Mailbag: Smart to let Cabrera depart?

Mailbag: Smart to let Cabrera depart?

Why would the Orioles just non-tender Daniel Cabrera when they have nothing to replace him with? Outside of Jeremy Guthrie, he was their second-best pitcher last year, wasn't he?
-- Daniel B., Westminster, Md.

You'd have a hard time making the case that Cabrera was the second-best pitcher anywhere, let alone a big league rotation. The Orioles expected more from the right-handed starter last season, and the fact that he performed marginally better than struggling rookies such as Radhames Liz and Chris Waters wasn't enough to save his job.

And then there's the money. Baltimore wouldn't have been able to bring Cabrera back without offering him arbitration, and that process would've all but guaranteed him a raise off last season's wage. There's also the sense that Cabrera's teammates had tired of watching his act, necessitating a change of scenery.

With all of that said, you can still turn around and see Cabrera's logic. Yes, Baltimore is completely bereft of mid-rotation options, and yes, Cabrera provided innings and a somewhat dependable presence in the rotation. But the Orioles spent a lot of time waiting on his progress and didn't see enough to warrant one more year.

The O's attempted to trade Cabrera this winter, but couldn't get an offer they liked, and they decided instead to start patching their staff with unknown quantities. Now they'll have to deal with the oft-repeated assertion that he'll finally figure it out in someone else's uniform, and tellingly, they don't really seem to care.

Does Oscar Salazar have a chance of sticking with the team as a reserve infielder next year? Also, do you have any idea who management is looking at as a catcher to open the season?
-- Steven B., Silver Spring, Md.

Salazar, who is absolutely crushing the ball in the Venezuelan Winter League right now, definitely has a chance to walk out of Spring Training with a reserve role on the Orioles. Baltimore likes his ability to provide backup duty at multiple positions, but it's his bat that will will earn him a job above any other skill.

The veteran has gone a long way toward realizing his dream, playing professional ball in Italy of all places before returning stateside. Salazar made people take notice of him last year in Spring Training, and he hit the ball well enough last season at Triple-A Norfolk that he earned a September audition with the parent club.

The 30-year-old saw his brief time pay off last season, making his first big league appearance since 2002 and hitting five home runs down the stretch. Manager Dave Trembley certainly took notice of his performance, and Salazar will likely have an early leg up on competitors such as Scott Moore for an early-season roster slot.

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As for the catching position, that's going to take a little more work. The Orioles liked Matt Treanor, but their aspiration to sign him ended when he agreed to terms with Detroit. Veteran Gregg Zaun has been linked to Baltimore repeatedly, and both he and his agent have said they consider the Orioles strong contenders.

What's the future for Guillermo Quiroz?
-- William P., Arlington, Va.

Quiroz struggled last year during his first full campaign as a big league backstop, batting just .187 in 56 games and bringing his career batting average to .201 over parts of five seasons. The Orioles responded by taking him off the 40-man roster and outrighting him to Norfolk, and Quiroz accepted the assignment to stay with the team.

Now, he's in a strange position because of Baltimore's plans for the catching slot. The Orioles plan on promoting top prospect Matt Wieters sometime before the All-Star break, which means that their Opening Day starter will eventually morph into a backup and that their initial reserve will be in jeopardy of losing his roster slot.

More to the point, Quiroz could start the season as the backup if the Orioles are able to ink a veteran starter. Baltimore seems to have ruled out starting the year with Quiroz as the frontline catcher and may even sign two veterans this winter, potentially giving the team a full free-for-all once Grapefruit League play begins.

In short, the future for Quiroz looks a lot like the present. The former bonus baby and top prospect has run out of reputation, and now he's trying to prove he can do an adequate job as a backup. That's a tough niche to settle into, and an even tougher one to keep, so Quiroz could well wind up as a Triple-A insurance policy.

Where do you see prospect Justin Turner beginning the year following his acquisition from Cincinnati in the Ramon Hernandez-for-Ryan Freel trade?
-- Trevor Y., Lakewood, Calif.

Turner spoke with's Jonathan Mayo shortly after the trade, and he said that he's excited to switch organizations and hopeful that the move will result in a better career opportunity for him. Turner also said that he grew up with Moore and played college ball with Blake Davis, twin facts that should ease his transition.

Turner is going from an organization relatively thick in infield prospects to one that doesn't really have any, so he could move quickly. The youngster has logged playing time at three infield slots over the past two years and batted .278 with eight home runs in his first exposure to Double-A pitching, a level he might repeat in 2009.

And if he thrives, his path to the big leagues could be a pretty quick one. The Orioles have two veterans -- second baseman Brian Roberts and third baseman Melvin Mora -- going into the final year of their respective contracts, so it might make sense to try out Turner and see whether he might be an option as early as 2010.

"You see that more and more, guys playing all over the field," Turner told Mayo of his ability to play multiple spots. "It definitely helps your chances of staying up there as a utility guy. I'd like to stick at second base and be a second baseman, but if that doesn't work out, I'd be more than happy to be a utility guy and help out that way."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.