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ORIOLES NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS

Buck Showalter on improving in 2014 and other notes

By Dan Connolly

The Baltimore Sun

6:00 AM EST, November 4, 2013

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Today is a deadline of sorts for the Orioles.

It’s the last day they can exclusively sign any of their own free agents. Beginning Tuesday, eligible free agents can agree to contracts with any club.

That means, on Tuesday, the Orioles could ink one of their own free agents or other available players from around the league. It rarely happens that quickly, of course. Most free agents don’t sign until early to mid-December.

The Orioles have another deadline today, but it is more of a formality than anything. They are expected to announce today that they have declined the $3 million option for 2014 for infielder Alexi Casilla. He’ll get a $200,000 buyout and become the Orioles’ ninth free agent -- a group that also includes pitchers Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, second baseman Brian Roberts and outfielder Nate McLouth.

The club’s needs this offseason are obvious: they have to improve on their starting pitching and ability to get on-base offensively. They have to find stability at second base, left field and designated hitter.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who spoke earlier this weekend with reporters, including The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck, said he’s well aware of the Orioles’ failure at getting on base. Showalter’s club was 19th in the major leagues with a .313 on-base percentage in 2013, 36 points behind the World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

Showalter said he’d like to add players who can get on base, but that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do.

“In a perfect world, if it’s there. The way I look at it, maybe try and improve what we have,” Showalter said. “There’re points of emphasis every spring. I look back at it in my notebook and I think we reached three of the five [points of emphasis] and I’d like to move all five.”

Showalter said if he had had better overall performances from his starting pitching -- the rotation ranked 27th of 30 major league teams with a 4.57 ERA -- perhaps the spotlight on the offense’s on-base percentage wouldn’t be so harsh. The offense, after all, tied for the fifth most runs scored in the majors.

“If our pitching was a lot better; I know where we ranked in starting pitching,” Showalter said. “When we figure that part out, I think the conversation about some of that [on-base criticism] will diminish. I’d be talking about it, too. It’s something we have to get better at, if we have to offset the pitching.”

What else does Showalter think the Orioles need to be better at in 2014?

“I’m not going to tell you all my points of emphasis right now, but one of them is we’ve got to do a better job of not having to have our closer come in the game. We had a lot of 6-2 games that we let get back to 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 and we had a lot of games where we were ahead, 5-3, and we had the bases loaded with one out and it should have gone to 7 or 8 and the closer shouldn’t have to come in,” Showalter said.

“I think that took away from some of Jimmy [Johnson]’s effectiveness because he had to come into so many games.  What did he appear in, three or four games that weren’t save situations all year? That’s some starting pitching, and that’s some us having to pass the load around so somebody doesn’t get hurt.”

So does Showalter want executive vice president Dan Duquette to go get him a couple starters and more bullpen help from the free agent market? And who would he want?

“I look at that list every day. Dan’s got a whole board,” Showalter said. “I’ve got a sheet in my car on the console. I look at it five times a day. It changes. It evolves. What’s the price going to be? You don’t know.”

Showalter added that, in an ideal world, you develop your own top starting pitching the way other successful clubs such as Boston and the St. Louis Cardinals have.

“Who are we? We have to get some guys to graduate like Chris Tillman,” Showalter said. “Where did [Boston’s Jon] Lester come from? Where did [Clay] Buchholz come from? I can keep going with the Cardinals. I can go right down the line with Tampa.”

On a side note, Showalter said he would expect a decision on the team’s bullpen coach to possibly come this week. Bill Castro and Scott McGregor, who both held the position in 2013, are in the mix, but new pitching coach Dave Wallace likely will have the ultimate say.

“That’s his call as much as anything,” Showalter said about Wallace. “As [former NFL coach Bill] Parcells says, if you want him to cook the meal, let him help pick the groceries.”