For beleaguered people in the north, like the friend who posted the following on Facebook, "really want to see some greenery," spring is just barely on the horizon. For the spring training aficionado it is almost over. That was evident at the Orioles ball site yesterday. The O's had started the spring with 68 on the roster and all 68 were in the dugout on opening day. Yesterday, 48 survivors suited up in the sparkling home whites instead of the training jerseys and at of that 48, twenty-three knew that AAA Norfolk or AA Bowie awaited the services of the luckier ones.
The question, of course, is always who gets to go to Baltimore when the O's open their season against the Yankees in just about 10 days. Manager Dave Trembley and his staff have some issues to resolve, the most glaring being the pitching rotation and the bullpen. The starting eight looks to be serviceable although some would say they have the wrong Izturis at shortstop and I had to chuckle when I say Felix Pie trip on his own feet chasing a ball in left field.
The games on the field still don't matter much but the players are going out there knowing that the coaches, scouts and supervisors are watching every ball hit in their direction, every at bat and, for pitchers, every pitch thrown. At the end of each game from now to opening day, several messages will be delivered in various ways. Cutting away manager-speak, here is what 22 guys will hear. Matt Wieters is the 23rd for an entirely different reason.
You have been optioned to (fill in the blank). That is not bad. For three seasons, if a player is on the 40-man roster but not on the active major league roster he may move between the major league club and any of the minor league affiliates. That can be a strategic move. The Marlins consider Anibel Sanchez their fifth starter but, given days off, they will not need him until April 18th. They might well start his season in New Orleans to be able to give some other player a longer look. . Earlier this week, the Orioles optioned LHP Chris Waters to Triple-A Norfolk. Waters is close to being a career minor leaguer. He was a 5th round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2000 but he got his first cup of major league coffee only last season. He started 11 games, turned in a 3-5 record 5.01. That did not win him a shot at the rotation. But last year, he was 8-6 in 22 minor league starts, including being 5-0 for AA Bowie. On an Orioles team that has Adam Easton penciled in as the number 3 starter and Hayden Penn in the number 4 slot, if Chris is able to hold his own or better in AAA, he will be back in Baltimore sooner, rather than later.
We want you to report to the minor league camp tomorrow. That is not good for older players, not that bad for the real young guys. Usually that means you did not make the 40-man roster, but you have a place in our organization. On Wednesday, the O's reassigned RHP Brad Hennessey to minor league camp. Brad was a #1 pick in the 2001 draft, selected by the Giants. In October, he and his lifetime 4.60 ERA were sent outright to the Giants Fresno farm. Employing the privilege of a 5-year veteran, he declined and signed a one-year minor league contract with the Orioles. Brad thinks he is young enough to try again. Given the shakiness of the Orioles starting rotation, I am sure he is thinking that he has a chance to earn another shot at the bigs.
We are designating you for assignment. That is the MLB equivalent of "we will announce that you are leaving to pursue other interests." Closely related to that is "You are being released." That is usually delivered with the thought that "this will make it easier for you to find your own deal." For a player who is going to be fired, being fired earlier is better than being fired later of course. Those who are released early still have a chance to be invited to another team's camp to compete for a minor league slot. Josh Bard comes to mind. He got cut late by the Red Sox and is still shopping as I write this.
The Matt Wieters Story. Matt is the top rated prospect for the Orioles and, for many, the #1 in baseball. Baseball America ranks him #2 behind David Price and John Sickles calls him the #1 hitting prospect in MLB. But on opening day, Greg Zaun will be behind the plate and Chad Moeller will likely be the backup. The O's haven't announced whether Wieters will start in Bowie or Norfolk, but it will not be at the home grounds. Wieters will start in the minor leagues so that the team can postpone the agonies of free agency for another year. They will talk about seasoning, wanting him to see more pitches, giving him a chance to play every day, but that is a load of hooey. What they have in mind is this -- Players with at least two but less than three years of Major League service, who are considered to be in the top 17% of all players, are eligible for arbitration one year sooner than the rest. These are known as "Super 2" players. Super 2's, must have accumulated at least 86 days of service in the previous year. Wieters will join the team as soon as there are 85 days left in the season unless the Orioles get off to a miraculous start and/or Zaun breaks down.