In late May of 2003, incumbent second baseman Jerry Hairston, Jr. was injured and the reigns were handed over to 25 year-old North Carolina native, and South Carolina Gamecock, Brian Roberts. In 112 games, Brian batted .270 and stole 23 bases in 29 attempts. Jerry came back healthy for spring training in 2004, but broke a finger in camp. Brian was again given the chance to be the everyday second baseman for the Orioles. In his 159 games in 2004, Brian hit .273, with 50 doubles - breaking Cal Ripken's Oriole record, and setting the American League single-season record for switch hitters.
Over the next five seasons (2005-2009), Brian played in 751 games, averaging 150 games per season. Over that time he averaged 11 home runs, 64 RBI, 46 doubles (56 in 2009), 37 stolen bases (50 in 2007), and averaged .294, while never hitting below .283, and batting .314 in 2005. For his efforts, he was named an American League All-Star in 2005 & 2007, and finished 18th in the MVP vote in 2005. He also represented the United States in the World Baseball Classic in 2009, batting .438 with one home run, two RBI, and one stolen base in four games.
Then, in 2010, the world for Brian (and Birdland) changed. Brian missed much of spring training that year with a herniated disc in his back, but came back in time for opening day. He went on the disabled list on April 10th with an abdominal strain, attempting to steal second base. He came back to the birds on the 23rd of July, but this was only the beginning of the seemingly endless string of injuries Brian would suffer throughout the next three years.
On September 27th of 2010, in the ninth inning of a game against the Rays in St. Pete, Brian stepped into the box to face Joaquin Benoit, with the Orioles leading 4-0. With a 2-2 count, Benoit threw Brian a textbook change-up. Brian was sitting on it, but swung and missed. On the way to the dugout, Brian smacked himself in the helmet with his bat, and all of a sudden the Trop went blurry.
Concussion number one.
Brian persevered, and made his way back in 2011, albeit briefly, and suffered his second concussion in less than eight months (May 16th @ Fenway) when he dove headfirst into first base and hit the back of his head. Brian missed the rest of 2011 and the beginning of the 2012 season.
Concussion number two.
On June 12th of the 2012 season, Brian was penciled into the Orioles starting lineup as our second baseman for the first time in over a year. Then, the next injury happened. Brian suffered a groin strain on July 3rd and opted for hip surgery on July 29th, which subsequently ended his season.
Brian came back this year, ready to play on opening day. Then, it happened again, possibly for the last time in an Orioles uniform. During the third game of the season (April 4th) Brian ruptured a tendon in his right knee trying to steal second base against - who else but the Rays. Brian came back on June 30th and picked up an RBI in his first game back.
From the time Brian was injured in 2010 until present day, we have seen Ryan Adams, Robert Andino, Alexi Casilla, Blake Davis, Ryan Flaherty, Cesar Izturis, Julio Lugo, Scott Moore, Yamaico Navarro, Omar Quintanilla, Steve Tolleson, Justin Turner, and now Jonathan Schoop play second base.
In merely three days, the longest tenured Oriole will find himself in a position that he has never been in before - without a contract. Brian has spent his entire career in the Orioles organization; something that is a rarity in this day and age. Brian will be 36 years old in a few weeks, and by no means should anyone believe that the tank is running on fumes. Brian today and Brian five years ago are certainly two very contrasting players. The sudden bursts of speed are a distant memory, but he's no Sam Horn on the bases. He still works the count, gets on a base at a very respectable clip, is a defensive asset and has the gap power that he always has. According to fangraphs he is a +1 defensively and a .7 in WAR.
Compare the stats:
Brian Roberts: In 252 at-bats this year - .246/.310/.381 - 11 Doubles, 7 Home Runs, 38 RBI, 3 Stolen Bases, and a .997 Fielding Pecentage (1 error)
Ryan Flaherty: In 239 at-bats this year - .218/.289/.385 - 10 Doubles, 10 Home Runs, 25 RBI, 2 Stolen Bases, and a .994 Fielding Percentage (2 errors)
Alexi Casilla: In 112 at-bats this year - .214/.268/.295 - 4 Doubles, 1 Home Run, 10 RBI, 9 Stolen Bases, and a 1.000 Fielding Percentage (0 errors)
Brian & Ryan had roughly the same at-bats, and Alexi had roughly half of Brian & Ryan, so if we double his numbers, we can compare them evenly:
BA - Roberts .246, Flaherty .218, Casilla .214
OBP - Roberts .310, Flaherty .289, Casilla .268
Slugging - Flaherty .385, Roberts .381, Casilla .295
Doubles - Roberts 11, Flaherty 10, Casilla 8
Home Runs - Flaherty 10, Roberts 7, Casilla 2
RBI - Roberts 38, Flaherty 25, Casilla 20
SB - Casilla 18, Roberts 3, Flaherty 2
Fielding - Casilla 1.000, Roberts .997, Flaherty .994
Category Wins - Roberts 4 (BA, OBP, Doubles, RBI), Flaherty 2 (Slugging, Home Runs), Casilla 2 (Stolen Bases, Fielding Percentage)
If we award three points for finishing first in a category, two for second, and one for third, let's see how it shakes down:
Roberts - 20 Points, Flaherty 16, Casilla 12.
What's the point of all of this?
Brian is still a valuable piece of the puzzle. Our offensive struggles seem to stem from being too aggressive at the plate and not being able to get on base consistently. Brian clearly has the edge over Ryan & Alexi there; he leads in batting average, on-base percentage, doubles, and runs batted in. By no means should we think that Ryan Flaherty is not a key piece of the future, because he absolutely is, however is he truly ready to contribute every day at the major league level? Probably not.
So then, what exactly should the plan be with Brian, Ryan, Alexi, and the seldomly-mentioned-in-this-article Jonathan Schoop?
Well, Mister Duquette and Mister Showalter, it appears as if we have some decisions to make. Should Birdland be skeptical of Brian's ability to remain healthy? Absolutely. Should we be content to just hand the reigns over to any of the other three on a full-time basis? Absolutely not. So, how should these four be handled in preparation for 2014?
Alexi Casilla - Tender a minor-league contract. Maybe he'll accept, but maybe he won't. He's no longer worthy of holding down a spot on the 25-man roster. In the event of injuries, under-performance, et cetera, he'll be stashed away at Norfolk, should the need arise.
Ryan Flaherty - Have him start the season in Norfolk as a super-utility player. He obviously has the infield positions under control, but he could use some time in the outfield, primarily to learn center field. Not spelling our regulars throughout the season proved to spark some controversy down the stretch this season. Once the staff and coaches in Norfolk feel that Ryan can contribute defensively anywhere on the diamond, and has 300 or so AAA at-bats under his belt, bring him back to the show.
Jonathan Schoop - Jonathan is clearly the second baseman of the future, and has provided some much-needed (yet much too late) spark to the Orioles lineup. Schoop makes the 25-man out of spring training and should start maybe four games a week at second base, with the ability to spell Manny at third and J.J. at shortstop.
Brian Roberts - Offer Brian a one-year major league contract with a base of 1.5-2MM. Build in incentives, allowing the contract to double with attainable goals based on 400 plate appearance. Also, build in a second-year that triggers with the same attainable goals. Use spring training as a time for Brian to develop into a utility player. Brian is an athlete, and should have very few issues giving others a day off at various positions.
Brian has spent his entire career as a member of the Orioles organization and could have easily walked away prior to signing his last extension. Some people probably wish that he would have, but he has been loyal to the only franchise he has ever known. We should give Brian the opportunity to leave this game on is terms, no one else's. We were blessed with his talent and ability for much more time than he and his injuries disappointed us. Brian could probably get a job in many organizations next year, but we should never let that be an option for him. Bring him back, put the coaching bug in his ear, and let's take it from there. Brian, I for one, would love to have you back, and hopefully Mister Duquette and Mister Showalter share my sentiment.
Here's to 2014 being the year of the bird...have a Natty Boh on me! Cheers.