Reshaped Orioles itching for spring training
Sluggers Guerrero, Lee, Reynolds among team's many off-season additions
The optimism the Baltimore Orioles derived from their fine performance last year under manager Buck Showalter was enhanced by a productive off-season during which the team addressed virtually every need.
So, can anyone blame Showalter and the Orioles for being downright giddy about the start of spring training?
"We know we have the guys, we know we have the talent. It's a matter of making it happen," left-hander Brian Matusz said. "There's a lot of excitement among the players."
Hope springs eternal for virtually every major league team this time of year, even for a franchise that has suffered through 13 consecutive losing seasons.
"We made what appear to be very important and appropriate signings for our team to get better," said right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who over the next six weeks will seek to prove himself worthy of starting on opening day.
In an effort to improve an offence that ranked 10th in the American League in home runs and 13th in runs batted in, president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail traded for power-hitting third baseman Mark Reynolds, then secured free agent sluggers Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero.
MacPhail also obtained shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Minnesota Twins, signed free agent starter Justin Duchscherer and enhanced the back end of the bullpen by re-signing Koji Uehara and landing free agents Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo, both former Blue Jays.
Add those parts to a team that went 34-23 after Showalter arrived in early August, and it's no wonder the manager and the Orioles can't wait to start anew.
"Andy is ready to pass the baton, and I look forward to that," Showalter said. "Everybody's ready to go to spring training."
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Sunday in Sarasota, Fla. The team's first spring training workout under Showalter will take place Monday, and the veteran manager was in no mood to provide any insight what his opening address might include.
"I'll keep that to myself. I'm not going to broadcast that," he said. "If I have to do that in spring training, then we probably didn't do a good job of it in August and September. But there are some points of emphasis we want to cover."
Before he gets around to finding out the best place to put Lee, Guerrero and Reynolds in the lineup, and before he can decide upon his starting rotation or whether Luke Scott or Felix Pie should start in left field, Showalter will drill the Orioles on fundamentals.
"There were some moments last year when I kind of looked around thought, 'That's a spring training thing' and in fact made some notes about it," Showalter said. "I went back through them during the off-season to remind myself the things we really need to be on top of. And we have precious [little] time down here that we cannot waste."
At least the Orioles have some idea of what to expect from their meticulous manager.
1st camp with Buck
"I'm sure there will be changes, but I don't think his in-game managerial style is going to change," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "Certainly, spring training will be a little different. We haven't experienced a spring training with him yet.
"But he's a pretty laid-back guy. He's intense when he needs to be, but in general, there's no panic, no uptightness. It's just go out there, play hard, play the game the right way. He's always prepared. I don't think anything ever sneaks up on him."
This spring will mark a comeback of sorts for Roberts, who played in only 59 games last season because of a bad back and a concussion that occurred when he hit himself on the head after a strikeout.
He said there were times last year when he considered quitting, but now he can't wait to get back on the field.
"When you're that frustrated and you're struggling that bad, yeah, you wonder what your future holds. Is this it? Do I still have it in me to keep doing this? I'd be lying if I said that wasn't a thought process at some point," Roberts said. "But as I continued to get better, I realized that OK, maybe that door's not being closed yet. I still feel like I have a lot of great years left."
Besides getting comfortable again at the plate and on the base paths, Roberts will face a challenge in the field. He will be surrounded by three new infielders — Reynolds at third, Hardy at shortstop and Lee at first — so getting accustomed to their style on double-play balls will be a priority.
It should be an interesting camp for the players, who still don't know what to make of Showalter, a revised roster and a new staff that includes hitting coach Jim Presley and pitching coach Mark Connor.
"I hate losing. I love to win," Reynolds said. "I know it's going to be a challenge here with the past 13 years, but we've got Buck, we got some great additions to the team and hopefully we can sneak up on some people."