Baltimore Orioles: Spring training preview 2016 season
The Baltimore Orioles re-signed big players such as first baseman Chris Davis, catcher Matt Wieters and right-hander Darren O'Day this winter. That keeps together a solid group that have won a lot of games under manager Buck Showalter the past four years.
The Orioles still have uncertainly in one area, a problem that proved costly last year and must be solved this season -- the starting rotation. That proved to be a strong point when the team ran away with the American League East in 2014, but was a big reason they slid to 81-81 last year.
The Orioles did not get enough good work out of the 2015 starters. No one proved dominant over the whole season. In fact, the story proved the same for most of the rotation. They were good for a while and bad for a while. That's not how to win a World Series.
No starter won more than 12 games, and the four returning starters (right-handers Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez) combined to go 36-40 last season. The consistency that carried them in 2014 could not be found.
The Orioles lost left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (Marlins) to free agency but have recently signed veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo (13-11, 3.42 with Texas last year).
Gallardo will probably be at the No. 1 or 2 spot in the rotation and give the team a veteran innings-eater they so desperately need.
"He's been a very dependable pitcher," Duquette said of Gallardo during a radio interview with WJZ-FM recently. "We've been trying to add to our pitching staff all winter. We're still working on it."
Another aspect to note is the rotation will not feature a left-handed starter and how much that could affect them.
Despite the pitching questions, bringing back that core group will prove crucial in several ways. The Orioles now have leaders such as O'Day, Wieters and Davis back in the clubhouse, something that Showalter was happy about.
"I think the most important thing is these guys wanted to be back," Showalter said. "They've done some things that makes them coveted by us. We'd like to think we're coveted by them, too. We're excited that they want to come back, but it's no prerequisite for success."
The other questions involve the corner outfield positions and a little at designated hitter. The acquisition of Mark Trumbo in the off-season will likely take care of the DH issue but he could also help in right field. Duquette signed Hyun Soo Kim, a 28-year old left-handed hitter, and he's likely going to be the starting left fielder.
As camp began, Duquette also was reportedly drawing close to a deal for free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler. If that comes to fruition, Fowler should be the right fielder. The corner positions were a nightmare for Showalter and the Orioles in 2015, and these moves would end those issues.
POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH: Right field is probably the position that's unsettled coming into the spring. Newly acquired IF/OF/DH Mark Trumbo could see time out there, although most expect him to spend the majority of his time at DH with OF Nolan Reimold and OF Dariel Alvarez in the mix. Reimold's a big plus on offense while Alvarez is the same on defense. All that could change if the Orioles close a deal with free-agent OF Dexter Fowler, with the job likely his at the start. Still, the others could be there to help.
ROOKIE WATCH: OF Hyun Soo Kim is a rookie but not the typical first-year player. He's 28 years old and inked a two-year $7 million deal this year after begin a star in the Korean Baseball Organization. How fast can he adjust to American baseball and life in the United States? If Kim can do it quickly, he'll fill a big hole from 2015 (left field), and give the Orioles more punch in their lineup. If he takes longer to fit in, it could cause the Orioles more trouble in the outfield for a second straight year. Also, it will be interesting to see how the Orioles use RHP Dylan Bundy. He's dealt with a lot of injuries and is out of options, so his story could be worth watching.
COMEBACK TRAIL: IF Paul Janish turned a few heads during his brief stint with the Orioles late last season, and the 33-year old's strong defensive skills could give him a shot. Janish hit .286 in 14 games but is the kind of player Showalter likes. IF Steve Tolleson also will get a look. He's been with the Orioles before and has the kind of versatility management wants.
--1B Chris Davis signed a long-term deal with the Orioles, something that surprised some in the baseball world but delighted the fans of Baltimore, many of whom thought he was gone. The team signed Davis to a reported seven-year, $161-million deal which gives them an anchor in the middle of their lineup for a long time. Last season, Davis rebounded after a slow start to finish with 47 homers and 117 RBIs. He also raised his average to .262 and despite the 208 strikeouts, came through in the second half of the season when the Baltimore offense often went quiet.
--2B Jonathan Schoop showed some flashes of his potential in 2014, playing every day and showing great defensive skills despite struggling at the plate. He started well in 2015 but a sprained knee sidelined him from April 17 to July 5. Schoop continued doing well upon his return, finishing the season with 15 homers and 39 RBI over just 86 games. He also raised his batting average from 2015's mark of .209 to .279. Showalter always raves about his defensive ability, especially how Schoop can turn a double play, and he's only going to get better -- good news for the fans at Oriole Park.
--SS J.J. Hardy feels better this season, and that should help the Orioles do the same. Hardy, an outstanding defensive shortstop, battled shoulder injury issues throughout and decided not to have surgery -- it was his non-throwing shoulder -- and build it up over the winter. Hardy said he's now ready to go. Back problems in 2014 and these shoulder issues really hurt his offensive output the last two years. Hardy hit a career low of .219 in 114 games last season with only eight homers.
The back issues limited him to nine homers the year before after Hardy averaged almost 26 in his first three seasons in Baltimore. Regaining his old form would give the Orioles even more punch in an already solid lineup.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You manage players and human beings. We've got some new people, new personalities here that we're going to have to get our arms around and adjust some to them, too." --Orioles manager Buck Showalter, regarding the fact that the team has some new players this season.