It's barely 50 days until O's pitchers and catchers report, and already there are potential disappointments to the 2015 Os season: Matt Wieters may not be ready for opening day. While the Os have back-up defensive strength behind the plate, they're not so deep on the offensive side, esp after the departures of Cruz and Markakis. Then there's pitching, about which the Os didn't do a whole lot thus far. Of course, at this time last year, Nellie Cruz was still a free agent, so we'll see how the pitching rotation fulls out by opening day. I'm not sure that Buck wants to again wait for the staff to warm up during the first two months of the season, but that was a hallmark of the Weaver years—and those didn't turn out half bad. (Buck is a little more humane, though. There's a great story about one of the pitchers—I've forgotten who—limbering up in the outfield. This fellow had been throwing fastballs all the time. Maybe a curve (yes, that pitch is still thrown, but not like in days of the past (think of Sandy Koufax throwing a cutter? nope)) every now and again. So Buck goes out to the pitcher and asks, "Do you play golf?" "Yes, Buck, you know I do. I love golf." "And when you're playing, do you use only a driver?" "Of course not, Buck." "Just asking." And Buck goes back to the dugout. The next game, that pitcher threw more breaking pitches that in the season to that time cumulatively.)

But that's not to say that some changes would have been unwelcomed. Will the Os bullpen looks solid. If Gausman blossoms as a starter, a lot of problems start to disappear. Ditto with the Machado and Davis. Those are question marks, and the bench isn't quite as deep as last year. Or at least that characteristic isn't yet clear. Given that the Yanks may yet get a decent year from their starting rotation and Boston retains some punch, and all of the sudden, the AL East is competitive. The question of the day is what happens to James Shields. In an off-season in which Pittsburgh plucked a shortstop from the Korean League who looks like he maybe the power player to build a team around, that Shields—one of the most durable pitchers of recent seasons—is still available speaks volumes about the price of players and the expectations regarding length of contracts. Shields will land someplace, but exactly where isn't clear as yet.

So spring training will be interesting this year, as always, it seems. And we finally enter January, the last month of the year without any baseball (though if the MLB smells money in it, I'm sure the October classic would be moved wholesale into November and go right up until Thanksgiving—leaving only December and January with as baseball-free).

Of note today: It is Jerry Koosman's 72nd birthday. Koosman is one of my favorite players, not so much because he was such a standout (he had an OK career—222 wins, 3.33 ERA—not shabby, but he also had 209 losses) but because he had endurance. Koosman was the sort of pitcher you needed to throw lots of innings during a season. That he did—for 18 seasons. While everyone thinks of Tom Terrific Seaver when talking about the 1969 Mets (he of the 25 wins and Cy Young awardee status for that year), Koosman was right behind him with a 17-9 season. Koosman came out of the 1968 season looking pretty solid on the mound, so much so that he was beaten out by Johnny Bench by a single vote for rookie of the year (a 19-12 record with an ERA just above 2 will do that). He was a rookie all-star in 1968—not too common, esp for a pitcher. But Koosman did not stay with the Mets for his career, eventually playing for three other teams along the way. It was during his stay in Minnesota that I came to appreciate his talent—on display when the Os were hosting or during a televised encounter from Metropolitan Stadium (rivaling only Candlestick Park as atrocities for a game with such enduring icons as Ebbetts Field and Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Wrigley, and so on). Going to Metropolitan Stadium in April rivaled any evening game in San Francisco—on temperature, even if the ball was always visible during the game. And while Koosman played for those 18 seasons, he also displayed volatility in performance that is itself remarkable, going from a 20+ win season in 1976 to a 20 loss season (leading the majors in that ill-sought status) in 1977, followed by another 20 win season in 1979. Another notable season: 1984. 14 wins sounds pretty good for a 41 year old arm, and the 3.25 ERA was better than during that 1979 20-win season. That ERA was better than his career one, in fact. But the 15 losses suggested that the long career should close, and after 1985 (6-4 with an ERA over 4.5 (4.62, to be specific)—not good by anyone's definition), it did. (He would also lead in posting 13 losses in 1981 during that strike-shortened season. And that was after a 16-13 1980 season.)

Happy birthday, Jerry Koosman!


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