SARASOTA, Florida–As spring training begins, nearly a month later than it should have, the Orioles are faced with many questions. While baseball was preoccupied during the 99-day lockout, the Orioles prepared, and on Saturday reportedly reached agreement with 37-year-old catcher Robinson Chirinos, whose signing has yet to be made official.
The April 8th opener against the Tampa Bay Rays is just 25 days away, and after four days of workouts and 19 Grapefruit League games, the Orioles will make decisions about who will begin the season with the team.
It’s possible that teams will be allowed to carry more than 26 players, but that hasn’t been decided.
Let’s look at the storylines to follow this spring:
Will Adley Rutschman start the season with the Orioles? Chirinos’ addition appears to makes it less likely. Chirinos seems like a perfect backup catcher for a young, talented player.
A fractured right wrist during spring training prevented Chirinos from playing in the first half of 2021. Chirinos was trying to make the New York Yankees, but he was hit by a pitch. The Yankees release him on July 4th, and the Chicago Cubs signed him the next day.
In 2018 and 2019, Chirinos played more than 100 games with Texas and Houston, the only time in his 10-year career he has done that.
If the Orioles choose to send Rutschman back to Triple-A Norfolk to begin the season, Chirinos could pair with one of the two catchers the Orioles signed to minor league contracts –Anthony Bemboom and Jacob Nottingham, who have played a combined 107 major league games.
If not Rutschman, will any rookie make the team? There’s no Rule 5 selection on the roster to challenge for a roster spot. There are several players who made their debuts last year who are still technically rookies.
Mike Baumann and Zac Lowther both pitched for the team last year. So did relievers Joey Krehbiel and Isaac Mattson. Infielder Jahmai Jones is still a rookie.
Any surprises among the non-roster invites? The Orioles invited 22 players who aren’t on the 40-man roster to spring training. Rutschman and top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez were the biggest names. Outfielder Kyle Stowers was on the list, but infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg were not.
Henderson and Westburg got time last spring but without a conventional six-week spring training, there isn’t time to give them enough playing time to make it worthwhile. The Orioles could bring them into camp, but a compressed schedule makes getting those who are going to make the team sufficient playing time.
A few players of interest are on the list. Left-handed pitcher Nick Vespi, infielder Patrick Dorrian and outfielder Robert Neustrom, who were all possibilities to be added to the 40-man roster but weren’t.
Any chance some of those 22 make the club? Right-handers Marcos Diplán and Travis Lakins could return. Diplán made his debut last year, and Lakins has three years of big league experience.
Vespi is a long shot to make the team. Infielders Shed Long and Richie Martin are also possibilities.
Are the Orioles finished signing players? They’re probably fine with catchers and could sign a utility infielder or a veteran outfielder.
It would be a surprise if they didn’t sign another pitcher or two, perhaps one to vie for a starting spot and another for the bullpen.
There are few players who are certain to be on the roster to begin the season.
Is everyone healthy? Usually, we get injury updates over the winter. Outfielders Austin Hays (core) and DJ Stewart (knee) had surgery after last season, and so did left-hander Keegan Akin (core).
We’ll get some updates on Monday, but because of the abbreviated spring training, more injuries are a possibility.
Who are the favorites to join John Means and Jordan Lyles in the rotation? The six most likely contenders for the three spots are Akin, Baumann, Lowther, Dean Kremer, Alexander Wells and Bruce Zimmermann.
Zimmermann missed significant time last year because of biceps tendinitis and a sprained ankle. His stats were slightly better than the other candidates. He made the team last year after an outstanding spring training.
Baumann pitched briefly in relief in September, and may not start the season with the team, but should get opportunities during the season. Lowther and Wells pitched well late in the season.
This season is key for the future of Akin and Kremer, both of whom had rough times last season. Akin was 2-10 with a 6.63 ERA and Kremer, who made only one major league start in the second half of the season, was 0-7 with a 7.55 ERA.
For now, there’s an opportunity for the in-house candidates and anyone who might be signed in the coming days.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB