Could Roberts’ return be unlikeliest chapter of surprising season for Orioles?

May 22, 2012 | Luke Jones

After playing just 98 games over the last two seasons, Roberts shouldn’t be handed his old job automatically, but the many stating Andino should keep the starting job are overlooking the impact Roberts brings to the field as a leadoff hitter and at second base when healthy.

Andino has become a fan favorite with his heroics against the Boston Red Sox at the end of last season and the “Curse of the Andino” moniker created as a result, but we’re not talking about Lou Gehrig replacing Wally Pipp in this instance. The 28-year-old Andino is a solid second baseman, but to suggest his .681 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) automatically trumps a healthy Roberts (career .769 OPS) is a stretch — even after what has been essentially a two-year layoff for the veteran.

Realistically speaking, it’s unlikely that Roberts will be the same player he once was. Even putting aside the chronic concussion-related symptoms, middle infielders on the wrong side of 30 tend to deteriorate at a fairly moderate rate. But if Roberts is able to play at a level even remotely close to where he once was, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to play on a regular basis — even if that means replacing Andino in some instances.

Having two viable options at second base is a good problem for Showalter to have, not a conflict in which you draw a line in the sand. Given the Orioles’ uncertainty at third base and how the designated hitter spot hasn’t been nailed down by one player, there’s no reason to think the manager can’t find prominent roles for both Roberts and Andino if the situation present itself.

With his age and health concerns, Roberts could easily serve as the designated hitter at times while also playing his share of games at second base. This would allow Andino to continue to receive some starts at his current position while occasionally filling in at third to give the Orioles a strong defensive option at the hot corner.

Again, these scenarios still remain in question as we don’t know how Roberts will respond to his first live-game action in over a year. But it’s clear Roberts has his sights set on becoming the player he used to be.

“When it comes to winning my job back, whatever Buck wants me to do, I’ll do,” Roberts said. “I’d love for this team to be playing in October, and if I’m sitting on the bench then — I guess — so be it. I’d like to think he’s going to run me out there when I’m ready.”

Roberts still has plenty of work to do to get to that point and it’s still difficult for even his strongest supporters to believe it will actually happen, but what was once little more than an impossible dream appears more realistic than ever.

In a season full of surprises and unexpected success, Roberts’ return to the field might just be the unlikeliest chapter of all.

And one the Orioles would gladly embrace.