Brian Roberts made his major league debut at age 23 in 2001. For years he was one of the only bright spots about the Orioles, establishing himself as one of the better second baseman and leadoff hitters in the American League. It seems like all that was a very long time ago, though, doesn't it?
Roberts hasn't played a full season since 2009 when he hit 56 doubles to lead the league and had an OPS+ of 110. He had 717 plate appearances in 2009. In the four seasons since then he has been out with injury every season and has accumulated just 809.
After years of dealing with herniated discs and strained abdomens and recurring concussion symptoms, Brian Roberts went into spring training this year feeling healthy and the reports out of Sarasota were all about how he couldn't wait to get back to helping the team. For a guy that has meant so much to the Orioles over the last decade, it was great to hear. But many fans spent the spring waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe his concussion symptoms would come back. Maybe he'd re-injure his back. Maybe it would be something brand new. But Roberts made it all the way through the spring without a setback, but not much further than that.
The Orioles started the season on the road in Tampa Bay and in those three games Roberts went 5-for-12. He looked great right up until the moment in the 9th inning of the third game when he tried to steal second base. He went into second base in obvious pain and had to be removed for a pinch runner. He couldn't get off the field without help from the trainer and the first base coach. It was very sad. Word later came out that he had ruptured tendon behind his right knee and that his recovery time would be three to four weeks.
Roberts was out longer than that, but he did come back healthy for the rest of the 2013 season on June 30th. For the first few weeks, every time he did something on the field that required extra effort, I held my breath. But Brian didn't break again. Eventually I forgot to be worried whenever he made a play. When it was all said and done Roberts had played in 77 games with a hitting line of .249/.312/.392. He hit eight home runs and 12 doubles. He certainly wasn't the Brian of old, but it felt good to see him out there again.
There were times that it was difficult to watch Roberts, and those times were usually when he was playing defense. His range at second base wasn't good at all. When he got to a ball he usually handled it well, but there were plenty he didn't get to. It's not surprising, he is 35 years old after all. And I'm sure it didn't go unnoticed by Buck Showalter, who put Roberts in at DH 15 times.
This season was the final year of a four-year, $40 million contract for Roberts, and it remains to be seen what will happen with Roberts next year. He could re-sign with the Orioles, he could try to go to another team, or he could retire. It seems apparent that Roberts isn't up to being an starting second baseman, at least not for a contending team, which the Orioles hope to be. Quotes by Roberts towards the end of the season made it clear that Brian is preparing for the idea that the Orioles may not want him back.
The Orioles have decisions to make a second base for 2014. If they go with the in-house option of Ryan Flaherty (which would be a pretty big risk given his track record), Roberts might be a good option on the bench. But if they promote Jonathan Schoop to play second base, keeping Flaherty on the bench makes a lot more sense than Roberts. And if they go outside the organization, who knows.
I wrote about it a few weeks ago, but if we've seen the last of Roberts' days as an Oriole, it will be sad but understandable. Brian has given me a lot of joy during his career in Baltimore, and he got to spend the last few months of this season healthy and playing regularly. Not a bad way to go out, if that's what ends up happening.