The Orioles play at night today, which is their penultimate home contest at Ed Smith Stadium in 2015. The Orioles will host their annual closed-doors Talent Show this afternoon. Orioles manager Buck Showalter calls it his highlight of the spring. Their home finale is Friday night with the Grapefruit League finale Saturday at the Atlanta Braves complex in Disney.
After a closed workout day Sunday, the Orioles bring on the 2015 regular season with the opener Monday at Tropicana Field. Yep, less than a week away until "Play Ball" means something.
With no clubhouse access until the afternoon, I figured this would be a good time for a question and answer session about the 25-man roster. Here goes:
How will the Orioles solve their roster crunch, especially in the bullpen? I would be shocked if there weren't at least one trade, maybe more, in the next couple days. The Orioles want to make room for a Rule 5 player – maybe both -- and they don't have many players with minor league options remaining. The most likely trade chip is Brian Matusz, who has pitched well this spring. They aren't using him as a starter and they feel like their bullpen could survive without him (although he has gotten some key outs over the past couple years). Other guys who could be traded if there is an interested partner: Steve Clevenger, Ryan Webb, Wesley Wright and, though his contract makes it highly unlikely, Ubaldo Jimenez.
How does the rotation shake out? Based on what we've been told and the alignment of the rotation in this last week of spring, my best guess from Sunday's analysis piece hasn't changed: Chris Tillman pitches the opener, Wei-Yin Chen the second game versus Tampa, Miguel Gonzalez the third game and then Bud Norris the home opener in Baltimore. I believe Jimenez will be the fifth starter, but I think it is possible he doesn't pitch until the sixth game so that Tillman can stay on regular rest.
What about Kevin Gausman? I don't think he has made the rotation. So the 24-year-old phenom either begins in the bullpen or Triple-A. I think the Orioles would prefer the bullpen for him, but he does have options and if the only way to keep a Rule 5 pitcher is to send Gausman down temporarily, then that is a possibility. Either way, the Orioles will monitor Gausman's innings in April for a longer run in September/October.
What's the deal with the Rule 5 guys? Jason Garcia and Logan Verrett couldn't be much different, baseball-wise. Garcia, 22, hasn't pitched above Low-A. But he has an electric arm and hit 98 mph on some spring radar guns. Verrett, 28, has been topping out at 93 mph this spring, but he has four solid pitches, and started 28 games at Triple-A last year. Both guys have fit in seamlessly with the Orioles' bullpen this spring. Problem is they must be kept on the roster all year or be offered back to their original clubs. A trade could be worked out, but the players have to clear waivers first, and that might not happen in either case. Plus, the Orioles don't think the Red Sox, who have original rights to Garcia, would play along with a trade (why should they?). The Mets might with Verrett, but, again, another team may step in and grab the player off waivers. In any event, these decisions will go down to the Sunday afternoon roster wire – the belief is the longer the Orioles wait, the less likely it becomes that another club will add a Rule 5 player to their roster.
Who is the starting shortstop? While J.J. Hardy is out, Everth Cabrera likely will start at shortstop with Ryan Flaherty as the utility infielder. That's my guess anyway.
Which other reserves make the team? Jimmy Paredes in the scorching bat role and Ryan Lavarnway as the backup catcher.
What about Nolan Reimold? The 31-year-old is the story of the spring; he has been the Reimold of old, pre-neck surgeries. But he's on a minor league deal and the Orioles don't have to make a decision on him now. So basically he is in a roster crunch. The sense is he'll be sent to Triple-A, and if he keeps hitting like he has in March, he'll be back in the majors before long.
Who is the extra man for a day? Chris Davis can't be on the active roster until Game 2 due to the completion of his amphetamine suspension. So the Orioles are in the strange situation that they will activate one extra player for Monday and then take him off the roster for Tuesday. Given that, the candidate is likely someone on the 40-man roster with options remaining: Clevenger and T.J. McFarland fit that description. Reimold, for instance, has earned that spot, but he'd have to clear waivers to go back to the minors.