Five issues facing the Orioles heading into spring training

The Orioles have had less-than-stellar winters in the past. During the 2005-06 offseason, Miguel Tejada asked for a trade and Melvin Mora questioned the club's direction with the unforgettable line, "Who is going to pitch for us?" Then, between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, president Andy MacPhail stepped down and a protracted search for his replacement was ridiculed nationally before the club settled on Dan Duquette, who hinted before the winter meetings that he was prepared to make a splash. He walked away that week with just left-handed pitcher Dana Eveland and Rule 5 infielder Ryan Flaherty (who, to be fair, has developed into a starting infielder for the Orioles). But, even compared to those winters of discontent, this offseason qualifies as a doozy for the Orioles as pitchers and catchers officially report to Sarasota, Fla., for the start of spring training Thursday. A quality team with obvious holes and money to spend has not yet made a significant addition, while trading one All-Star closer, backing out of a contract with another All-Star closer and seemingly deciding not to pay the going rate for various available major leaguers. Perhaps this winter's foibles have struck fans more sharply than in the recent past because this club is widely considered talented enough to compete, but is lacking sufficient pitching to be a real force in the American League East. And there is a fear -- with free agency looming soon for several key players -- that the Orioles' window for competitiveness is closing. Much of that disappointment in the offseason, however, soon will be swept away -- initially, anyway -- with the focus shifting to the upcoming season. But there will be plenty of issues to watch and questions that need to be answered as the Orioles try to string together three consecutive winning full seasons for the first time since 1983 to 1985 -- the end of 18 straight winning campaigns that started in 1968. The club also finished above .500 from 1992 to 1994, but the third season was abbreviated due to the players' strike. Here's a look at the five most important questions -- not including whether the club will add anyone else in February or March -- facing the Orioles as spring training begins. -- Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
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