right.
Dimensions: 332 feet to left field; 320 to right; 401 to center
Ticket prices: Prime games (Red Sox, Mets): Box seats $22; reserved grandstand $16; general admission (adult) $12; general admission (14 and under) $7; children under 3 do not require a ticket; strollers cannot be used as seating. Nonprime games: $20, $14, $10 and $5.
Senior discount days: Fans 60 and older may purchase a reserved grandstand seat for $7. This discount is available for select nonprime weekday games. Tickets must be purchased at least 24 hours in advance.
Parking: $5. Season pass (preferred parking) available for $130.
Attending practices: Workouts are free and accessible before the Grapefruit League schedule begins.
Stadium policies: No bats, umbrellas, cans, glass bottles, jugs, hard coolers or thermoses are allowed. The stadium also restricts baggage of any type, including backpacks, duffel bags, briefcases and oversized handbags. You may bring in cameras and cell phones but not large electronic equipment such as laptops. Ballpark security reserves the right to inspect all items carried into the ballpark.
Stadium gates: Open two hours before game time. There are three entrances to the ballpark: one for box and reserved grandstand seating, one for left-field general admission and one for right-field general admission. In accordance with Major League Baseball policy, there is no re-entry into the stadium.
Autographs: Autograph seeking is permitted in the two-hour window before game time. You will be allowed near the field, but you cannot block the view of a fan who is already seated for the game.
Other note of interest: The second round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic will be played in Miami's Dolphin Stadium, a short drive from Fort Lauderdale. The dates are March 14-19. Qualifying teams from pools C (Canada, Italy, U.S. and Venezuela) and D (Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico) will compete to advance to the semifinals and final in Los Angeles. For more information, go to mlb.com.
Sources: Orioles.com and MLB.com
Fax or mail: Call 954-776-1921 to request order form.
Phone: Call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.
Group sales: Call 954-776-1921.