Brian Matusz was my favorite player to watch when he came up. What's your take on his role in 2012? Do you think he will develop into the stud young lefty Baltimore needs? -- Tim K., Baltimore
I wasn't on the beat when Matusz made his Major League debut, and I was hesitant to buy into the hype after watching him in 2010 and then struggle his way through '11. But I remember on one of the last road trips last year how Matusz would be out there early every day -- throwing, running and working with pitching coach Rick Adair. He stood in front of his locker and looked reporters in the eye in assessing what he called one of the toughest years in his life, not pointing fingers or trying to direct blame elsewhere, and that always stuck with me.
Matusz's attitude and outlook at this year's FanFest were similar, and manager Buck Showalter pointed out that he doesn't think anyone has worked harder since the last day of the season than Matusz, who is with special assistant Brady Anderson in California.
I do think Matusz is poised to bounce back, and I believed him last September when he said he would use this feeling as motivation, because he never wanted to feel like he did in 2011 again. It's still very early, but there's a lot to be encouraged about when it comes to Matusz, who is my preseason pick for the team's comeback candidate.
With the potential starters the Orioles brought in, are all of them available to spend time in Triple-A Norfolk, or are some of them MLB or bust? Also, is Jeremy Guthrie the favorite to start Opening Day? -- Steven M., Blacksburg, Va.
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Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has hinted strongly several times that the Orioles' wealth of pitching -- at least in numbers -- could lead to future trades. While they don't have a bunch of front-line arms, there's always one or two teams who get hit with injuries and need to plug a hole late in camp.
It doesn't mean the O's are going to trade away three or four pitchers and run into the same problem as last year in having no depth. But there are certain players -- Dana Eveland jumps to mind -- who are out of options and could be lost to waivers, making a trade more enticing.
Duquette has also said that the organization is open to slotting some of its extra starters in the bullpen, a move which would further competition there. As for Opening Day, I'd say it's safe to pencil in Guthrie, although the majority of the spots behind him are up for grabs. Who ends up in the rotation come Opening Day should be one of the dominant stories in camp.
Are the Orioles done making moves, or are they going to finally sign a big name instead of relatively unproven and unknown guys? -- Bill P., Baltimore
I think the ship has sailed on the Orioles adding a big name, although the possibility still exists that they might add a veteran bat -- similar to last year's late-spring signing of Vladimir Guerrero -- on a one-year deal. It wouldn't be Guerrero (who is still unsigned, but will not be coming back to Baltimore), but there are a few other intriguing players Duquette could take a flyer on. Johnny Damon is one, as is Raul Ibanez, if he's healthy. The O's have kicked around Casey Kotchman's name, as MASNSports.com first reported, and given the rate that they've added international players, that avenue can't be ruled out, either.
Duquette said recently he wanted to upgrade the bullpen, and the team could add another arm or two before camp. But any hope of a blockbuster trade or marquee move at this point is highly unlikely.
Do you think that the Orioles are holding off on signing Adam Jones to a long-term extension because they are still waiting to see if they can sign Yoenis Cespedes? And if they do sign Cespedes, do you think Duquette will pull the trigger on an Adam Jones trade? -- Trever H., Hamilton, N.J.
The answer to both your questions right now is no. The Orioles are interested in Cespedes, who at last count has about a half-dozen serious suitors, but the Jones situation isn't hinging on what happens there. If the O's acquired Cespedes, would it easier to part with Jones? Probably.
But there's been differing reports on how Cespedes projects, and there's no way of knowing how he will perform in the American League East until he's signed and playing. On the other hand, you know what you have in Jones, who is still only 26 and coming off a career year.
I've said this multiple times, but I'm of the belief that the Orioles need to see what they have in their arms before they can start extending players, because that's going to dictate where the organization is moving forward. Duquette seems to be putting a plan in place with a strong foundation of scouting and player development, and if this current crop of young arms isn't the answer, it's hard to justify locking up Jones when he could net you a significant haul in return.
Duquette has said players like Jones and Matt Wieters are part of the future, and in a perfect world, I think the O's would like to have Jones manning center field for years to come. But with Jones' arbitration case unsettled, it's looking like any extension talk at this point is on hold.