The Orioles' off season has indeed been more off than on, and the Hot Stove really has yet to make fans feel anything other than lukewarm as spring training is nearly upon us. I understand and I feel that frustration. However, I tend to be a glass half-full kind of guy. Full of what you ask?
Optimism, hope, and good vibes.
You know why. It's baseball. True baseball enthusiasts are nodding their heads in approval as the rites of spring always generate at least some sense of optimism. The natural yearning for renewal has arrived, with or without a dedicated closer. With or without any additional, substantive help for the starting rotation, or sans an offensive bat to take pressure off of A.J. or Crush in the middle of the order. That said, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, Dan Duquette, has scoured the earth for a plethora of baseball bodies to join the Birds in Sarasota. Someone in that pile of humanity could very well close a game and hit a home run or two. There is hope in there somewhere.
And hey, I'm not just talking optimists still looking at the proverbial bright side of life. Unhappy cynics are also gearing up for the new season. It makes sense, cynics and fans with unconditional love actually unite -- at least temporarily-- every spring, gathering together to dream the big dream. Most O's fans are still recovering from a 14-season losing streak. Any fan who ran that gauntlet of no fun is an optimist. Period. Only the most hopeful fans can keep coming back in such circumstances. Cub fans had nothing on us during that dark time. Winning always revives hope, and even brings in new people to the fold. If you're a new fan of the Orioles who just joined us after the last two winning seasons, welcome aboard, but please keep your seatbelt fastened at all times, in case of turbulence.
A decade and a half of a special orange and black baseball purgatory creates a unique sense of hope these days. A hope with a very, very cautious heart. The specter of Scott Boras hangs above our favorite free agents and winning is a precarious thing in the wide world of sports. However, my eternal optimism is fueled by the best defense in baseball returning to the fold. A sense that Crush Davis may not repeat his feat, but is still good for 45 round trippers. I think Adam Jones' best offensive season is yet to happen, and Nick Markakis still has some good days in front of him.
Pitching, as always, is the big question mark. Are the O's banking on a healthy, happy and wise Kevin Gausman? It isn't a terrible idea, but it is asking a lot. If he is ready, that does address the rotation need, since Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, and Norris are solid, if backed by that award winning defense and some timely hitting.
The new version of who's on first for Baltimore is who will close? Well, we know it will not be Grant Balfour who will be throwing at Orioles batters rather than for them. How many O's will he hit this year? As many as he can. That aside, I think Ryan Webb has some potential back there, but the glass half-full me is not certain there is a solid answer on the roster at this point. Tommy Hunter has the heart of a lion, but a ninth inning only life may see that career 1.5 HR/9 ratio climb like a fastball leaving OPACY in August.
Perhaps the Jedi Master of all baseball managers will finally get the closer by committee roster he always seems to have wanted. Buck jumped in the first day on the job describing his skepticism of the single closer. Then J.J. showed us that Buck has some serious Tony LaRussa in him, going with the 7-8-9 formula that garnered Johnson a couple hundred saves. Closing by committee may age Birdland prematurely, but it really may be the new Oriole Way until a consistent game finisher steps up.
Let's win 87 games this year by an average 7-5 score and hope that is enough. Or we can be optimistic that Dan does what he does best and with one budget arm tied behind his back, he discovers more affordable, discarded gems in the rough throughout 2014 to push the O's into the post-season for the second time in three years.
Ah, the hope of spring eternal....