At this time last year, so much of the Orioles’ 2016 core wasn’t yet in place, and some players were wrongly pegged for certain spots. Designated hitter Pedro Alvarez and right-hander Yovani Gallardo were still free agents, as was outfielder Dexter Fowler, though only the first two ended up in Baltimore.
The left-handed reliever du jour was still Brian Matusz, and Donnie Hart was someone who only an informed few paid attention to at the team’s January minicamp. Dylan Bundy was still a question mark, and Miguel Gonzalez was still penciled into the rotation.
So a lot can change, as evidenced by both the past and what we last heard from executive vice president Dan Duquette. But under the unlikely hypothetical that it doesn’t change, here’s an early best guess at how the Orioles’ 25-man roster will be set up on Opening Day.
Joseph will have a lot to prove early this year, and there will be a good bit of pressure on him in spring training for one particular reason: Francisco Pena, whom the Orioles opted to keep instead of Joseph for a stretch in August last year, is out of minor league options. The Orioles have been known to do what they can do keep as many assets in the organization as possible. It would be bold, but Joseph starting in the minors and Pena backing up Castillo would allow all three catchers to stay in the organization.
Infielders (5): Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado, Ryan Flaherty
No surprises here, with the primary players together for their fourth consecutive season. Flaherty will enter the season as the utility man yet again, likely armed with promises that he’ll play more and spell the starters who don’t typically take days off.
Considering Trumbo an outfielder is more just for housekeeping here, but he’ll see some time in right field and at designated hitter. Jones, Smith and Kim seem to be in line for the most playing time, with Rickard a good platoon bat against left-handed pitchers.
Tavarez gets the nod as the last bench player over Trey Mancini at this point, solely because the team doesn’t have the speed-and-glove outfielder they pledged to add this year. He can be it if he looks the part in spring training. Mancini has options and will be heard from at some point, but under this projection, Tavarez sticking around early might be the decision that makes the most sense.
Starting pitchers (5): Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dylan Bundy, Wade Miley
Cool, let's move on.
Relief pitchers (7): Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Donnie Hart, Oliver Drake, Logan Verrett
The first five, even Hart, seem set in stone, as long as they make it through spring training healthy. That leaves two spots up for grabs. If Drake is anything like the player he was down the stretch last season, it might be tough for the Orioles to sneak him through waivers if they want him to start the year in Norfolk. In the long-man derby, Verrett seems to be ahead of Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright, because of the inclination to let the other two work as starters at Norfolk.
Keep in mind, too, that the Orioles have three off days in the first eight days of the season, so they can make adjustments if necessary. That might mean they only need one long reliever on the roster, at least early.