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 do the Orioles do with the right side of the infield?
Left field is a bit undecided, but the real questions are on the right side of the dirt.
Second baseman Brian Roberts (hip surgery) is heading into the final season of his four-year extension. He's played in just 115 games in those three seasons. And although Duquette said Saturday that Roberts was still in the plans, realistically, that's just being respectful of a veteran.
The Orioles can¿t go into the offseason counting on Roberts' return. That leaves Robert Andino and Ryan Flaherty, and perhaps Steve Tolleson, at second base. None is an offensive force, and Andino is by far the best defensively, but he's viewed more as a super-sub.
If the Orioles want an easy upgrade offensively, second base would be the place. The free agent market at the position, though, is awfully thin. Jeff Keppinger and Kelly Johnson are the best options at second, and neither is particularly inspiring.
First base is the real head-scratcher. Mark Reynolds excelled defensively once he moved there from third base. And Reynolds led the team in walks and had a respectable -- for the Orioles anyway -- .335 on-base percentage, while dramatically cutting down his strikeouts. But he still batted .221, and his homers also dropped precipitously, from 37 in 2011 to 23 in 2012.
He made $7.5 million in 2012 and has an $11 million team option (with a $500,000 buyout) for 2013. If the Orioles understandably decline that option, Reynolds would still be under team control because he has a year of arbitration remaining. But players who hit 20-plus homers and play good defense do not get paycuts in arbitration, so he likely would be awarded roughly $9 million, which again seems excessive.
The Orioles could buy out his option, non-tender him a contract and hope to re-negotiate a more sensible deal. Frankly, Reynolds is a great fit for this clubhouse: a tough, no-excuses grinder that doesn't stop working.
If he is non-tendered a contract, though, Reynolds becomes an unrestricted free agent and would gain attention in a weak first-base class. The Orioles have some internal alternatives including Chris Davis and Wilson Betemit. But neither showed the defensive prowess of Reynolds at first this year.