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Schmuck: Orioles end spring the same way it began, with roster drama

Schmuck: Orioles end spring the same way it began, with roster drama
Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks with executive vice president Dan Duquette during spring training at the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Feb. 26, 2016 (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Spring training isn't about perfect endings, which is a good thing for the Orioles, who have spent the final week before the start of the 2016 regular season in the same kind of roster-related turmoil that characterized the early weeks of camp.

It was just five weeks ago that the Orioles were locked in the on-again, off-again negotiations with starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and got blindsided by free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler. They emerged from February with Gallardo under contract, but could only wonder what the future might hold for the starting rotation after horrible exhibition debuts by Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez.

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Fast forward to the beginning of April and clarity is still in short supply. The 25-man major league roster will be finalized Sunday and it apparently will include embattled outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, even though executive vice president Dan Duquette went on television Tuesday and said it wouldn't.

The Orioles also announced the decision to release Gonzalez and recoup about $4 million of his 2016 contract, which made sense economically, but still came as a surprise considering that the veteran right-hander had winning records in three of the previous four seasons and was one day removed from his best performance of the exhibition season.

It has been that kind of spring. The contract with Fowler seemed like a done deal, and that was confirmed by several news organizations citing industry sources, but he walked into the Chicago Cubs training facility at about the time the Orioles were expecting him at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

To be fair, Duquette and manager Buck Showalter never confirmed that the deal was done. But they had to be as surprised as anyone that Fowler and his agent would turn up their noses at a three-year, $35 million deal to accept far less than the Cubs had offered in November.

The Kim situation also is a head-scratcher. The Orioles painted themselves into a corner by signing him to a two-year contract that did not give them the right to send him to the minor leagues, then by Duquette announcing that Kim would not be on the 25-man Opening Day roster.

Now it looks like he will be, though it would be foolhardy to make any more predictions ahead of the roster deadline.

That leaves all sorts of room to speculate about what happened. Did Duquette announce that decision under the assumption that club officials could persuade Kim to accept a minor league assignment instead of a $7 million check for doing nothing? Or, did he simply get ahead of himself and eventually reconsidered burning that much salary?

Kim didn't shed a lot of light on the situation Friday except to confirm a statement from his agency that he will not accept the minor league assignment. That leaves the Orioles with no option but to carry him or release him, and it appears that they do not want to burn all that money.

They have enough roster flexibility at the moment to buy some time. The decision to reassign slick infielder Paul Janish to minor league camp allows them — if they choose — to keep five outfielders, which leaves enough room for Kim, Nolan Reimold and Rule 5 draftee Joey Rickard to remain on the roster.

The Orioles have expressed the desire to also keep Gonzalez by signing him to a minor league contract, but it seems more likely that he'll get some outside offers to remain in the major leagues. He did stumble last season, but he dealt with multiple injuries, so it won't be difficult for a team in need of an experienced starter or long man to rationalize taking an inexpensive chance on him.

Obviously, the Orioles were not satisfied with his performance this spring after giving him a large raise in his second year of arbitration eligibility, and his performance Tuesday night was not compelling enough to change anybody's mind. Still, the decision to release him was curious considering that he still had a minor league option and the club is not exactly swimming in organizational rotation depth.

With Kevin Gausman on the disabled list after receiving a cortisone shot in his pitching shoulder, the Orioles already have announced that both Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson — originally thought to be competing for the same spot on the pitching staff — have made the team. Vance Worley, who also was competing for that spot, also appears likely to win a place in the bullpen, leaving few rotation options at Triple-A Norfolk.

Of course, no one should be surprised by anything at this point.

It has been that kind of spring.

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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