(But mostly just opinions); springtime brings it out in us
By Christopher Heun
The best part of spring training is that the losses don’t really count while the wins, on the other hand, give everyone a reason to indulge their powers of positive thinking. There’s plenty of time to sit around and get your hopes up.
Why else would pitchers like Sidney Ponson and Steve Trachsel still be allowed to take the mound for a major league team? Only in spring training would anyone still think either of them has something left in the tank. As Opening Day draws near, the future of those two pitchers, and a couple other possible Orioles roster moves, fill us with wonder. Wonder being a polite way of saying "total confusion and disappointment."
1. Our biggest question: who will last longer in the major leagues this season, Trachsel or Ponson? Trachsel, signed by the Orioles to replace the injured Kris Benson, will likely fare this season about as well as Sir Sidney circa 2004-05. Sometime in June, Hayden Penn (or possibly Jeremy Guthrie?) will take his spot in the rotation.
Unfortunately, Trachsel looks like he’s the latest in what’s becoming a long line of National League pitchers (Mike DeJean in 2004, Steve Reed in 2005, Jim Brower in 2006) who sign with the O’s and immediately start tossing batting practice.
Meanwhile, Ponson -- who is trying to hook on this spring with the Twins, his fourth organization in the last 19 months -- could be wearing a Devil Rays uniform by the All-Star break. Or better yet, the pitching-starved Nationals may give him a shot.
That DC scenario would be particularly ironic, given Ponson’s comments last weekend when he brushed off the Baltimore media – but not before firing off a zinger within earshot of Sun reporters that “Baltimore fans have no clue what baseball is all about.”
By now, pretty much anything anyone could possibly say (good or bad) about Sidney has been said; he’s at the end of the road and probably deserving of some sympathy, if only he could keep his mouth shut long enough to listen to his few remaining supporters.
Nevertheless, in the middle of his dig at Baltimore he managed to squeeze in this odd observation: "The old Baltimore fans over on 33rd Street [Memorial Stadium], that's true baseball fans."
Say it again, Sidney! Forget for a moment the divine truth of his statement, or how much he sounds like some guy, late at night, at the end of a bar in Pigtown. How would Sid know about the crowds on 33rd Street? He was just 14 years old on Oct.6, 1991, when the Orioles played their last game at Memorial Stadium.
You’ve got to give him credit for knowing a little Orioles history. But on the other hand, shouldn’t anybody who pays to see the Orioles these days be considered a true fan?
2. While we’re on the topic of roster moves, why is Kevin Millar still playing for the Orioles? Never mind the glut of mediocre first baseman/designated hitters on the roster; because they re-signed Millar before the Rule V draft, there was no room on the 40-man roster to protect Josh Phelps, who’d they’d signed to a minor league contract.
The result: the Yankees swiped Phelps and the Orioles were embarrassed by their mistake. You’d think they would have learned their lesson, since the very same situation occurred with Chris Gomez in December 2004. After signing him to a minor league deal but leaving him unprotected, the O’s had to buy Gomez back from the Phillies, who chose him in the Rule V draft.
True, Josh Phelps will not mean the difference between a winning and losing season, but given 400 at-bats he would show more pop than Millar.
3. How many members of the 2004 Atlanta Braves rotation can we dress in an Orioles uniform?
Fox Sport’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Blue Jays may release starter John Thomson (if they can’t trade him first) after signing him as a free agent over the winter. That the Jays would choose Josh Towers instead for their rotation doesn’t say much about Thomson, but he did have some success a few years ago in Atlanta with pitching coach Leo Mazzone.
So, Thomson might be worth a look if Trachsel falters and Penn isn’t ready. The Orioles tried Russ Ortiz last summer based on the same logic, and that worked out great, so why not try it again? When Jaret Wright was acquired over the winter, his previous success with Mazzone in Atlanta was cited as an extra reason why the deal made sense.
Interesting bonus fact about Rosenthal: Google Ken Rosenthal and what should appear as the #2 search result (just after his writer archive at Fox) is a link to “What are the Orioles Thinking?”an article he wrote last November after the guys in the Warehouse played Extreme Makeover: Home Edition with their bullpen. (Or was it a lost episode of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"?)
The Rosenthal verdict: “Over the next three years, it's possible that the Orioles would get comparable performance from less expensive relievers.” Yes, it’s possible – until you consider that those less expensive relievers would be the likes of Kurt Birkins, Sendy Rleal, and Jim Hoey, all of whom could probably benefit from more seasoning in the minors.
By the way, we’ve said our piece about Rosenthal before.