Looking ahead to the start of the 2019 season, the Orioles roster has a few holes and even more question marks. With Baltimore, and surprisingly the majority of major league teams, holding off on even small free agent acquisitions, there are several positions either up for grabs or lacking in options.
As we all know, the Orioles will not be making a big splash in free agency, but they likely will not depend on in-house solutions for every single roster spot. Could they resign Orioles great Adam Jones? Our fearless leader Mark Brown makes the case for that here.
But whether the Birds bring back Jones or bring in a veteran starter for the back end of the rotation, free agent signings will not make or break this roster. The guys making up a large majority of the playing time this year are either on the 25-man roster or waiting in the minors. That being said, are there any players the Orioles know with 100% certainty that they can count on this year?
When you break it down by position, even guys that appear to be set in stone don’t provide a steady foundation. Who can the Orioles rely on in 2019?
Three-fifths of the starting rotation is set. Barring a trade or injury, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb will take the ball every fifth day. Bundy struggled mightily with the long ball last season, and he enters every year with the “will this be the year he finally puts it all together” narrative following him around. Still, he’s going to be there. And you never know, this might be the year...
Cobb and Cashner are both veterans signed at least through this season. Cobb provided the Orioles reason to be optimistic with a strong second half last year, and the Birds are hopeful Cashner will demonstrate anything close to trade value. These three will anchor the rotation. Buckle up.
A few bats that conducted themselves well in the second half will certainly stay in the lineup, but their position defensively isn’t quite clear. Jonathan Villar will either man second base or shortstop, depending on who else the Orioles decide they want to play up the middle. Trey Mancini will join the crew pursuing the elusive “complete season,” but it is unknown if manager Brandon Hyde or general manager Mike Elias have any interest in Mancini continuing his outfield adventures.
If Mark Trumbo is healthy, he’s going to play. Whether that’s at first base or designated hitter remains to be seen. The same applies to Chris Davis, but playing time may be more of an issue if Baltimore’s most expensive “slugger” continues to hit below the Mendoza line.
Cedric Mullins conducted himself well enough in an extended audition last year to be considered the Orioles starting center fielder. He could lead off, hit ninth, or anywhere in between, but the guy should be in the lineup everyday. The other two outfield sports are not as cut and dry.
The bullpen holds only a few locks with a plethora of guys that will likely be there by default. Mychal Givens struggled last year with an ERA barely under four, but he’s shown enough over his time in Baltimore that he’s a lock. Several teams may be interested in a cost-controlled, proven reliever, but the Orioles shouldn’t trade the former second-rounder until he builds back up his value.
Richard Bleier should be ready for Opening Day after a tremendous 2018 was cut short by injury. Bleier, who saw his season end with a grade 3 lat strain in his throwing shoulder, has finished with a sub-two ERA in each of the last two seasons. He turned quite a few heads with his 1.99 ERA in 57 games two years ago, and shocked fans when he was able to replicate the numbers in 31 games last season.
Tanner Scott will look to refine his control at the big league level this year. The hard-throwing lefty is only 24, but the Orioles probably won’t bother sending him back to Triple-A. Scott flashed tremendous potential with swing-and-miss stuff, and the Orioles hope this is the year he puts it all together (I know, I know).
Paul Fry and Miguel Castro will likely be back, unless Castro is considered for a starting role. Castro, Mike Wright, John Means, Jimmy Yacabonis and Yefry Ramirez could all find themselves in the starting rotation or bullpen at some point this season.
After that, nothing else seems to be guaranteed. The Orioles will only carry two catchers, and Chance Sisco or Austin Wynns could spend some time at Norfolk. Any of the many young outfielders could either emerge or fall victim to a slow spring. Shortstop and third base both figure to be up for grabs.
The competitions will be fun to watch, but it’s a little nerve-wracking knowing how few positions the Orioles are squared away at. Sure, winning may not be the prime focus in 2019, but the Orioles still need to field a major league team.
Are there any Orioles players that you feel truly confident in entering the season? How about a guy that should not be a part of the Orioles current foundation. Put on your executive-vice-president’s hat and let us know in the comments!