No. 16 Orioles: Limited offseason moves mean a Baltimore regression could be in store

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Baltimore Orioles.

MLB Springboards: No. 30 Astros | No. 29 Marlins | No. 28 Mets | No. 27 Rockies | No. 26 Twins | No. 25 Pirates | No. 24 Indians | No. 23 Mariners | No. 22 Padres | No. 21 Cubs | No. 20 Brewers | No. 19 Red Sox | No. 18 White Sox | No. 17 Royals

2012 record: 93-69
Finish: Second place, AL East
2012 final payroll: $89 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $92 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 16th
Hashtags: #mynameisbuckandimheretowin #wilsooooooooon #dukeofbawlmer #sheeeeeeeeeee #onlyonewirereference #emasculation #polkhigh #mannybeingmanny #costcosized #cheapowners

OFFSEASON ACTION

After two months of near inaction – unless re-signing a fourth outfielder qualifies as action, in which case you ought best return to that Mahjong game – finally the Baltimore Orioles signed somebody. Two somebodies, actually. On the same day. To six-year contracts.

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Adam Jones looks on during the O's loss to the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS. (AP)

Neither of them can play, of course, and so locking up general manager Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter through 2018 didn't make quite the splash of signing, say, Josh Hamilton. Or pretty much anyone. Leave it to the Orioles, coming off their most successful season in 15 years, to spend their winter not using the newfound goodwill to recruit free agents or lavish their own players. Not with Peter Angelos, the owner who despises free agency, in charge.

Still, the lack of anything from Baltimore this offseason – not just a free-agent signing but a trade of significance – is rather surprising considering the Orioles enter 2013 with holes. There is the gaping one at second base, which they hope waiver claim Alexi Casilla can fill. And there is left field, where the helter-skelter Nolan Reimold roams. The Orioles don't have a designated hitter, either, not unless they want Wilson Betemit in the lineup daily, which they don't.

[Also: Cincinnati awarded 2015 MLB All-Star game]

Most odd is that Duquette has yet to offload one of his 11 starting pitchers. Really, he has that many. Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton, with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman coming fast and Tsuyoshi Wada on the way back from Tommy John surgery. There is something to be said for depth, and one GM believes Duquette is biding his time for a team to get desperate before spring training begins or for the first significant injury. It's a reasonable theory; Baltimore didn't acquire Hammel until Feb. 6 last season.

Certainly part of the inactivity comes down to money. The Orioles are barely spending more this season than they did to end last year. Could be they're saving money for an inevitable Matt Wieters extension, though with Brian Roberts due off the books after this year and Nick Markakis after 2014, they'll have plenty of that. Limiting a team due for a regression this season to signing Nate McLouth, claiming Casilla, trading for Trayvon Robinson, Danny Valencia and Yamaico Navarro, and bringing in Travis Ishikawa and Daniel Schlereth on minor league deals is bad business, and any frustration from Baltimore fans is warranted.

REALITY CHECK

Few teams start from a better place than this: Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado. Jones is 27, Wieters 26, Machado 20. Jones and Wieters play vital up-the-middle roles, and Machado should once the Orioles remind themselves shortstop J.J. Hardy made outs nearly 72 percent of his plate appearances last season.

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Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette celebrate after a playoff win. (AP)

Two stars plus a gonna-be star, and Nick Markakis and Chris Davis, and all that starting pitching, and a bullpen that helped the Orioles get to 75 wins without a defeat when leading after seven innings – that is quite the core. And they find themselves on the cusp of the top half of teams in the game not because of that core but that with which the core must contend: namely, Toronto, New York, Tampa Bay and even Boston.

For years, the caterwauls from Baltimore sounded: Geography just isn't fair. The teams in the middle of the country get to play against year-after-year garbage, and the Orioles not only were stuck in the division of the two richest franchises in the game but the best-run team, too. And yet last year showed: With a pinch of luck – OK, maybe more like a metric ton of it – the impossible was made very possible.

The word luck attached itself to the Orioles last year, and they blanched at it with good reason. Whatever and however it happened, they won those 93 games. Even if they did so with a better record in one-run games than any team in history, Showalter inserted himself into so many of those, and the relievers did their jobs with aplomb. The talk about luck wasn't as much about last year as this year.

[Also: Kansas City Royals finally decide it's time to win]

As in: Repeating some of the outliers from last season simply isn't going to happen, so the Orioles need another dimension to prevent slippage. A full season of Machado certainly helps. So does getting Markakis back from a season-ending injury. Toward the end of last year, Chris Tillman resembled the highly ranked prospect he once was, Jason Hammel is in a contract year, and Zach Britton, so good two years ago, says he's recovered from a shoulder injury.

With Dylan Bundy a future ace and Kevin Gausman not far behind, the Orioles' pitching should keep them competitive for a while. The same, of course, was said about the Brian Matusz/Jake Arrieta/Tillman/Britton quartet that was supposed to sustain Baltimore well into this decade. Baltimore learned the hard way: pitching prospects do bomb out, and in spectacular fashion.

So it's on that offensive core and the home runs the Orioles serve in Costco-sized helpings. It sustained them last year. It broke them in the division series, too. And they don't seem too inclined to change it, or anything for that matter.

SAVIOR

With Jerry Dipoto's ongoing emasculation of Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter takes over as the manager with the most say in personnel decisions. His handling of an injury-ravaged team with Duquette last season was simply genius. Almost always they would make the right move at the right time, and while Showalter did not need any more reason to think highly of himself, know what? He deserves it. With so many paint-by-numbers managers, Showalter thinks, strategizes, and plays games out in his head. This may be good for only a win or two a year, but in a division like the AL East, every game counts, and Buck may be just as likely to deliver it as Adam Jones or Matt Wieters or Manny Machado.

HAIKU

The cool wind's whisper
Turns into a mighty roar
Chris Davis. Swing. Miss.

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