During spring training, Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought his coaches together and offered them a meticulous list of hypothetical situations, asking for solutions for overcoming possible losses of some of the team's most important players.
"Sometimes I'd get some looks," Showalter said. "But this is a part of who we are."
In Showalter's mind, nothing in baseball is guaranteed, especially over the course of a 162-game regular season. Injuries and other unforeseen situations happen, so in the back of your head, you have to be prepared for a cavalcade of "what ifs?"
Under Showalter's leadership, the Orioles enjoyed their most successful season in 17 years, winning their first American League East division title since 1997 with a 96-win regular season. And the Orioles accomplished that despite season-ending injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado, as well as a September suspension to first baseman Chris Davis.
Even though Showalter isn't comfortable with taking credit for his role in the Orioles' success, he is the favorite to win the third Baseball Writers' Association of America AL Manager of the Year award in his 16-year managerial career.
Showalter won the award, which will be announced Tuesday at 6 p.m. on MLB Network, after leading the New York Yankees to a 70-43 record in the 1994 strike-shortened season and then again 10 years later after overseeing an 18-win improvement with the 2004 Texas Rangers.
Another 10 years later, Showalter can win again, this time with the Orioles. He was a finalist in 2012, but the Oakland Athletics' Bob Melvin won the award that year.
"He's very deserving," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "I don't know what the voting criteria is, but if Buck doesn't fit that, then I think there's something wrong with the process. … The way he carries himself is the way we go about our business.
"We present ourselves as a prepared team, and we feed off our leader, Show. So, I think he's very deserving. If he doesn't get it, I'm sure he doesn't care. I'll hit him up, saying I know he deserves it, that's what I told him at the end of the year."
Showalter, 58, can become just the second manager in the award's history — it began in 1983 — to win with three different clubs. Tony La Russa won as manager of the Chicago White Sox (1983), the Athletics (1989, 1992) and the St. Louis Cardinals (2002).
Showalter can also join an exclusive club of managers who have won the award at least three times, a list that includes Hall of Famers La Russa (four times) and Bobby Cox (four), as well as Jim Leyland (three), Lou Piniella (three) and Dusty Baker (three).
"You realize how much it's a product of so many people's work and there are so many things that have to come together," Showalter said. "And that's why the morale of the organization is so good.
"Everybody knows how important their job is, whether it's a scout, whether it's player development. You see the product of their work on the field."
Despite the franchise's recent resurgence under Showalter, no one picked the Orioles to win the AL East this season. But while other teams in the division were hit with injuries, the Orioles overcame them to take control in the second half of the season.
"It's about being a sum of the parts," Showalter said. "You have to have the right people who don't have an ego about it. It's having guys like [J.J.] Hardy and Jones. You really establish something throughout the year where you know the game is going to move on without you, me, them. It doesn't stop. I think this year was kind of a product of that.
"Our guys, they would have loved to had Manny, they would have loved to had Chris. You'd like to have Wieters. There's an old expression that I try to adhere to: 'Harmony is not the absence of problems. It's just the ability to deal with them.'"
Despite missing key players, Showalter never let doubt creep into the Orioles clubhouse.
"He was the guy at the front of everything," said reliever Tommy Hunter, who was pulled from the closer's role in May after some early struggles and went on to have a successful season. "He was the guy who led the charge. It's fun playing for him, and he deserves it. I think there's a lot of things that go into a baseball team that people don't think about. … We go out there and play ball. It's easy to play [for him].
"You know what you're doing each day, and you know that people have your back. And Buck is one of those people who you know he has your back. It's fun to play for a guy like that."
And that goes to Showalter's core. He is a master motivator, he knows his players well and puts them in situations to succeed, and that all comes from his preparedness.
It began in spring training, where Showalter was criticized for sending lineups full of reserves on the road. But there was a purpose to evaluate those players. And Showalter never missed an opportunity to evaluate. As he always does, he made sure he attended both games of split-squad doubleheaders no matter how far apart they were.
"Those games and those innings and those evaluation tools are very precious," Showalter said. "You don't realize how many times you reach back for that stuff. … You're going to step on your tail. But you want that to be a strength. Resiliency is a great word because the length of the season is going to challenge you.
"You think we're sitting here thinking we're not going to lose somebody next year? You don't want to walk into the clubhouse after a game and one guy isn't going to be there and have some feeling that there's no way you can reach your goal now. You can't have that."
With that, Showalter's team was able to overcome the losses to several key players this year.
Steve Pearce stepped in when Davis missed time with an oblique injury early in the season and again when Davis was suspended 25 games for a failed amphetamine test.
Utility player Ryan Flaherty held his own at third base in Machado's absence, and rookie Caleb Joseph and trade acquisition Nick Hundley platooned to replace Wieters behind the plate.
"That's why we're here," Showalter said. "This is a chance to shine and separate yourself. It may not look good on paper. I don't want to be the type of team that, if we lose this guy, we're done.
"You're gonna have some issues along the way, and it was wasn't like, 'OK, let's hold the fort down. Manny will be back or Matt will be back.' They weren't coming back. There was some closure on that and that was kind of good in a way. Some knight on a white horse isn't going to come riding in here. The knight is already here."
Showalter admits that there wasn't much of a margin of error in 2014. He often used the analogy of other big-market teams playing with hockey lines, saying the Orioles weren't a team that could buy or trade for an entirely new group of players when things went wrong.
And that faith — characterized by his now famous "I like our guys" line — paid off with a division title.
"There's an excuse around every corner, and it's tough," Showalter said. "There's always got to be a way to figure out how to do it. I've said all along you have to know who you are. That's why we grind the heck out of spring training and all those what ifs. … That's who we are.
"If our whole season hinges on one thing happening, and it doesn't happen, we're going to have a problem. We can't go change a hockey line and bring in a whole new infield. This is what we've got to grind through."
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