A new season, key acquisitions, and a new front office should dictate how competitive the Baltimore Orioles will be this year. Many doubt the team’s potential for success as long as Peter Angelos is owner.
Fans will not have former Orioles pro-quo decision-maker Syd Thrift to blame. Future blame for fourth-place finishes, a horrible minor league system and injured pitchers will be the responsibility of new bosses Jim Beatie and Mike Flanagan.
Beatie and Flanagan replaced Thrift as executive vice-president of baseball operation and vice-president of baseball operation, respectively. Hopefully, the two new vice-presidents can spur this team on to finish above fourth place, and avoid another mediocre finish for the fifth year in a row.
Officially, only catchers and pitchers are mandated to report this month. Let’s take a look at the entire team.
At catcher, The O’s will showcase a rookie from a year ago who passed more balls than gallstones. Geronimo Gil (pronounced heal) made the all-rookie team despite his anemic batting average of .232 and 19 passed balls, though his overall performance behind the plate was much better than Brook Fordyce’s lackluster effort. Gil threw out 35 of 61 base runners, ranking him in the top echelon of Major League Baseball.
Where is Ivan Rodriguez when you need him? Maybe camp invitee Izzy Molina will save the day.
A new addition, an aging and often injured first baseman, a sporadic second baseman, and a steady guy named Batista round out the Orioles’ starting infield.
The new addition is free-agent shortstop Devi Cruz, who spent last season with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Most reports say Cruz will do an above-average job in replacing Mike Bordick. If Cruz fails, minor-leaguer Ed Rodgers will be next in line, or the versatile Melvin Mora could fill in.
David Segui will take valuable time away from more deserving players at first. But if history repeats itself, Segui will be injured before May and Jay Gibbons or Chris Richard will complete the season at first.
This spring must be Jerry Hairston’s defining moment or he’ll get his ticket out of Baltimore. The incumbent second basemen will be under the microscope of manager Mike Hargrove and the new vice presidents. If Hairston fails, Brian Roberts will be the favorite to replace him.
The bright spot in this predetermined infield is third basemen Tony Batista. He hit 31 homeruns and drove in 87 runs last season.
Two veterans—former Oriole Jeff Reboulet and former New York Mets infielder John Valentin—will compete for the utility infielder position.
It’s a logjam in the outfield and many question marks will plague this team throughout spring training. In the off-season, the front office tried to lure in free-agents Cliff Floyd, Hideki Matsui, and Jose Cruz, Jr. It should tell the incumbent outfielders that their jobs are not secure. Gary Matthews, Jr. and Jay Gibbons may patrol center and right, though Gibbons is better suited for first base. Marty Cordova was signed in 2002 and produced marginal power numbers in the left field position. Mora is a candidate for trade or destined to be the utility outfielder. Jeff Conine, Luis Matos, Tim Raines, Jr., Chris Richard, and Darnell McDonald will vie with Mora for the utility role.
On to pitching. Rodrigo Lopez was a household name in Baltimore after becoming the second rookie pitcher in Orioles history to win 15 games. He finished second in Rookie-of the-Year voting. Former Cy Young-winner Pat Hentgen recovered from his season-ending arm ligament surgery and returned to the ball club in early September, proving he is ready to return to the rotation. Sydney Ponson showed signs of improvement and flashes of greatness throughout the season. Newcomer southpaw Omar Daal pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and had an 11-9 record. He is projected to be the number-two starter and becomes the first lefty to crack the O’s rotation since Jimmy Key. The fifth and final spot will be the most intriguing competition in camp. Jason Johnson will be given every opportunity to win the position despite his chronic injuries. Thanks to their strong efforts late last season, John Stephens, Rick Bauer, and Sean Douglas will all pose a threat to the five spot as well.
The bullpen is set. There is no need to audition candidates.
Closer Jorge Julio was third in Rookie-of the-Year voting. His 31 saves is misleading, since his save opportunities were limited as the team lost 32 of the season’s last 36 ball games, setting a franchise record.
Willis Roberts, B.J. Ryan, Buddy Groom, and former Atlanta Brave Kerry Ligtenberg are a lock to support the bullpen. The final two spots will be filled by whoever’s left from the fight for the fifth starting position.
Spring training is usually a time for stiff competition and burgeoning rookies. In the 2003 Baltimore Orioles spring training camp, it’s business as usual. Maybe the new front office will buy new buckets and rescue this sinking ship.