How will the Orioles' rotation shake out?
Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara are the only two pitchers considered a lock for the group, leaving three vacancies and as many as 13 candidates. Rich Hill, whom the Orioles acquired from the Chicago Cubs, will get a rotation spot if he shows progress throwing strikes more consistently. Matt Albers is also a front-runner for a spot if he stays healthy, though he'll be pitching with a tear in his right shoulder. Other candidates include Danys Baez, Brian Bass, Mark Hendrickson, Brad Hennessey, Radhames Liz, Troy Patton, John Parrish, Hayden Penn, David Pauley, Alfredo Simon and Chris Waters. Only four pitchers in camp have made more than 30 career starts.
Orioles president Andy MacPhail said signing the two-time All-Star second baseman to a contract extension remains a priority, but he's running out of time to get it done. Roberts (right) doesn't want negotiations extending deep into the spring, and if nothing is accomplished before Opening Day, he'll opt for free agency after the season. The two sides haven't made much progress on a deal, and the Orioles' three-year, $30 million offer is not going to get it done. If they are unable to sign the leadoff man, the Orioles could deal Roberts, though that probably wouldn't happen until closer to the trade deadline.
Does top prospect Matt Wieters have any chance to make the Opening Day roster?
From the moment this offseason when he traded Ramon Hernandez, MacPhail has maintained that Wieters will begin the season at Triple-A. The switch-hitting catcher, 22, has only 437 minor league at-bats, and the last thing the club wants to do is rush a player widely viewed as the best prospect in baseball. There is also the matter of not starting Wieters' free-agent clock right away, a factor team officials won't discuss publicly. It is conceivable that Wieters could force the team's hand with a tremendous spring, similar to what Nick Markakis did in 2006. However, the odds are that Wieters starts with Norfolk and makes his much-anticipated Orioles debut in mid- to late May.
Can the Orioles' pitchers stay healthy?
Baez, Patton, Jim Hoey and Chris Ray didn't pitch in a major league game last season after having elbow or shoulder surgery. Albers, Guthrie, Penn, Jim Johnson, Bob McCrory, Dennis Sarfate, George Sherrill and Jamie Walker missed parts of last season with arm injuries. Orioles manager Dave Trembley said every pitcher, except prospect Chorye Spoone, will be ready for spring training, but the important thing is that they break camp healthy. Already thin on proven pitchers, the Orioles can't afford to lose key ones before the season begins.
Is this the Orioles' final spring training camp at Fort Lauderdale Stadium?
The Orioles have two option years remaining at the badly outdated stadium, where the team has trained since 1996. However, team officials, tired of the distance between their major and minor league camps, want to find a long-term home sooner rather than later. The people in charge of the negotiations, mainly Orioles executive vice president John Angelos, don't appear to have the same sense of urgency. The Orioles have had talks with Florida locations Fort Lauderdale, Sarasota, Vero Beach and Fort Myers and have yet to close a deal. Sarasota, where Orioles minor leaguers train, appears to be the preferred destination, but Fort Lauderdale and Vero Beach have also had that designation at one time or another.
Who will emerge as the team's on-field leader?
That onus fell on Miguel Tejada before he was traded after the 2007 season and then to Kevin Millar before he departed through free agency. With a 40-man roster that has been overturned by more than 50 percent from this time last year, the Orioles, specifically Trembley, need to locate a clubhouse leader. Veteran infielders Melvin Mora and Roberts are candidates, but neither has been a vocal, take-charge presence during his tenure with the club. Markakis, the newly anointed $66.1 million man and the team's best all-around player, won't become outspoken overnight. Gregg Zaun, Ty Wigginton and Ryan Freel are high-energy and high-effort players who will be focused on getting to know their new teammates.
Who has a bigger adjustment, Koji Uehara or the Orioles?
The Orioles did their homework and knew what they were getting into when they signed Uehara to a two-year, $10 million deal, making the right-handed starter their first Japanese player. One of the most decorated pitchers in Japan, Uehara will attract sizable attention from the Japanese media and be accompanied by a full-time trainer and translator. It will be a situation Orioles players, coaches and executives will have to get used to, but they'll gladly accept the circumstances if Uehara proves to be a reliable innings-eater. Several major league teams that had interest in Uehara wanted him as a middle reliever. The Orioles need him to occupy a much bigger role than that.
What do the Orioles have in recently acquired outfielder Felix Pie?
The question probably won't be answered until well into the regular season when Pie, one of the game's most-hyped prospects, gets an extended big league opportunity that he was not afforded in Chicago. The multi-tooled outfielder has spent parts of seven seasons in the minors and has only 260 big league at-bats. The Orioles will be patient with Pie, who figures to get the majority of starts in left field, and give hitting coach Terry Crowley every opportunity to try to work on the 24-year-old's approach and long swing. At the very least, the speedy Pie should be a good defensive outfielder.
How will Dave Trembley set up his bullpen?
The Orioles' bullpen is expected to be one of the team's strengths heading into the season, and that's largely because of the trio at the back end of it. Trembley can use Sherrill, Johnson and Ray interchangeably from the seventh to ninth innings. He'll decide on his closer during spring training, though all signs point to Sherrill getting the nod after he saved 31 games last year. Ray, the team's former closer who is 16 months removed from ligament-reconstruction surgery, will be eased in and asked to get key outs late in the game. Trembley (right) has a host of valuable multi-inning relief options, including Sarfate, Bass, Baez and Hendrickson. But he'll need Walker to show that he can consistently get left-handed hitters out again.
Will the Orioles carry 13 or 12 pitchers?
It seems like such a minor issue, but it carries major ramifications for several Orioles veterans. If Wigginton or Freel prove this spring that they are capable of playing shortstop and backing up Cesar Izturis, that will likely mean that veteran Chris Gomez won't make the club and Trembley will go with 12 position players and a three-man bench of Freel, Wigginton and a backup catcher. It will also allow the Orioles to carry 13 pitchers. If Trembley wants the versatile Gomez on the roster and a four-man bench, it will come at the expense of a pitcher. It stands to reason with Hill, Penn and Pauley out of options, the Orioles could use the extra spot for a pitcher.