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Since the Orioles haven't posted a winning record since the Clinton administration, it's easy for fans to dismiss and mock any preseason predictions about who will be named the top player on the team.

Still, there has been a Most Valuable Oriole selected at the end of every losing season over the past 14 years. And there will be one picked in 2012 whether the Orioles finish with over 100 wins, over 100 losses or somewhere in between.

Plus, let's face it, we're all itching for Opening Day to get here. As writers and fans, there's no better way for all of us to make the time pass than discussing our outlook on the season.

Last season, Adam Jones received the MVO distinction after batting .280 with 25 home runs and 83 RBIs. Second baseman Brian Roberts is a two-time recipient of the award, and right fielder Nick Markakis picked up the honor in 2007.

Who do you think will be the Most Valuable Oriole this year?

It is logical to pick Jones to improve on his 2011 numbers and join Roberts as current Orioles with multiple MVO selections, but I think a couple of other offensive players will stake their claim for the award in 2012.

My preseason favorite is shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was the runner-up in last year's voting after hitting a career-high 30 home runs in 129 games for the Orioles. The 29-year-old also played well defensively in 2011, leading American League shortstops in fielding percentage.

The Orioles rewarded Hardy with a three-year, $22.25 million contract extension in July of last season, bringing stability to the position and recognizing his success at the plate and in the field.

While he might not duplicate the power numbers from last year, Hardy should prove to be one of the most valuable players on the team -- offensively and defensively -- as long as he can stay healthy.

Speaking of power, Orioles infielder Mark Reynolds is another one of my front-runners for the honor.

Despite coming close to striking out 200 times for the fourth straight year -- he still led the American League with 196 -- Reynolds made a successful transition from the National League by hitting a team-leading 37 home runs.

If Reynolds can put up numbers similar to his 2009 totals with the Arizona Diamondbacks -- .260 batting average, 44 home runs and 102 RBIs -- then he'll be the Most Valuable Oriole in 2012.

Catcher Matt Wieters continued his development last season, finishing third in the voting for Most Valuable Oriole after establishing career highs in home runs (22), RBIs (68) and doubles (28).

The 25-year-old should be one of the primary catalysts of this year's team -- with the bat and behind the plate.

Could one of the Orioles' young pitchers finally turn the corner and prove worthy of the designation?

A pitcher hasn't won the award since Rodrigo Lopez in 2002. The right-hander emerged that season to go 15-9 with a 3.57 ERA in 33 games for the Orioles.

Lopez reached double-digits in wins two more times for the Orioles, going 14-9 in 2004 and 15-12 in 2005. He led the major leagues in losses in 2006 (18) before being traded to the Colorado Rockies before the 2007 season.

Since the starting rotation isn't set yet, it's hard to make a guess at which "young gun" has the best chance at breaking through in 2012.

Will Jake Arrieta bounce back from elbow surgery to take a leadership role within the rotation? Although he gave up four runs and five hits in 2 2/3 innings against the Pirates in Wednesday's loss, the 26-year-old right-hander seems to be recovering nicely so far this spring.

Keep in mind, however, that his ERA was a not-so-nice 5.05 in 22 starts last season -- despite 10 wins -- before he was shut down in August. That needs to improve if the Orioles are going to count on him this year and into the future.

Zach Britton appears to be on the right track to returning from left shoulder inflammation, and he showed signs of promise in 2011.

The 24-year-old left-hander was 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA in 28 starts during his rookie campaign, including five wins in his first six decisions.

What happened to Brian Matusz last year? The left-hander won't need to do much to improve on a 1-9 record and 10.69 ERA during an injury-marred season, but the Orioles are obviously hoping for Matusz to take charge as he did while climbing through the minors.

Like Arrieta's, Matusz's velocity seems to be back in spring training. Wieters says the 25-year-old is returning to his pre-2011 form, but will he make the Opening Day roster?

If he proves he's back to being the type of player I watched dominate the minor leagues in 2009, Matusz is my "super-secret dark horse" to win the Most Valuable Oriole honor in 2012.

But, for now, I'm going to stick with Hardy as my pick.

Let's get everyone on the record for their predictions before the season starts. We'll revisit this post in September/October and see which people are correct. If you're feeling extra adventurous, post the predicted statistics for the player you think will get the honor.

To view the Most Valuable Orioles from 2002 to 2011, click here.

Dean Jones Jr. is a community coordinator for The Baltimore Sun. He covered the Orioles' minor league system from 2008 to 2011. He can be reached at dean.jones@baltsun.com

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