Five questions still to be answered

Five questions still to be answered
September 16, 2013, 10:15 am
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They still have a chance to get in the playoffs. It’s going to be very difficult, but in the last two weeks of the season, there are still some important things the Orioles have to think about for next year.

1) Who will be the closer?

That’s the biggest question of the offseason. Jim Johnson has 45 saves and nine blown ones. At $6.5 million now, he could make $8 million or even more for next season, if he chooses to go to arbitration.

It’s a hard call either way.

It’s no coincidence that the team started to turn around in Aug. 2011, around the time when manager Buck Showalter made him the closer.

The Orioles lost eight of Johnson’s nine blown saves. If he had blown only, say four, the Orioles would have a record of 83-66, and a bevy of teams would be chasing them.

It’s not easy finding a pitcher who can save 96 games in two seasons, but unlike other players, closers can be found almost anywhere.

A year ago, the Orioles discarded Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin Gregg. Signed to a minor league contract by the Chicago Cubs just before spring training, Gregg somehow has 32 saves.

The Orioles could try and make Tommy Hunter the closer next year or buy one. There will probably be a surplus of relievers on the market who will be cheaper than Johnson.

Both Hunter and Johnson were converted starters, so it’s not impossible that the team tries to make one of them a reliever next year, either.

2) Is Brian Roberts going to be back?

This would have been laughable three months ago, but Roberts is just two weeks away from completing a half-season of health. He’s already played in more games this year than the previous two combined, and while he’s far from the player he was in 2009, Roberts is still the best choice—for the moment—at second.

Jonathan Schoop has been with the team for two weeks, but has yet to play. If the Orioles are knocked out of the playoff race sometime next week, they may get a look at him.

Roberts could stay around for a vastly reduced paycheck. He’s still popular, and there won’t be much of a market for a 36-year-old second baseman with a history of injuries.

He could be used as a bridge to Schoop next season.

3) Will the team rework the bullpen?

Besides Johnson, the rest of the bullpen hasn’t been stellar this season. Darren O’Day, who’s been sidelined with that mysterious numbing in his fingers, may be back this week, and has a contract for next year.

O’Day and Hunter are sure to be back, but Johnson, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton and T.J. McFarland may not be.

McFarland will probably work as a starter in Triple-A. He did a creditable job for a Rule 5 pick, but could be of use next season as a player who can ride the Norfolk shuttle.

Matusz would like to start, and he won’t be starting with the Orioles. Patton hasn’t been as effective this season.

As for Francisco Rodriguez, it’s highly unlikely that he would replace Johnson as closer—even with 304 saves. Showalter has shown no interest in pitching him to close games. K-Rod will look for a better deal elsewhere.

4) Has Danny Valencia guaranteed himself a place for 2014?

Valencia has had four stints with the Orioles, and in his 15 games, he’s batting .455. He has at least two hits in nine of those games.

He doesn’t really have a position, but perhaps the Orioles could try him in left field to maximize his value for next season.

Valencia bats .378 against left-handers and .195 versus right-handers. He could be next year’s DH against lefties.

Michael Morse has been a disappointment since joining the Orioles. He’s hittless in his last 19 at-bats, and is just 3-for-24. Valencia has clearly outplayed him.

At one of his recent pregame briefings, Showalter mentioned Nolan Reimold who underwent another neck surgery and said how well his recovery was going.

Perhaps the Orioles will bring Reimold to spring training on a minor league deal as another possibility for a DH or backup outfielder role.

5) Do the Orioles have a backup catcher for next year?

On Sept. 1, the Orioles jettisoned Taylor Teagarden and added Chris Snyder and Steve Clevenger.

Clevenger intrigues the Orioles because he’s a left-handed hitter. He and the veteran Snyder have each gotten a start since they arrived, but the Orioles wouldn’t mind having another local player on the roster.

Snyder played creditably when Teagarden was hurt earlier this year, but Clevenger is five years younger.

Clevenger would happily play 30 games a year as Matt Wieters’ backup.