Orioles' bullpen battle adds a little drama to spring training

The Orioles arrived in Sarasota with plenty of intrigue, a starting lineup already pretty much set in stone and a rotation with perhaps just one opening. But Buck Showalter's bullpen is wide-open, which gives us an opportunity to do a little spring speculation.

Baltimore has several relievers with closing experience -- most notably Kevin Gregg, Michael Gonzalez and Koji Uehara -- and one more could be added to the mix if Alfredo Simon is released from prison in the Dominican Republic. Showalter won't be announcing his closer anytime soon, though.

"Everything [will be] according to the strengths of our players,'' the Orioles manager told our Peter Schmuck last week. "Everybody likes to have a clear-cut closer, but we'll see how it develops."

It should be an interesting three-way brouhaha between Gregg, Gonzalez and Uehara in Florida. I wish I was down there to cover it, and that's not just because I spent 20 minutes digging out my car this morning.

Gregg, signed this offseason, picked up 121 saves over the past four seasons, including 37 for the Blue Jays in 2010. It's worth nothing that he converted 16 of 17 save opportunities against the AL East last season, something that Showalter is probably well aware of.

Uehara had 13 saves in 15 chances during the Orioles' strong finish to 2010. "It's my goal to be assigned the closer's role for the entire year," he said last week. For that to happen, he must stay healthy for the entire year.

And then there's Gonzalez, who admitted last week that his 2010 season was "definitely a disaster." Signed to a two-year, $12 million deal before the season, Gonzalez blew two saves in the first week, which helped send the Orioles into a tailspin from which they never recovered. He then spent two and a half months on the disabled list with an injury to his throwing shoulder.

Gonzalez has converted 55 of 69 career save opportunities and boasts a 2.68 lifetime ERA.

ESPN's Jason Churchill thinks it is the Orioles' most notable battle. He wrote in this post that it's a three-way tie right now, but he thinks Gregg "will get the nod here because he could be a two- or three-year answer."

I think Gregg will end up being the closer, too. His recent track record is hard to overlook. Meanwhile, I can't see Uehara staying healthy and Gonzalez has always seemed more comfortable as a setup guy.

Of course, this is just speculation because a lot will determined once the Orioles start playing Grapefruit League games. But hey, at least we have one battle to speculate on between now and Opening Day, right?

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