It has been quite a journey for Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts for the past several seasons.
Roberts is the longest tenured member of the Orioles, having played his entire 12-year career with the organization; however, he has spent more time as a bystander than on the field.
Now the question for Orioles fans is this: can Roberts still be a productive player heading into the 2013 season, or is he no longer viable for the organization?
Roberts has been a fan favorite and one of the most recognizable faces of the franchise since he debuted with the Orioles in 2001. He has played in two all All-Star games (2005 and 2007) and was for a time considered of the best all-around second baseman in the game.
That success earned Roberts a four-year, $40 million contract extension in 2010. He is currently in the final year of the deal.
At the time, Roberts was a durable player, appearing in at least 138 games in a season since 2003 and fans had applauded the contract extension. In 2009, he had appeared in 159 games and batted .283 with 56 doubles, 30 stolen bases, 16 home runs, 79 RBIs and a 3.5 WAR.
Roberts was in his age-31 season, and most assumed that he would maintain his same level of performance for a couple seasons before his decline phase began.
Sadly, after he signed the extension, Roberts had an extremely hard time staying healthy and on the field.
Over the past three seasons, Roberts has only appeared in 115 games as he suffered through debilitating concussions and back problems. He also had surgery for a torn labrum in his hip that led him to be sidelined for the remainder of the 2012 season and this winter for a sports hernia.
When healthy, Roberts – perhaps even at his advanced age – is potentially one of the better and more patient hitters on the team, a stolen base threat and gets on base at a decent clip.
I cannot think of anyone on the roster who has his tools or that could fill his shoes.
According to various media reports from the Orioles spring training site in Sarasota, Fla., Roberts is participating in baseball workouts. Roberts recently told the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina, "I still feel like, barring anything else, I don't mean any disrespect to anyone, but I still feel like I'm our best option."
He added, "I still feel like I can provide a lot to this team."
Roberts has traditionally batted leadoff during his tenure with the Orioles; however, if he is not ready to go at the start of the 2013 season, outfielder Nick Markakis or Nate McLouth can fill that role.
The worst-case scenario this season is that Roberts is an expensive second baseman and can't stay healthy to play on the diamond.
If Roberts is unable to stay on the field, the Orioles may decide to keep him around, or let Ryan Flaherty and recently acquired Alexi Casilla take over the position.
Despite Roberts’ injury-marred history over the past several seasons, he could still be a productive part of the Baltimore Orioles in 2013.
At this point, he can only help and not hurt Baltimore’s chance for another successful season coming up.