A lot of the questions that Buck Showalter was asked at Monday’s 45-minute news conference concerned issues that likely won’t be settled for months. While this season has pretty much come down to whether the Orioles have a really bad season or a historically bad one, there are still several questions that will be answered over the coming days. Here are four:
1. How will his presence affect performance of players?
It became evident in early April that the Orioles are a deeply flawed team, and a new manager doesn’t change that. But Showalter’s presence in the dugout and the knowledge that he will evaluate the players over the final two months will certainly turn up the heat. Just being around the clubhouse over the weekend, it’s clear that the players realize things are going to change, and many of them know that they are essentially playing for their roles next year. That should always be the case, but the idea has certainly intensified with the arrival of the more-demanding Showalter, who probably won’t be as patient as his predecessors were and who will have much more of a say on the composition of his roster. The Orioles who wilt over the final two months probably won’t be around next season.
2. Will he make an immediate example of somebody?
Showalter’s reputation as a no-nonsense guy who insists on his teams being prepared and playing the game the right way is well documented, and in doing his homework on the Orioles, he has undoubtedly heard plenty about the Orioles lacking effort and energy at times. So what will he do if Julio Lugo jogs to first base or Adam Jones casually plays a single into a double or Felix Pie gets picked off at first base in back-to-back games? Does he immediately pull them from the game and send the message early that such things won’t be tolerated? Or does he wait and see whether such things become habitual? I can’t wait to find out the answer.
3. What will he do with the young pitchers?
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has already said the rotation will go one more turn intact so Showalter, who has been watching many of the Orioles' games, can do a little more evaluating. None of the young pitchers is performing well, so he doesn’t have a whole lot of options. Brad Bergesen had a good last start, but that was the exception, not the norm. Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta are walking too many people and not getting deep into the game. The top two young arms at Triple-A Norfolk – Zach Britton and Chris Tillman – also have strung together a couple of rocky outings recently. So the Orioles’ choices are to keep sending them out there to take their lumps or drop them to Triple-A and send a message that they have to perform to stay in the majors. It’s irrelevant at this point who replaces them because getting these kids right for the future has to be the priority.
4. Who will he use as the closer?
Alfredo Simon has converted 15 of 18 save chances, but most team officials don’t view him as the long-term answer at closer. The Orioles paid Michael Gonzalez $12 million over two years to be that guy, but he blew two of his first three save chances and then went on the disabled list for three months. Since coming off the DL, Gonzalez has allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings. His velocity is getting very close to being back to normal, and his slider has gotten better. Showalter is going to have to decide whether to plug Gonzalez back in to the role or continue to let him work off rust in setup situations. I’d have to think they’d want to see whether Gonzalez could get the job done in the ninth inning again before they head into the offseason.