Signed to a four-year, $40 million contract through 2013, Roberts has been a constant source of frustration and skepticism for Orioles fans over the last few seasons. It’s not because he hasn’t played well — it’s because he hasn’t played … period.
Injuries have been the story. A herniated disc, an abdominal strain, a long battle with concussion symptoms, hip surgery. Statistically, Roberts leads Major League Baseball in visits to WebMD.
From 2010 (when his lofty contract began) through 2012, the second baseman appeared in only 115 games — less than a 25 percent of all regular-season contests. For those of you bookkeeping at home, that means, technically, he earned around $260,000 per game played.
This spring, O’s fans hoped a healthy Roberts would fortify an already strong roster. Then, in April, just three games into the season, he suffered a severe hamstring injury while attempting to steal second.
I watched, almost in agony, as first base coach Wayne Kirby and trainer Richie Bancells carried him off the field. It was a sight all too familiar. Roberts hurt … again.
However, I’m not writing to bash Roberts for his maddening lack of durability. That story has been told and retold. I’m writing because late last month, after more than eight weeks on the disabled list, Roberts returned to action, and he’s been a steady presence in the lineup ever since.
That’s right. He’s back. And for all the aggravation Roberts has caused over the last three-plus seasons, there is still something so satisfying about seeing him on the field. Although he’s gotten off to a slow start since returning, Roberts is a solid defender. He’s a contact hitter. He can run. He can work the count and take walks. He can lay down a sacrifice bunt.
Roberts is like the pleasant second cousin you only see during the High Holidays. For the most part, he’s a nonexistent element of your life, but when he’s there, you appreciate your time together and wish it would last longer.
The most crushing part of Roberts’ injury saga is that he’s a career Oriole. He has paid his dues. Of the team’s infamous 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1998 to 2011, he was there for 11 of them. But when the O’s snapped that streak last year and made it to the playoffs, Roberts was forced to watch from the dugout. He may have been there physically, but if you hooked him up to a lie detector, I’d bet he would tell you that he didn’t really feel a part of the success.
That’s why I’m hoping, almost pleading, that he can stay healthy for the rest of the season and be involved in the team’s playoff push.
Roberts has not played a meaningful baseball game in August or September in his entire major league career. This could be his first chance. And, with his contract up at the end of the year, it very well could be his last opportunity to do it as an Oriole.
David Snyder is a JT staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org