5 questions heading into the Orioles' offseason
The Orioles' participation in the 2012 playoffs wasn't just surprising; it was illuminating. It demonstrated how far the club had come this year and also what it needs to do to get back to the postseason -- and last longer -- in 2013.
No one -- at least no one whose paycheck doesn't have a bird on it -- could have predicted that these Orioles would win 93 regular season games and three more in the postseason.
But this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. And losing to the New York Yankees in five games in the American League Division Series highlighted the club's deficiencies as well as its strengths.
The Orioles need to become less one-dimensional offensively. And, like most teams, they lack an ace that will grab the ball in clutch situations and pitch deep into games, sparing the bullpen while frustrating the opposition.
So with that in mind, here are the club's five biggest questions heading into the offseason and our best attempt to answer them:
-- Dan Connolly
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What can the Orioles do to upgrade their offense?
If you live by the home run, you die by the home run. The Orioles hit the second most in baseball in 2012. They hit three -- all solo shots -- while scoring just 15 runs in six postseason games.
Those three homers were hit by unlikely sources: Leadoff man Nate McLouth, rookie Manny Machado and Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty. The main brutes in their lineup couldn't get it going and, by Game 5 of the ALDS, were swinging from their heels, trying to hit a bases-empty grand slam on each pitch.
It's pretty obvious this club needs more selectivity at the plate and better production with runners in scoring position. A high on-base percentage is a hallmark of a Dan Duquette club, and the 2012 team was among the worst in the AL. So that likely will be a focus in the offseason. But the Orioles aren't the only ones that covet OBP, and there aren't many free agents who could bring a big boost in that category.
The best, of course, is troubled slugger Josh Hamilton, who will be the biggest free agent fish. He has a lifetime OBP of .363, would be the perfect cleanup hitter for the Orioles and could man left field. But he¿ll be exceptionally expensive and comes with plenty of risk -- including an eye-focusing condition that led to a disastrous end of 2012.
It's more likely that Duquette will have to work his magic with "undervalued assets" to better the club's on-base and scoring possibilities.