Why not all for Ripken?
Concerning Cal Ripken Jr.'s impressive 98-plus percent vote into the Hall of Fame, why didn't he receive 100 percent of the vote? Who could possibly not vote for Ripken's induction?
-- Glenn F., Fargo, N.D.
That's a fair question, but it's also an impossible one to answer. The Baseball Writers' Association of America -- of which I am not a member -- is the only group allowed to vote in Hall of Fame elections, and only writers with 10 years of experience are extended the privilege. Once they have seniority, they can vote for whomever they want.
That's the long answer. The short answer is that a vote against Ripken -- or Tony Gwynn, for that matter -- was long on symbolism and short on actual effect. It's been clear for some time that both Ripken and Gwynn would go in on the first ballot, and nobody in the history of Hall elections has won a unanimous polling of the electorate.
That's right. Not Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth. Not Ted Williams or Sandy Koufax. In that respect, it's easy to understand why Ripken wouldn't be the first, but it's also difficult to comprehend how Ruth or Cobb could inspire a single vote of dissent. Whatever the vote said, Ripken belongs in the same class of immortals -- that much is unanimous.
Are the Orioles pursuing any free agents to bolster their bullpen and starting rotation?
-- Ben L., Philadelphia
No, the Orioles finally appear to be done for the winter. The Rodrigo Lopez trade signaled the end of the line, and Baltimore will go into Spring Training without many positional battles to monitor. Barring injuries, the main source of contention should be the last spot or two in the bullpen and a three-man battle royale for the utility role.
Jon Knott will also get a long look in Spring Training as a potential platoon bat in left field and designated hitter, which would eliminate Baltimore's temptation to break camp with two utilitymen. Chris Gomez has the early edge on Brandon Fahey and Freddie Bynum, and Bynum's versatility will essentially be matched against Knott's power.
Five spots in the Baltimore bullpen are already accounted for, with closer Chris Ray and the team's four offseason acquisitions (Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford and Scott Williamson) holding down guaranteed roles. Veteran Todd Williams will vie for another spot, and youngster Hayden Penn will try to hold onto another.
Last year, the Orioles had positional battles in center field and a spring-long vacancy in left. This year, they have to make sure the talent of all their free-agent acquisitions mesh with the returning core. Baltimore will try to mix and match in left field next, switching up the lineup enough to keep both Jay Payton and Aubrey Huff happy.
Why just a one-year deal with Daniel Cabrera when he's considered a huge part of the O's future? Wouldn't have locking him into a three-year or four-year deal been a better move?
-- Phil, Manistique, Mich.
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Cabrera is one of the game's most volatile performers, and the Orioles are never sure what they'll get from him on a pitch-to-pitch basis, let alone start-to-start or year-to-year. As such, he's an extraordinarily hard player to try to sign before he reaches free agency. Until he matures, signing Cabrera to a one-year deal makes perfect sense.
Besides, he's not going anywhere. Cabrera is still under contractual control for the next few years, which means there's no reason for Baltimore to lock him up unless it can convince him to sign past his first shot at free agency. With the money being thrown around for league-average pitchers, that's an extraordinarily hard sell.
The Orioles have allocated a lot of time and money into Cabrera's development, and they're nearing the ultimate evaluation stage. At some point, they have to decide whether the odds of him ever succeeding outweigh the opportunity cost of giving him another job. As long as pitching coach Leo Mazzone's around, that point may never come.
Since Brian Roberts can finally focus on training and not rehabilitating his arm, do you believe he could return to that power burst he had in 2005?
-- James T., Rockville, Md.
It's certainly possible, but it may be even more likely that he'll never hit for that kind of pop again. Roberts was never a power hitter as he progressed through the organizational chain, and though he showed a knack for hitting doubles, he never slugged within 100 percentage points of his breakout season (.515) at any Minor League stop.
Even last year, as Roberts worked back from a catastrophic left elbow injury, he slugged just .410 -- and that was better than any other full-season stop in his professional career. Nine of his 10 homers came after the All-Star break, but he still slugged just .436 in those 70 games -- which isn't exactly an All-Star-caliber number.
Roberts, a switch-hitter, is a multi-skilled player even if the power never returns. He's a capable defender at one of the game's hardest positions and a strong baserunner -- both on the bases and stealing them. He's also a patient hitter with a good sense of the strike zone. He's just not a natural power hitter, but the O's don't need him to be.