by Jason Martinez
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BALTIMORE ORIOLES OFFSEASON PREVIEW
The Cinderella team of 2012 had their magical season ended with a ALDS defeat to the AL East champion Yankees but it's clear that manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette have the O's back on track after 14 consecutive losing seasons. With pitching depth to spare and a lineup filled with talent from top to bottom, the O's will be operating from a position of strength this offseason. Most teams need pitching and the O's appear to have plenty of it. Duquette didn't make any major acquisitions in his first offseason on the job and it doesn't appear he'll need to this offseason with a very talented team remaining intact. It doesn't mean he won't, though. He should have money to spend and trading chips to deal.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
A breakout season from Chris Davis and unexpected contributions from players such as Nate McLouth and rookie Manny Machado played a big part in the O's resurgence. Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters had strong seasons, as expected, and Mark Reynolds was a different player in the second half of the season, chipping in with terrific defense at first base and power in the middle of the lineup (7 HR in 1st half, 16 HR in 2nd half).
McLouth is a free agent, although there could be mutual interest in a return considering he was able to resurrect a career that was in free fall mode. Nolan Reimold was off to a great start, however, hitting .313 with 5 HR in his first 16 games before a season-ending neck injury. The O's could just stick with the 29 year-old as their starting left fielder. Re-signing McLouth or adding another outfielder via free agency could allow Duquette to use his surplus of outfielders (Reimold, Xavier Avery, L.J. Hoes) to make a trade this offseason.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy (.671 OPS) was one of the few lineup regulars to have a disappointing 2012 season. Machado is the shortstop of the future but the O's will have no problem keeping him at third base for now and hope Hardy, who is signed through 2014, can bounce back.
Second Baseman Brian Roberts has one more year and $10 million left on his contract and should be ready for Spring Training after hip surgery in August. That doesn't mean he won't have some other injury by the time the season starts. He hasn't been able to stay on the field since 2009 and they can't go into 2013 thinking that's going to change. The O's will need a back up plan unless they're comfortable with Robert Andino and/or Ryan Flaherty, both versatile players who didn't put up good numbers at the plate in 2012. Prospect Jonathan Schoop probably won't be ready to take over until 2014, at the earliest.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
The initial 25-man projection doesn't include former prospects Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz in the starting rotation, although both still have potential to be very good big league starters. That should tell you how far the O's have come in a short time. Both put up impressive numbers out of the bullpen - Arrieta gave up 10 ER in 13 IP but had 4 BB and 20 K; Matusz allowed 2 ER in 13.1 IP with 3 BB an 19 K - and it's certain that several teams have them on their radar as trade targets. Dylan Bundy, who is arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball and the Orioles' '#1 Starter of the Future', could also be in the mix for a rotation spot as soon as Opening Day.
Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton make up a very strong starting five. It shouldn't stop Duquette from trying to acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter this offseason, either via free agency or trade. Doing so could push the O's to the top of the division and into serious World Series contention.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
Led by closer Jim Johnson, who had been discussed as a potential rotation candidate last offseason, Troy Patton, Luis Ayala, and Rangers castoffs Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day, the O's bullpen was a strength for much of the season. Matusz and another former Rangers pitcher, Tommy Hunter, helped to solidify the group down the stretch as they locked up a playoff spot late in September.
It could be a very similar group in 2013, especially if the veteran Ayala has his $1 million club option exercised. The uncertainty of relievers' healthy and effectiveness on a year-to-year basis, however, could make acquiring a top setup man one of the team's priorities.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
1 #1 Starter
2 Setup Man
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS