One of the great things about my profession and social media -- Twitter, in particular -- is the immediacy with which writers can interact with readers.
I'll be stepping away from Twitter for a little bit before I head down to Florida in a few weeks for spring training. So I decided last night to invite readers to ask me some Orioles questions, and I'd answer a chunk of them before I slip away temporarily.
Here's a sampling of the questions I received and my answers (in most cases I expounded beyond the 140 characters permitted on Twitter).
Where do O's stand in negotiations with Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana? Asking price seems to be in 3-yr range, but unsure of willingness to give up a pick.
If the asking price is right, the Orioles will give up the draft pick that is associated with signing either Jimenez or Santana (or, for that matter, Kendrys Morales). I don't know exactly what either pitcher is currently looking for, but the prices obviously have come down some now that it is mid-February.
I've been told the Orioles have increased their interest in Santana since Bronson Arroyo signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Orioles are legitimately in the mix for his services. But there are other teams involved, and I didn't get a sense that anything was especially close between the club and Santana. Of course, that can change in a nanosecond -- or he can just as quickly sign elsewhere.
As for Jimenez, I really haven't heard as much about him and the Orioles as I have heard about Santana. I know the Orioles have talked to his people, but I didn't get a sense that he was atop their list. That said, the list is rapidly shortening, and Jimenez is an established starting pitcher. The Orioles certainly wouldn't turn away if the terms were right.
Your opinion: Jimenez or Santana?
All things being equal, I'd take Santana. He's just a little more consistent. In four of his last six years, he has thrown 200-plus innings and had an ERA under 4.00. The other two seasons he was limited some by injuries. That said, Jimenez has a higher upside and is a little younger. I'd probably lean toward consistency, but, frankly, I'd consider either an upgrade for the Orioles rotation.
Do you think there is any chance A.J. Burnett signs with us?
There's always a chance. From what I can tell, without speaking to Burnett, I think he is serious about playing close to his family. And, since he lives in Monkton, Camden Yards is the closest place. But my sense in talking to those around the situation is that Burnett to Baltimore doesn't seem likely for various reasons. But I guess you never know.
If you had to pick a free-agent pitcher still available that would fit best and "put us over the top" would it be Joe Saunders or Chris Capuano?
No, not to put the Orioles over the top. Those guys are veteran big league pitchers who have had success in the past and can fill some innings. But they aren't, as you say, over-the-top-putters. That's not to say, in some scenarios, those guys couldn't help the Orioles. But I'm more inclined to give the fifth starter's role to a younger pitcher than pay more for one of those veterans.
Do you think Matt Wieters and/or Crush (Chris Davis) are Orioles at the end of the season? Do either of them sign long-term deals?
I think both stay with the Orioles through the end of this season. Remember, they aren't free agents until after the 2015 season, not the end of this year. If one is dealt in-season in 2014, I think Wieters is the more likely candidate. But that's only if the Orioles are out of the pennant race in July and a contender that really needs a catcher offers an impressive package of prospects. The Orioles have been pretty good about signing their franchise-type players recently, but I'm not sure they'd sign either for close to the market rate -- which is going to be rather expensive. And, with both players in their prime, I'm not sure how willing either would be to give a hometown discount (would you?).
Do you see any last minute deals going down before spring training? Any sleeper names out there you think Orioles can get that may surprise fans?
I think Dan Duquette is still working on adding players -- he's always working on adding players; that's part of his baseball charm -- and the primary target is still pitching. There aren't many surprises left on the market. Although I'm sure Duquette adds at least one more player that I have never heard of or didn't know was still playing. That's happened several times to me this offseason.
So what's going on at 2B? Please tell me Jonathan Schoop is going to be given a chance to start.
The 22-year-old Schoop will be in camp, and he'll get some playing time in the spring. But I don't think he is being seriously considered for a 25-man roster spot right now. He has played just 70 games in his career at Triple-A (batting .256 with a .301 on-base percentage). And he is still learning second base. Schoop likely will begin at Norfolk while some more experienced players -- Ryan Flaherty, Jemile Weeks, Alexi Casilla -- jockey for the big league second base job. I believe the spot is Flaherty's, assuming he doesn't have to start the season at third base.
What's your best guess on who gets the 5th spot in the rotation?
I think it is Zach Britton's to lose because he is out of options, and the Orioles don't want to give away or give up on his left arm. But Britton has to earn it. There are plenty of other intriguing candidates, including Kevin Gausman, Steve Johnson, T.J. McFarland and even reliever Brian Matusz, who may be too valuable to move out of the bullpen.
How likely is it that we will see Eddie Gamboa this year and, if so, in what capacity?
Initially not likely; the 29-year-old knuckleballer is pretty far down on the starting depth chart, and he was taken off the 40-man roster this winter (after being placed on it this offseason). Yet one of the great things about being an Orioles' farmhand is that there seemingly is a revolving door between the minors and majors. So, if he pitches well in the minors, he could get a chance to be called on this season. It'd be a great story. And, because he's a knuckleballer, he's probably better suited as a spot starter or long reliever.
Who do you see winning the AL East and why?
The Boston Red Sox, because they didn't lose that much from a world championship team this offseason besides Jacoby Ellsbury. The rest of the defections are replaceable. And they will have a full season with phenom Xander Bogaerts, who is a really impressive young player. Plus, the starting pitching is so deep that it can absorb an injury or two and keep plugging along. Here's something else you need to know: I had the Red Sox finishing last in the AL East last season. So you may not want to take this prediction to Vegas.