A weekly series on where things stand in the AL East.
JUPITER, Fla. — All that Orioles general manager Dan Duquette will say when it comes to Jason Garcia’s chances of sticking in the Baltimore bullpen is, “He’s in the mix.”
The Rule 5 draftee was left unprotected by the Red Sox last year, selected by the Astros with the fourth pick, then flipped to the Orioles, who had worked out a predraft deal fearing Garcia would be taken early.
Garcia, who wasn’t protected simply because the Sox didn’t have enough 40-man roster spots, may wind up being a big piece in the Orioles bullpen if they can keep him. If not, they must place him on waivers, and if a team then claims him, it must keep him on the 25-man roster all season.
If nobody claims him, the Orioles have to offer him back to the Red Sox. The Astros are out of it unless they claim him.
With his 97-plus fastball, Garcia might have looked good in the Boston bullpen, and there’s still a chance that he winds up back with the Red Sox. One scout thinks Garcia needs work on secondary pitches, as all young relievers do, but his primo pitch, his fastball, has been pretty unhittable.
Garcia, 22, has never pitched above Single A, which is one reason the Red Sox probably thought no one would take him. He also had Tommy John surgery in May 2013, and returned about 11 months later.
Garcia is a converted starter, and his velocity elevates from about 95 m.p.h. as a starter to 97-100 when he comes out of the bullpen.
The Orioles have a pretty full bullpen, and Ubaldo Jimenez may have to take a spot there, too. It would help if they moved Brian Matusz to a team needing a lefthander starter. While Matusz has been an effective reliever, the Orioles have stretched him out to improve his value.
The Orioles would hate to lose Garcia.
Another former Red Sox player, Ryan Lavarnway, seems to have the edge over Steve Clevenger, J.P. Arencibia, and Brian Ward as Baltimore’s backup catcher. With Matt Wieters to start the season on the disabled list, that makes Caleb Joseph the starter.
Do the Orioles want the backup to provide offense or defense? That’s what Duquette and Buck Showalter are trying to decide.
TORONTO: The Blue Jays should have Edwin Encarnacion returning from back issues this week; he hasn’t played since March 8. Encarnacion, who hit 34 homers and knocked in 98 runs last season, is expected to DH a lot and play some first base.
The Jays are trying to deal catcher Dioner Navarro before camp ends. He and Welington Castillo of the Cubs are two top catchers trying to be moved by their teams.
The Diamondbacks appear to be one team in need of a front-line catcher. The Rays are going with Rene Rivera and could use an upgrade, but it’s doubtful they would make a move that adds payroll.
Navarro earns $5 million this season and will likely have to be kept on Toronto’s 25-man roster if he isn’t dealt. He hit .274 with 12 homers and 69 RBIs last season but lost his job when the Jays signed Russell Martin.
Second base remains a big issue for the Jays. Veteran Maicer Izturis would have had the edge, but he has missed time with a groin injury. So manager John Gibbons is keeping an open mind about Ryan Goins, offseason trade acquisition Devon Travis, and Steve Tolleson.
If you base it on spring training, you’d go with Travis, who is hitting .400 (16 for 40) with six doubles.
TAMPA BAY: The pleasant surprise in a camp besieged with injuries is righty Nathan Karns, who was originally expected to compete for the No. 5 job. With Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly going down, Karns now projects as the third starter, at least for the first month of the season.
The Rays don’t have the pitching depth they used to have, the farm system not spitting out the talent.
Karns was one of Washington’s excess pitchers. With the Nationals’ all-world staff, there was no room for the 27-year-old. Right now, Karns is slated to pitch behind Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi in the rotation.
Tampa Bay will eventually get Cobb, Smyly, and Matt Moore back in mid-June. It’s a question of how much the Rays can hang in until then.
Also on the comeback trail is lefty Jake McGee, who should be the closer upon his return. McGee is currently in the bullpen phase of his comeback from offseason elbow surgery (not Tommy John).
And yes, David DeJesus is still trade bait.
NEW YORK: It’s looking more and more as though Masahiro Tanaka will be the Opening Day starter over CC Sabathia. Tanaka has been healthy throughout camp and is throwing the way he did before being injured last June.
Tanaka opted not to have Tommy John surgery, but rather rehab the injury with rest. So far he’s held up. He is just one of the “good news” scenarios for the rotation, as Sabathia and Michael “Pinetar” Pineda have also held up well after injury-filled seasons.
Jacoby Ellsbury’s strained oblique appears to be healing well, and Opening Day is a real possibility for the former Red Sox catalyst.
The Yankees medical staff did a pretty good job getting players back up to snuff. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran have all come back to good health. Beltran hasn’t shown his best side offensively, but there’s no worry about that yet.
BOSTON: Robbie Ross Jr. has thrust himself back into the bullpen mix after a slow start and a knee injury. Reading the tea leaves, it appears that John Farrell will go with two lefties, and Craig Breslow is one of them.
Tommy Layne has pitched well enough to be the second, but after they traded Anthony Ranaudo for Ross, you’d guess the Sox would give him every chance, even if he does have minor league options.
A lot of this depends on whether Koji Uehara starts the season on the disabled list.
If he does, then you’re looking at sure things in Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Alexi Ogando, Anthony Varvaro, and Breslow. That leaves two spots among Ross, Layne, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, and Steven Wright.
Wright also could be in the mix for fifth starter if Joe Kelly isn’t quite ready because of his recent biceps soreness.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.