When Major League Baseball finally ends its lockout, spring training will begin. And so will the storylines for the Orioles.
Cedric Mullins’ 30-30 season and Crohn’s disease
We enjoyed watching the breakout season for Mullins, how he abandoned switch-hitting to become a full-time left-handed hitter and became the first Oriole to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season.
If the regular season is shortened because of the lockout, Mullins might not get a chance to record another 30-30. But there was another reason to appreciate what Mullins did in 2021, a reason he didn’t disclose until the offseason.
After the 2020 season, Mullins had surgery related to Crohn’s disease. He lost 20 pounds. He revealed his medical condition to raise awareness of the disease, just as Trey Mancini did after being diagnosed with colon cancer.
Will this be Mancini’s last season with the Orioles?
Mancini is going into his final season before he’s eligible for free agency.
He said he’d like to stay with the Orioles, but there’s been no evidence that they’re interested in keeping him for the long term, though they should.
Mancini will be questioned about the contract extension, and the possibility of a trade. With both leagues using the designated hitter in 2022, there will be more teams interested in Mancini.
It will be interesting to see how Mancini performs after an offseason of rest and working out after recovering from the effects colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy.
Will Jordan Lyles help the rotation?
Lyles and the Orioles came to an agreement on a reported one-year, $7 million contract. Lyles, who has a lifetime record of 54-79 with a 5.21 ERA, is likely to slot in behind John Means in the rotation.
The $7 million price tag was a surprise. I’d like to know if Lyles had other bidders, and why he chose the Orioles. It’s likely the new left-field dimensions at Camden Yards were discussed.
Who will back up Adley Rutschman?
After the lockout began, the Orioles signed catchers Anthony Bemboom and Jacob Nottingham to minor league contracts. Bemboom and Nottingham have combined for 107 major league games.
Bemboom is a right-handed hitter; Nottingham a left-handed hitter.
If the regular season starts on time, it’s possible both could be on the Opening Day roster while Rutschman goes back to Triple-A Norfolk for a short time, assuming service time rules don’t change.
Will the Orioles sign someone else to compete with Bemboom and Nottingham? They might take a catcher in the Rule 5 draft.
A catcher who backs up a potential star like Rutschman is going to have to be satisfied with playing just once or twice a week.
How many utility players will the Orioles carry?
If the season starts on time and there’s a limit of 13 pitchers on the 26-man roster, that leaves four bench players.
One of them will be a catcher, and one could be an outfielder. If Jorge Mateo makes the team as a utility player, there are several candidates for the final roster spots.
Outfielders Ryan McKenna and DJ Stewart could make the team, but if only one does, there’s a spot for players such as Jahmai Jones, Shed Long or Richie Martin, all of whom can play more than one position. Neither Long nor Martin is on the 40-man roster.
Will Tyler Wells be the closer?
If the Orioles carry 13 pitchers, that means an eight-man bullpen. Last year, they began with 14, which meant a nine-man bullpen, including Rule 5 picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells.
Sceroler was returned to Cincinnati in June, and Wells steadily improved. By the end of the season, the Orioles were using him as a closer. Bullpen roles on a non-contending team are often murky, but Wells seemed to respond to the ninth-inning role.
If the Orioles take two pitchers in the Rule 5 draft, and they can carry more than 13 pitchers, they could again go north with both of them.
Who will be the other three starters?
That might be the most interesting question in camp. Bruce Zimmermann seems to be the favorite, though manager Brandon Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias can’t talk about players on the 40-man roster during the lockout.
Keegan Akin, Mike Baumann, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells are the other contenders with major league experience, though Baumann has pitched only in relief.
The Orioles probably will sign another veteran starter to join the rotation.