FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With Opening Day coming on Monday, the American League East is yet again shaping up to be one of -- if not the most -- daunting divisions. The Orioles' late spring additions of Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz put them back in contention, and MLB.com sat down with O's Hall of Famer and MASN broadcaster Mike Bordick -- who also serves as an instructor -- to preview the upcoming season:
MLB.com: What do you think of the Orioles' winter and how does it place them entering the season in your book?
Mike Bordick: The offseason was a little slow. I think [executive vice president of baseball operations] Dan Duquette and [manager] Buck [Showalter] were sticking with the same strategy, going out and getting free agents who had experience to create depth in the organization. But that last week, Jimenez and Cruz, I think, automatically made them contenders. They needed starting pitching. Jimenez has had great success in the past; they are hoping they can lock him in, maybe clean up his delivery a little bit, even though it seems like it's been consistent his whole career. But if pitching coach Dave Wallace can find one thing to make him more consistent, it's going to lock in the rest of that rotation. And Cruz, the track record he has is just incredible. So to stick him in the middle of the lineup just makes it better.
I think they are automatic contenders. Obviously there are a lot of things that have to go well. A lot of these guys they picked up are going to go away if they don't make the team. So that chips away at that depth a little bit. But there are still very capable guys if somebody goes down that can come up and help. The bottom line is it all hinges around pitching to take them to the promised land. But they are certainly going to be able to slug with anybody, I think.
MLB.com: When you look at that pitching, where does the Orioles' rotation stack up with the rest of the AL East?
Bordick: I'm excited about Chris Tillman. I think last year was huge for him. People have seen glimpses of what he's capable of doing. Last year kind of solidified everybody's thoughts. He really came into his own. And coming into this camp, he's really built off that, taken more of a leadership role. So I think we've got a nice lock there. He's a front-end starter and a guy you can say, 'OK, you have the ball Opening Day. Let's get the momentum going.'
And we talked about Jimenez, he had success last year down the stretch. It was unbelievable really, what he did in Cleveland. So you hope you have that as well.
Do we have the pitching to compete with the other top pitching teams in the East? I don't know. But I think there are guys like Miguel Gonzalez, [Wei-Yin] Chen that could really take that next step. They've been consistent, but being just a little bit better would help them.
I have faith in the starting five. The bullpen has been a strength of the Orioles the last couple years. The loss of Jim Johnson could potentially be tough. He was a horse. Sure, he blew some saves last year, but you could count on him every night. He's got more than 100 saves in two years. And I don't want to think about the past, but just kind of filling that void is going to be something to keep an eye on. There are capable arms if Tommy Hunter for some reason falters or he got used too much, there are other arms that have had success in the past that I think Buck would slide into that slot.
I like the way the bullpen is shaping up. You got strong arms coming out of there throwing 97 [mph]. Zach Britton has looked great. There are a lot of arms that have looked great this spring that have somewhat of track records being a little inconsistent. I hope they can find their niche, like Brian Matusz against lefties.
MLB.com: One of the bigger questions this year is Ryan Flaherty, with Showalter saying he will know what they have in him this year. Is Flaherty an everyday big leaguer?
Bordick: I believe he is. But I think his value as a super utility player is way underrated. He can play every infield position well and he can play outfield, too. Is Buck willing to bite the bullet and say, 'You are our everyday second baseman?' I don't know, and it makes it a little bit different now with Manny Machado not making the Opening Day roster. It adds another infielder and it adds versatile infielders. Flaherty can play them all, [Jonathan] Schoop can play them all. So it gives Buck a little bit to work with. So that can delay the everyday-type player that Flaherty can possibly be.
But I have great confidence in him. He works hard. I think, looking at his numbers, when he gets at-bats he produces. He has power and can be a real impact hitter, and I think that's exciting.
MLB.com: So how do you see this AL East shaking out?
Bordick: It seems like Tampa is always going to be there with their pitching. The Red Sox [were] obviously world champs last year. And the Yankees, if they are not doing well, they will go out and find a way. They will get somebody. They have great veteran players. The issue is do they have the depth? I don't know if they're concerned about that because they can go out and buy somebody to help. I don't know what's going to happen; there's always going to be that real competitive American League East.
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.