Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette laid out the obvious for both fans and the media at the team's annual FanFest event ahead of the 2018 season, indicating Saturday that the only thing standing between where the club is now and a successful year is rebuilding the starting rotation.
'"The key will be addressing the starting pitching," he said. "If we can do that, and I'm confident that we can — don't ask me how exactly. But if we can do that, I think we can have another good season.
"Obviously, we have work to do to address some of the deficiencies on our ballclub. We're going to continue to build our pitching staff, notably the starting pitching. Even though [Zach] Britton will be out for a period of time, I still like the strength of our bullpen. I like our infield — really talented group of infielders we have — and I like our outfield, some of the young guys that emerged last year, notably [Trey] Mancini and [Austin] Hays. They should be able to help us. We've got a couple young guys on the horizon to in DJ Stewart and Cedric Mullins who could help us internally."
The Orioles enter the 2018 season — and report to spring training in less than three weeks — with just Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman returning to their rotation. Free-agent plays for the likes of Mike Fiers and Miles Mikolas fell short, and while there's still a robust pitching market available, the team is for the time being looking at the likes of Miguel Castro, Mike Wright, Alec Asher and Gabriel Ynoa to fill out the rotation.
"There are some pitchers available, and I'm confident we will be able to sign some pitchers between now and when we open," Duquette said. "We'll take our shot. The American League East didn't get any easier. The Yankees have a lot of things going in their direction. They reset. They went with some younger ballplayers and the younger ballplayers they added to their club strengthened their team. The Red Sox have been tough the last couple of years. They've been able to win the division. We've got our work cut out for us, but we've been up for the challenge. ... If we can add and build our starting rotation, we should have another good ballclub."
Despite being so deep into the offseason, Duquette said he still anticipates being able to sign pitchers as late as March 1 without it impacting preparations for the season.
"Well, I think the season starts in April," Duquette said. "And they're going to need three or four weeks to get ready. It'd be important to get somebody signed up three or four weeks from the start of the season. If you work back from what, the 29th of March? I think kind of March 1 as the day we'd be looking at. We've got a little more time, but it's getting to that time of year where you need to add to your team."
That's all made for some curiosity among the players who are on the roster as to who is on the roster come Opening Day.
Bundy, asked whether he and Gausman were wondering who would be in the rotation with them, said the answer was obvious.
"Yeah, definitely," Bundy said. "We have no idea. Definitely looking forward to it, but we've got some guys who have been there before and started games for us, and we know they're going to be there in spring training competing and me and Kevin will be competing. It should be a fun spring training."
"I think it'd be nice with 10 days to go if we knew who the five starters are going to be, or guys who have a chance to be starters," reliever Brad Brach said. "But the bullpen, we really have no choice in that. Buck makes the call in the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth. It doesn't matter who's out there. But I think as a team, it'd be nicer to know. Not necessarily as a bullpen. But I guess they know what they're doing. They'll figure it out. We've got to have five guys when the season starts, and there's guys more than capable of doing it in the minor leagues. There's plenty of guys out there now because the offseason, there's nothing going on. We'll be all right once the season starts."