Dan Duquette, Chris Davis among biggest questions facing Orioles at FanFest

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette participates in the short-season Single-A Aberdeen Ironbirds' Hot Stove dinner.

The Orioles' annual winter convention, FanFest, is supposed to be a celebration of the upcoming season, a chance to talk to players and staff before they head down to spring training.

Often, though, other storylines are thrust to center stage, elbowing out the promise — or potential frustration — of the nearing campaign.


This Saturday, Orioles fans are expected to flock to the Convention Center for autographs, photo opportunities and merchandise. But there will be several topics of conversation dominating the day. Here's a look at five questions to watch for Saturday:


Will Dan Duquette address the Blue Jay in the room?

Duquette, the Orioles' executive vice president since 2011, flirted with the possibility of leaving the club this winter to become president and CEO of the division rival Toronto Blue Jays. This week, Blue Jays ownership said it was keeping current CEO Paul Beeston through 2015.

That announcement came in part because sources said the Orioles and managing partner Peter Angelos had asked for a lofty compensation package in exchange for allowing Duquette out of his contract, which runs through 2018. And the Blue Jays weren't willing to give up heralded prospects.

Duquette has been mum about the issue for the past few weeks, finally addressing it during an interview Thursday at an affiliate-sponsored event in Aberdeen. He wouldn't talk specifics and didn't address his long-term future, but said: "I've been focused on helping the Orioles all winter. … From that perspective, it's, in effect, business as usual."

On Tuesday, he made a deal to acquire outfielder Travis Snider from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and that surely will be part of his defense that he indeed is committed to making the Orioles better this season.

Duquette is not expected to talk much more about his personal situation Saturday, but it will be brought up again by reporters and by fans, who get their annual shot at asking questions of one the club's top executives.

So what's the plan, Dan?

Even if there are no longer immediate concerns about Duquette's future with the organization, there has been a growing frustration in the fan base this winter over the Orioles' lack of moves — and, maybe worse, over the free-agent departure of three key members of last year's 96-win team: outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis and reliever Andrew Miller.

This is the first time in 17 years the Orioles head into a new year as defending American League East champions, yet the aura around Baltimore almost makes it seem as if the club has returned to its losing malaise.

Saturday will be an interesting experiment in public relations, with Duquette and manager Buck Showalter trying to convince fans they still "like our guys." The reality is that the Orioles have nearly the same pitching staff as in 2014, and healthy years from third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters could go a long way to replacing the offensive production they lost in the offseason.

Still, after the exit of their Most Valuable Oriole (Cruz), longest-tenured player (Markakis) and shutdown reliever (Miller), they haven't made any scale-tipping acquisitions.

It will be interesting to see whether that disgruntled faction is heard from Saturday, and whether tap shoes are needed on stage.


What will Chris Davis say?

If Chris Davis and his family don't send the Duquettes an annual Christmas card, they should start in 2015. Davis, who batted .196 last year and had his season cut short after a second failed test for amphetamines, still hasn't answered questions about the incident. His only public comments came in a a short statement at the time of his 25-game suspension and in an offseason interview with a local Christian radio station in which he spoke mostly in generalities.

Because of Duquette's situation and the team's lack of offseason moves, however, Davis' presence at FanFest might not generate the most buzz. But it is newsworthy nonetheless. After the club's season-ending loss to the Royals in the American League Championship Series at Kansas City, Davis left after telling reporters that he didn't want to discuss the failed test because he still had one game remaining on his suspension, which will be served on Opening Day.

But then Davis talked about it — briefly, anyway — in the radio interview. There are plenty of questions that remain. Why did he feel compelled to use the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drug Adderall knowing he didn't have a therapeutic-use exemption? Why does he think he lost that exemption when he came to the Orioles? What was the process of getting it back this offseason? Does he believe he let his team down? What have the past four months been like? What was it like not to be able to celebrate the division title with his team? You get the idea.

How will the outfield shake out?

This obviously will be a primary focus in the spring, but Showalter and Duquette might give more of a glimpse Saturday into the outfield alignment for 2015. Adam Jones will be in center field, and that's the only certainty.

Alejandro De Aza is the club's best bet at leadoff and likely will get the bulk of his starts at one outfield spot, probably in left. Snider says he's comfortable in left and right; he should get a chunk of time in right field, where Markakis was a fixture for nine seasons. Steve Pearce will be in the lineup most days but could be rotating among first base, designated hitter and the corner outfield spots.

Delmon Young's playing time should increase, mainly as the primary DH, but he could see some time in left field. David Lough likely will be the fourth or fifth outfielder, but if he hits well, given his strong defensive reputation, his playing time could increase. Duquette is sure to mention prospect Dariel Alvarez and new minor league signee Chris Parmelee as possibilities as well.

The exact delineation of duties might not be known until midway through the season, but the blueprint will be discussed some Saturday.

How healthy are the Orioles?

This is a traditional inquiry at FanFest, and it might be more crucial this year than in any other offseason in recent memory. The Orioles have just a few players returning from surgery, but two are paramount to the team's success: Machado (knee) and Wieters (elbow).

Both are continuing their rehabilitation and hope to be ready by Opening Day. Machado is further along and is confident he'll be fully ready this spring. Wieters is playing long toss and is cautiously optimistic that he's on schedule to return to his spot behind the plate at some point in April.

That's what they'll tell everyone Saturday, for sure. Reliever Ryan Webb also is coming back from surgery on his nonthrowing left shoulder. He expects to be fine for the opening of the season. One other good bet for Saturday: One Oriole will say he is in better shape now than he has been at any point throughout his career.


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