Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, who was also a general manager, had a theory of building a bench. It was never a good idea to keep a bench together for more than a year. Players chafe at their roles.
They also become more expensive as Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is finding out.
This month, the Orioles have acquired Alexi Casilla, Trayvon Robinson and Danny Valencia. Casilla may start at second base, but if Brian Roberts is healthy, could back him up. Robinson could be the fourth outfielder and Valencia could be third base insurance if Manny Machado is hurt, or he could be an occasional right-handed DH.
Valencia could also be in the minors because he has an option. Robinson doesn’t, and probably has an advantage in making the Orioles.
Since first base, left field and perhaps second base and left field are in question, guessing the composition of next season’s bench 10 weeks before the start of spring training may be foolish.
But, if the Orioles stay with 12 pitchers, which is most likely, that means that there are four spots to be decided, assuming that Chris Davis is at least the semi-regular designated hitter. If he’s not, then he’d be the first baseman and five spots are uncertain.
If Casilla starts at second and Roberts is unavailable, another utility player is a must. Casilla has never played more than 106 games in seven big league seasons. Robert Andino and Steve Tolleson are already gone. Omar Quintanilla will be after he’s not offered a contract by midnight.
Ryan Flaherty is off to the Dominican to play winter ball, but he won’t be on scholarship next season. He may start the season in Norfolk or on the Orioles’ bench.
Valencia plays no other position than third, so the Orioles need someone else who can play short if J.J. Hardy is hurt. Casilla has played some at shortstop and Flaherty can, too.
It’s likely the Orioles bring in one or two utility infielders with some major league experience in spring training to compete with Flaherty.
Wilson Betemit is already under contract for 2013, but his role is uncertain, too. They might like to deal him, preferably to a National League team that can use a pinch-hitter.
The switch-hitting Robinson might be a useful fourth outfielder, but right now they don’t have a certain third one. They’re hoping Nolan Reimold is healthy, and for now, bringing back Nate McLouth seems unlikely.
Lew Ford was re-signed to a minor league deal, and earlier this month, the Orioles signed Jason Pridie, also to a minor league deal. Both could compete with Robinson. So could Steve Pearce, who will probably be non-tendered along with Quintanilla. There would be more interest in bringing Pearce back than Quintanilla.
Xavier Avery and L.J. Hoes could compete for an outfield spot, but the Orioles probably don’t want either of them sitting on the bench.
Taylor Teagarden is a decent bet to return even if he’s non-tendered because the backup catcher market is thin, and Teagarden is willing to accept the limited role.
A bench of Teagarden, Flaherty, Robinson and Valencia? Where does Betemit fit in? Or does he?
It’s intriguing that for now, the Orioles’ bench looks nearly as settled as their regular lineup.
The reserve candidates are likely to increase once players from other teams are non-tendered. The Orioles may wait until late in the free agent season before they pick up another bench player or two. That’s what they did with Betemit and Endy Chavez.