Inbox: What's Uehara's role in 2010?
Orioles beat reporter Spencer Fordin fields fans' questions
Koji Uehara had a rough year injury-wise, but we have seen how well he does the first time around a lineup. Could he possibly be in line for a setup or closer job next year?
-- Will S., Alexandria, Va.
That is indeed the plan for Uehara, who developed hamstring and elbow ailments over the course of last season. The Orioles hope to convert the veteran back into a late-inning reliever, a role in which he enjoyed some success toward the end of his tenure in Japan. That, in turn, would allow Jim Johnson to work the eighth inning more often.
Uehara, at 35 years old, had trouble pitching every fifth day in his first Major League season and wound up missing the final three months of the season with an elbow condition that won't require surgery. The Orioles hope to take pressure off his aging legs and allow the right-hander to pitch short stints a couple times per week.
And there's a precedent for that strategy. Uehara pitched to a 1.74 ERA and 32 saves in 2007, his lone season in Japan's Central League spent exclusively as a reliever. Most big league teams viewed Uehara as a reliever last winter, and the Orioles were able to sign him largely because they agreed to let him work as a starter.
Now, the Orioles hope to acquire one veteran starter to help support Jeremy Guthrie and a quickly emerging group of young arms. Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman will all get long looks at a rotation job in Spring Training, and Uehara's best value to the Orioles appears to be as a dependable arm in the bullpen.
Is there any chance we could see Nolan Reimold give it a try at first base, potentially solving part of the power shortage in the infield and as freeing up time for Felix Pie and maybe Lou Montanez?
-- Dean S., Columbia, Md.
Sure, that could definitely happen on a limited basis, but I think it's far more likely you'll see Reimold and Pie continue a time-sharing arrangement in left field. Pie will also play center field on occasion and Reimold should see time at designated hitter, but the Orioles are fairly happy with letting them jockey for position in left.
Reimold, for a big guy, moves pretty well in left field. He played through a partially torn Achilles tendon for much of last season and should come to Spring Training with that issue completely behind him. Really, the only thing that would force Reimold to first base is a full-fledged breakout from Pie, a problem the Orioles would love to have.
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Incumbent DH Luke Scott helps further complicate the process, giving the Orioles a great little pocket of depth. If first base is filled internally next season, it will probably be by Ty Wigginton. Prospect Brandon Snyder is next on the depth chart, and he'll likely need another half-season of seasoning at Triple-A Norfolk.
What is your opinion on the Orioles' bringing back Dave Trembley?
-- Avi M., Owings Mills, Md.
Personally, I like it, and not just because Trembley is among the most press-friendly managers in the league. I think he's done pretty well with the young players under his charge over the past two seasons and deserves a chance to see it through to fruition. And more than that, I don't think you make a change just to make a change.
Trembley has proven to be an outstanding communicator in the clubhouse, going out of his way to tell players exactly what's expected of them and mapping out their playing time in advance to the best of his ability. His team is prepared, and his professorial approach has served him well among the team's assembly of youngsters.
Several Orioles were quite obviously learning on the job last season, a fact that makes it pretty difficult to evaluate a manager by wins and losses. Andy MacPhail, the team's president of baseball operations, made that clear when he opted to bring back Trembley and said that the front office expectations will shift in 2010.
So Trembley gets another chance, presumably with a team more prepared to compete in the toughest division in baseball. And if it doesn't work out, that's when the Orioles make their move to a more experienced manager, with a room full of players ready to move into their primes and to grow toward contention together.
What do you think the Orioles will do with Jason Berken and David Hernandez? We have so many arms in the Minors that have not yet been tested. What happens to them next year?
-- Pat R., Forest Hill, Md.
Both Hernandez and Berken will have a serious chance to stick with the team in a long relief role, but they could also be part of a multi-prospect package in trade talks. I think Hernandez may well have the makings of an excellent power reliever down the road, but his ability to start may make him more valuable as a trade chip.
Hernandez gave up 27 home runs in a little more than 100 innings last season, an indication that he may have been stretching a little bit too much in his role. The right-hander has led the league in strikeouts at almost every level of his development, though, and his stuff would probably play up a notch or two if used as a reliever.
Berken, meanwhile, got hit hard as a starter and seems to lag well behind Baltimore's other talented rookie arms. The rookie lost nine straight decisions at one point, but he did manage to close out the season with four wins in his final five decisions. Now, he'll likely take his two-seam fastball and compete for a prime spot on the relief staff.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.