Vlad, Reynolds, Lee to fuel bolstered lineup

Vlad, Reynolds, Lee to fuel bolstered lineup

Vlad, Reynolds, Lee to fuel bolstered lineup
BALTIMORE -- There is a certain buzz radiating out of Baltimore, a momentum that has some of its longest-tenured players using words like "anxiously excited" and "awesome" in watching the offseason the Orioles brass has been able to put together.

The O's missed on their top free-agent target -- new Tiger Victor Martinez -- but there's no question the 2011 team that will start to filter into Sarasota, Fla., next week is a vastly improved, highly anticipated club.

Seeking to build on the goodwill established under new manager Buck Showalter, who guided the team to a 34-23 record, the revamped O's are hoping to stop a streak of 13 consecutive losing seasons.

They'll do it with a decidedly different starting lineup, and one that features Vladimir Guerrero, a late-winter signing that capped an unusually active Hot Stove season. The O's flurry of moves started at December's Winter Meetings, when president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail pulled the trigger on a pair of trades that netted shortstop J.J. Hardy, utility player Brendan Harris and third baseman Mark Reynolds. Luring free-agent veteran Derrek Lee to Baltimore solidified the total turnaround of the infield, with second baseman Brian Roberts the lone returnee.

The moves give the Orioles a deep, power-heavy lineup and will also make the competition between Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold -- who are presumably fighting over one spot with Guerrero's arrival -- an interesting camp battle.

Of course, in the tough American League East, it begins and ends with pitching and the O's success in 2011 and beyond hinges on the continued maturation of young arms like Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and prospect Zach Britton.

The signing of oft-injured starter Justin Duchscherer to an incentive-laden deal should help foster competition and keep at least two of those arms ready and waiting in Triple-A. When healthy, Duchscherer has proven he can be effective, averaging more than six innings a start, and the thought is his presence will add depth and help Jeremy Guthrie shoulder the load.

MacPhail also signed free-agent reliever Kevin Gregg to a two-year deal with a vesting option for 2013 and re-signed Koji Uehara. While Uehara is the incumbent closer, he has trouble staying healthy and having Gregg gives Showalter options and could make the bullpen battles one of spring's most interesting story lines. Well-liked infielder Cesar Izturis is also back and will help serve as infield insurance as the team's utility player.

The Orioles' upgrades aren't just on the roster. The team will report this spring to a newly renovated Ed Smith Stadium complex that will finally put the Minor League and Major League operations in the same spot. A stickler for effort and fundamentals, Showalter and his new staff -- a group that includes Willie Randolph, John Russell, Wayne Kirby, Mark Connor, Jim Presley and Rick Adair -- will look to put their stamp on this year's Spring Training right away.

"I don't want to set limitations on it," Showalter said, when asked about his expectations for the 2011 squad. "We just want to do things right and play the game with effort and see where it takes us."

Pitchers and catchers report

Spring Training
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Spring Training schedule

February 14 (first workout).

Full squad reports

February 21

First Spring Training game

Orioles at Pirates (ss) Feb. 28, 1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Orioles at Rays, April 1, 7:10 p.m. ET

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who will win the fifth-starter job?
Assuming everyone stays healthy, the top four spots seem reserved for Guthrie, Duchscherer, Matusz and Bergesen. Tillman and Arrieta will battle it out for a fifth spot, although the presence of top prospect Britton will make the competition interesting.

There's also an outside shot the club takes a chance on Rick VandenHurk, who is out of options this spring, although it's more likely he will be used in a middle relief role. Still, Showalter likes competition and beyond Guthrie, the likely Opening Day starter, no one is assured a spot in the O's rotation. They'll have to earn it.

2. How will Showalter dole out the closer's role?
For the second straight year, the Orioles have gone out and signed a closer-type to a two-year deal, giving the bullpen some depth. With Gregg on board and Uehara re-signed, things could get interesting, especially if Michael Gonzalez -- signed to be the closer last winter -- can stay healthy.

Uehara -- who is also injury-prone -- enters camp as the closer, but Gregg saw plenty of ninth-inning action in Toronto. Showalter could go with a closer by committee approach, but Gregg signed with Baltimore for this opportunity and he'll try to state his case this spring. Gonzalez and Jim Johnson will also figure into the team's plan for the later innings.

3. Will Brian Roberts be able to stay healthy and productive?
Those who questioned Roberts' importance saw firsthand how badly the team struggled without him. One of the game's premier leadoff hitters, Roberts missed three-quarters of the season with a back injury and closed 2010 sidelined with concussion-type symptoms.

The good news is Roberts has been working out in Sarasota with no reported problems and said at the team's recent FanFest that he expects to be a full-go in camp. However, it's impossible to tell how the 33-year-old will hold up throughout a full 162-game grind. The Orioles, who look to be a much deeper team in 2011, need a healthy Roberts atop their lineup if they are going to rebound from last season's offensive woes.

2010 record

66-96, fifth place in the AL East

Projected batting order

1. 2B Brian Roberts:
 .278 BA, .354 OBP, .391 SLG, 4 HR, 15 RBI in 2010
2. RF Nick Markakis:
 .297 BA, .370 OBP, .436, SLG, 12 HR, 60 RBI in 2010
3. 1B Derrek Lee:
 .260 BA, .347 OBP, .428 SLG, 19 HR, 80 RBI in 2010
4. DH Vladimir Guerrero:
 .300 BA, .345 OBP, .496 SLG, 29 HR, 115 RBI in 2010
5. LF Luke Scott:
 .284 BA, .368 OBP, .535 SLG, 27 HR, 72 RBI in 2010
6. 3B Mark Reynolds:
 .198 BA, .320 OBP, .433 SLG, 32 HR, 85 RBI in 2010
7. CF Adam Jones:
 .284 BA, .325 OBP, .442 SLG, 19 HR, 69 RBI in 2010
8. C Matt Wieters:
 .249 BA, .319 OBP, .377 SLG, 11 HR, 55 RBI in 2010
9. SS J.J. Hardy:
 .268 BA, .320 OBP, .394 SLG, 6 HR, 38 RBI in 2010

Projected rotation

1. Jeremy Guthrie, 11-14, 3.83 ERA in 2010
2. Justin Duchscherer,2-1 2.89 ERA in 2010
3. Brian Matusz,10-12, 4.30 ERA in 2010
4. Brad Bergesen, 8-12, 4.98 ERA in 2010

Projected bullpen

CL: Koji Uehara , 1-2, 2.86 ERA, 13 saves in 2010
CL: Kevin Gregg , 2-6, 3.51 ERA, 37 saves in 2010
LH setup man: Michael Gonzalez , 1-3, 4.01 ERA in 2010
RH setup man: Jim Johnson, 1-1, 3.42 ERA in 2010

The new guys

3B Mark Reynolds: Acquired in a trade this winter with Arizona, Reynolds is coming off a lousy season and the Orioles hope a deeper lineup will cut back on his high number of strikeouts.
SS J.J. Hardy: The O's also got Brendan Harris, who will compete for a backup utility spot, but Hardy was the centerpiece in December's trade with the Twins. He will provide more pop at the plate than his predecessor, Izturis.
1B Derrek Lee: Lee has made it no secret he has a "chip on his shoulder" and signed a one-year deal with Baltimore in hopes of proving his doubters wrong. Camden Yards should play well with his swing.
RHP Kevin Gregg: Signed to a two-year deal with an option for a third season, Gregg will compete with Uehara for the closer's role in one of the more interesting first-half story lines.
RHP Justin Duchscherer: Duchscherer -- inked to a low-risk, incentive-laden deal -- has only throw 28 innings the last two seasons, but could be a bargain if he stays healthy.
DH Vladimir Guerrero: Another veteran bat, Guerrero's presence improves the entire lineup and gives the O's a dangerous middle of the order. Playing on a one-year deal should also help keep him motivated.

Prospects to watch

LHP Zach Britton: The organization's Minor League pitcher of the year in 2010, Britton will be in big league camp this spring. While a long shot to crack the Opening Day rotation, the competitive lefty is expected to make his Major League debut at some point this season.
3B Josh Bell: A noticeably trimmer Bell is now blocked at third base by Reynolds, although the organization hasn't given up on him. Slated to start the season at Triple-A, he could become trade bait in the future if Reynolds has a big year.
1B Brandon Snyder: Snyder is in nearly the same position as Bell, although Lee is only signed to a one-year deal at first. Unlike Bell, Snyder hasn't seen much action at the Major League-level and he must prove this spring that he can contribute if he's going to factor into the future.
SS Manny Machado: The O's top pick in last year's Draft, Machado will start the season at Class A Delmarva. He won't be in Baltimore in 2011, but it's not out of the question to expect him in Major League Spring Training in '12. His progress this season will be monitored closely.

On the rebound

2B Brian Roberts: The spark that makes the O's offense go, Roberts was noticeably absent for three-quarters of the season.
RHP Jason Berken : A shoulder injury ended Berken's season early and the hope is he can return to 2010's first-half form, when he was one of the team's best relievers.
RHP Justin Duchscherer: A litany of injuries and clinical depression made "Duke" available as a low-risk option for the O's rotation. A former All-Star, Duchscherer needs to stay healthy to reestablish himself in the Majors.
OF Nolan Reimold: One of the biggest disappointments of 2010, Reimold had a rough season that was spent mostly at Triple-A. Expected to compete with Felix Pie for a spot on the team, Reimold has an option remaining and could start the season at Triple-A. Early indications are that he's finally ready to put Achilles surgery and his personal problems behind him.

Long gone

INF Ty Wigginton: The well-liked Wigginton, who the Orioles had some interest in retaining, signed a two-year deal with Colorado in December.
RHP Kevin Millwood: A free agent with limited options, the Orioles kicked around the idea of bringing back Millwood, but opted to take a chance on Duchscherer instead.
RHP David Hernandez: A young power arm, Hernandez was dealt to Arizona as the main piece in the trade that netted the O's Reynolds.
OF Corey Patterson: With a crowded outfield, Patterson opted to sign a Minor League deal with Toronto, with an invitation to Spring Training.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.