With Brian Roberts headed to free agency following the 2013 campaign, the Orioles have a choice to make at second base in 2014. They could sign a free agent (including re-signing Roberts), or they could pursue a trade -- and in my opinion, one of these two options is the most likely approach that the team will take. However, they could also choose to address their second base vacancy from inside the organization, an approach that would basically boil down to two options: Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop (or some kind of shared-playing-time option split between the two). How would this plan break out for the team?
Flaherty, the Orioles' 2012 Rule 5 pick, is an anomaly heading into the 2014 season. When Roberts got injured during the third game of the season, Flaherty became the everyday second baseman, and while he showed defensive prowess all season long, he had an absolutely brutal offensive start to the season -- so brutal that it resulted in a AAA stint as soon as Roberts was healthy again. Flaherty finished 2013 with a not-great line of .224/.293/.390, plus 10 home runs, good for 1.0 WAR (based as much on defense as offense). But in reality, Flaherty's bat was pretty serviceable after a painful couple of months in April and May. He had well over 100 PAs (almost half his appearances on the year) in those two months, and logged an OPS well under .600 in that timespan. After June, he hit well enough to pull his season OPS up to .715, and he hit eight of his ten home runs in that span as well, all happening even though his playing time wasn't nearly as regular. You could argue that April and May were just a slump, or you could argue that he hit better in reduced playing time because he's not a full-time player -- and the truth is, we won't know which is reality unless he's given another full-time gig.
In all probability, if the Orioles don't sign a free agent or trade for a new second baseman, Flaherty is most likely to be manning second base on opening day. And that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Unless he turns into a pumpkin again with another rough offensive stretch, Flaherty makes the Orioles' infield defense into a huge plus (alongside J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado), and his bat should at least play well enough to carry him along.
Schoop, probably the Orioles' most vaunted prospect not named Bundy or Gausman, got a cup of coffee with the big club in 2013, homering in his first game but not doing too much else in five games and 15 PAs. Schoop had to come back from a back injury in 2013, and acquitted himself decently -- but not dominantly -- at AAA Norfolk (.256/.301/.396, 9 HR in 289 PAs). He also had only a so-so campaign in the Arizona Fall League after the regular season ended.
Unless Schoop shows some absolute brilliance in 2014 spring training against established major-league pitching, the Orioles would do best to get him everyday play at Norfolk to start the year, and make him break down the door to get called back up to the big club -- even if they have to sign a stopgap backup for Flaherty (like Alexi Casilla or a waiver-wire castoff of another stripe).
If you can't tell, I'm not overly enthusiastic about the idea of the Orioles kicking off 2014 without going outside of the organization for a second baseman. If Ryan Flaherty opens the season as the everyday second baseman, it won't be the end of the world, but it won't be the best the team could do, either (although it probably would be better -- and cheaper -- than a Mark Ellis-type signing). If they try to open the year with Schoop, I'd view it as a mistake, rushing a top prospect who still has some things to prove at a lower level of play. I'm inclined to believe that Orioles fans will see a free agent or trade for second base before opening day, but it's good to know that it won't be a complete and total embarrassment if they don't.