Wednesday, May 23, 2012

With wounded O's healing, tough roster decisions on the horizon

Some injured Orioles players are starting to get healthy. Here are some news items on the "big three" injured players, if you will:

- Brian Roberts is beginning a rehab assignment at Bowie today, and he could be back in Baltimore in the near future. Per Roch Kubatko, Buck Showalter said that he wants Roberts to spend the full allotment (20 days) to reacclimate himself to playing the game again on an everyday (or nearly everyday) basis. If all goes well and Roberts suffers no setbacks, he'll be in Baltimore in mid-June. Considering Roberts hasn't played in a major league game (or any other game) for more than a year, that's great news.

-Nolan Reimold, still dealing with a herniated disk in his cervical spine, could also return in June, though there's currently no timetable for that return. He is scheduled to receive a second epidural injection on Friday, but there's no guarantee that helps. Reimold's recovery doesn't sound as promising as Roberts's, at the moment, but whenever the pain subsides, Reimold should be able to return relatively quickly.

- And Zach Britton is going to be making a rehab start in Bowie on Saturday, and he could return to the O's rotation soon. As long as he's healthy, Britton would make a nice upgrade over Tommy Hunter and give the O's a rotation with Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, and Britton, in some order. Not bad.

If there's one thing the O's could use, it's more depth. Some new faces like Xavier Avery and Steve Tolleson have played well, but a healthy Roberts and Reimold would give the lineup an extra punch that it's lacked.

Other names: Matt Lindstrom could be returning soon. Mark Reynolds and Endy Chavez are also on the mend, though it does seem like they're both superfluous at this point. Chavez, signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal in the offseason, didn't hit at all in his first few weeks with the team, and the rookie Avery may actually be an upgrade over him. Avery may not continue to play as well as he has, but he's earned the chance to stay in the lineup and play every day in left field. It's not like getting rid of Chavez would be any big loss, either. Reynolds, on the other hand, is making a bit more than Chavez this season -- $7.5 million, to be exact. But like Chavez, there's little chance that he'll be back with the team beyond this season, as he has a 2013 club option for $11 million (with a $500,000 buyout). The O's and Buck Showalter have finally come to their senses and realized that Reynolds is not a competent, major league third baseman, so his only real role with this team is at first base or designated hitter. It's unlikely the O's will simply drop Reynolds because of the salary he's due, but if he's not hitting, he has no value. They'll likely seek a trade, but it's hard to believe another team would even be willing to take on his contract. You could probably say the same thing about Kevin Gregg, who had actually looked better until his outing Monday night.

Oh, and don't forget about Miguel Tejada at Norfolk, who seems destined to join this team, for some reason.

If Roberts, Reimold, and Reynolds all return at about the same time, the O's will have some decisions to make. And if it were up to me, here's what the infield/outfield depth would look like (presuming everyone is healthy, and keeping the catching situation the same):

1B Chris Davis
2B Brian Roberts
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Robert Andino
Bench: Wilson Betemit, Ryan Flaherty, Steve Tolleson

To make room for Roberts, I'd release Nick Johnson. I've been impressed with what little we've seen from Tolleson, though I guess his roster spot is expendable when Reynolds is ready to return. Still, I'm not sure I wouldn't choose Tolleson instead, considering he can actually play some defense at third. I'm also not sure if Tolleson has any options left, but since he's 28, I doubt it. Flaherty hasn't hit well at all, but he also has the ability to fill in at just about every infield position and both corner outfield positions, which is useful. That flexibility, and the fact that he's a Rule 5 pick, should keep him on the roster.

Playing Andino at third keeps his glove in the lineup, and even though he's been slumping lately, I think that's the right move. When he's not at third, he also provides some nice infield depth at second base and shortstop.

LF Xavier Avery
CF Adam Jones
RF Nick Markakis
DH/Depth: Nolan Reimold

I'm not quite sure that Avery continues to post an on-base percentage around .350, but I like that he hits line drives and works the count. He's also more than willing to take a walk. I've never really been a big fan of Reimold's outfield defense, so DHing him keeps his bat in the lineup. It also keeps Avery's glove in, and he's been pretty solid. Reimold's obviously also struggled to stay healthy, so maybe not playing in the field every day, or even every other day, keeps him fresher. Oh, and Reimold would take Bill Hall's roster spot.

I seriously doubt the O's choose to get rid of Reynolds, Johnson, and Chavez, but I think it's the right move. But until everyone is completely healthy and ready to go, there's no hurry in making any of those decisions just yet.