When I look at the serious rotation candidates in camp this Spring, I see a lot of possibilities. I mean that literally, as I can see basically each and every one of the nine pitchers crashing and burning at some point in 2012 and I can also picture each of them having a solid little run of success, through good fortune or actual development. The closest the Orioles have to a certain thing is Jason Hammel, the greybeard of the staff, who I have projected for around a mediocre 4.50 ERA.
This is why there won't be a concluding piece to my "Projecting the Orioles" series this spring. When I look at the run prevention unit of the Orioles, my reaction is to throw my hands up and say "Who knows!". The fielding of the Orioles is easy to project: it was well below average last year, and the roster is largely the same, so look for it to be well below average again this year. The pitching, not so much. There's just too much variance with the Asian and young pitchers.
Which is good to admit, honestly. Better to admit ignorance than make an ignorant mistake.
However, at the heavy risk of having the fickleness of Spring Training screw with me, Brian Matusz is doing a lot to force optimism unto Birdland. I have no idea what his stats are so far in the Grapefruit League, nor do I care, but his stuff is getting rave reports with improved velocity and command. Is a good Spring Training reason enough to bring Matusz north for Opening Day?
If I have my reports right, the (non-Matusz) leaders for Opening Day rotation seem to be, in no order: Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, and Tommy Hunter. Hunter and Britton have been dealing with injuries early on, so it is possible that either of them could open the season on the disabled list, with Tsuyoshi Wada replacing them. The other candidates, Chris Tillman and Dana Eveland, both seem like much longer shots. Brian Matusz would be replacing Hunter, Britton, or Wada.
Let's make an assumption: General Manager Dan Duquette came into the organization with one hand tied behind his back. He could easily be back out of baseball in three years - for good this time - if the Orioles don't get better tout de suite. Take that into consideration when you consider that his offseason strategy was to maintain the established core of the team and build depth around them. Duquette is very much hoping the young pitchers rediscover their potential and become a core actually worth building around. What other choice did he have - sell off and ensure the team doesn't get better in the short term, at considerable risk to his own job security? Duquette's future career is riding on Britton, Matusz, Arrieta, and Tillman turning into at least one legitimate top of the rotation starter.
So it would benefit the Orioles immensely to grab the opportunity Brian Matusz has built for himself this Spring and ride it as far as it will take them. Leaving a swingman/back-end starter like Tommy Hunter or Tsuyoshi Wada out of the rotation, at least to start the season, in favor of a maybe-rejuvenated Matusz might lower the rotation's potential floor, but more importantly it raises its potential ceiling.
For a pitching staff expected to be amongst the worst in the league on a team literally nobody thinks will compete, is there really any risk in running with Matusz? What is the worst case scenario here - a dozen starts so depressingly bad that there is never another question about whether Brian Matusz is a bust or not? Even that doesn't sound bad to me. This is very much akin to the Nolan Reimold situation last year; what the Orioles need is knowledge about how good of a major league pitcher Brian Matusz is going to be.
The best way to find out is to let him go out there and make his case.