The high drama of the winter hasn’t yet begun. That’s the Brian Roberts quandary.
Will he play again? Will he play for the Orioles in 2014? If he doesn’t play second base, who will?
Four months ago, this question was laughable. Brian Roberts wasn’t going to be able to play the second half of the 2013 season without being hurt.
After three horrible years with two concussions, a back injury, hip surgery and another one for his hamstring, Roberts remarkably returned to the Orioles in late June. While he was hardly the Roberts of 2009, he played creditably.
In 77 games, Roberts batted .249 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs. He didn’t show much speed, stealing only three bases, but his power returned late in the season.
Five of Roberts’ eight homers came in the last three weeks of the season.
It’s clear that the health concerns are behind him, and two days from his 36th birthday, Roberts thirsts to play again.
He knows his days of long-term deals are over. With his four-year, $40 million deal ending, perhaps a one-year deal at $3 million and lots of incentives is possible.
Roberts will present a cheaper alternative to clubs than Robinson Cano. But, there are other good second baseman on the market. Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist has a $7 million option. Mark Ellis and Omar Infante are other good choices for clubs looking for a second baseman.
Zobrist’s Rays’ teammate, Kelly Johnson is also a free agent, but the Orioles showed no interest in him last winter.
If Roberts returns, it would be clear that he’s there as a bridge to Jonathan Schoop. Schoop played only at the tail end of the season after the Orioles were eliminated. He’s off to the Arizona Fall League for more work at second.
Schoop’s got power, and will turn 22 next week. The Orioles aren’t shy about allowing young position players to develop as they did with Manny Machado, who played with Schoop in several minor league stops.
They may feel Schoop’s ready. Or, they may think Roberts can help them next year.
Having both on the roster for the bulk of the season probably doesn’t work. Roberts can be an occasional designated hitter, but isn’t helpful elsewhere.
But, Ryan Flaherty is.
Flaherty played all four infield positions, and though he didn’t play the outfield in 2013, did the year before.
A favorite of manager Buck Showalter, Flaherty is staying in Baltimore for a few months to work out and get some hitting lessons from B.J. Surhoff.
Flaherty showed good power, hitting 10 home runs in 85 games, though he only hit .224. A Rule 5 pick in 2012, Flaherty was kept on the roster a year ago, and stayed with the Orioles except for a 10-day period in May when his bat was absent.
When Flaherty was sent down, he was hitting .133 and ended with a .224 average. His strikeout to walk ratio, which was about 7:1 in 2012 was closer to 3:1 this year.
He’s still inexpensive, and plays the field nicely.
Alexi Casilla, who was signed as insurance in case Roberts couldn’t play, won’t be brought back.
It’s hard, but not impossible to see the Orioles carrying Flaherty, Roberts and Schoop next year, but it seemed unlikely that the Orioles would keep Casilla, Flaherty and Roberts.
If Roberts or Flaherty were used as an occasional DH, the three second baseman could be kept around.
One industry source thinks that a possible landing spot for Roberts could be Tampa Bay, allowing Zobrist, if he’s kept to move around more. Or Roberts could be the regular if Zobrist left.
Roberts has homes in Baltimore and Sarasota, Fla. He’d love to stay with the Orioles, but the Rays, who don’t get into heavy-duty free agent competition, could be an alternative.
Last year, Nate McLouth got interest from Tampa Bay, but manager Buck Showalter helped convince McLouth to re-sign with the Orioles.
Even if the Orioles aren’t inclined to keep Roberts, having him play for the Rays might be hard to swallow for them.
In the season’s final days, Roberts said he hadn’t thought about other places he’d play, saying that he preferred Baltimore, but wanted to play next year, too.
Roberts remains popular. His years of charity work have earned him lots of goodwill, and for all the negative tweets about him from fans, there were thousands cheering for him when he came back against the Yankees on June 30.
“To be here as long as I have and go through so many ups and downs, you don’t really know sometimes if people are just tired of you. Or if they really want you out there still,” Roberts said.
The betting here is that Roberts will return in 2014.