The Orioles have opened Spring Training in sunny Sarasota, Florida this weekend and the fans have responded with a resounding yawn. It is hard to blame them, the Orioles have not done much this offseason to generate a lot of positive buzz going into the 2012 campaign. Despite the thrilling end to the Orioles 2011 season fans were subject to the following: An embarrassing debacle of a GM search; international sanctions; injuries to Nick Markakis, Jim Johnson and now Zach Britton and messy useless PR brushfire on the internet's biggest Orioles fansite.
Instead of "making 162 count" the Orioles enter Spring Training with far more questions than answers. Let's cover the biggest three.
Question 1: How does the rotation shake out without Jeremy Guthrie.
Fan favorite Jeremy Guthrie was traded rather surprisingly in January to the Colorado Rockies for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom. Hammel is basically a slightly younger version of Guthrie and Lindstom is an okay bullpen arm but all in all the move seemed like a lateral move. The real question is this; without Guthrie what does the starting rotation look like? Guthrie brought a solid arm and 200 IP to a young rotation that is filled with uncertainty. GM Dan Duquette went across the Pacific to find Wei-yen Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada and both offer intriguing possibilities in the starting five. Chen himself was guaranteed to make the rotation coming over here, but many felt Wada would find his way to the bullpen. Now with Guthrie gone it seems wide open.
Then there are the "cavalry" pitchers in Britton, Arrieta and Matusz. Matusz' nightmarish 2011 has tarnished expectations surrounding him and many fans are questioning whether or not he will even start the season in Baltimore. Britton had a quietly decent rookie year, save for a couple absolutely disastrous starts around the All Star Break, likewise Arrieta was solid before being sidelined with bone spurs in his elbow. Those three young pitchers really hold the key to 2012, if they pitch to the level which they were expected then the Orioles may actually make some noise in the AL East; if not, then we will probably be seeing an improved team but still one that is very far from legitimate contention.