SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette always has put a premium on defense, so no one should have been surprised when he played a little of it in his first media briefing of spring training.
Duquette and his team are getting little national respect after a relatively quiet offseason. But on the eve of the Orioles' first official workout at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, he was almost defiant in his evaluation of the club's 2015 outlook.
"The most powerful thing we've done for our team in the offseason is to get [Matt] Wieters and [Manny] Machado and [Chris] Davis back on it and get them healthy and playing ball," Duquette said. "And that's significant because you're talking about three everyday ballplayers who are good defenders.
"Wieters is a Gold Glover, Machado is a Gold Glover and Davis was second in the Gold Glove, and they can hit and they've got power. So, we're adding them to the ballclub."
We can get all semantic about that last sentence, but as justifications go, Duquette's defense is a fairly compelling one.
The Orioles will open spring training with essentially the same team that arrived here last year — minus Nick Markakis — and there is a case to be made that productive seasons from Machado and Wieters would offset the loss of Markakis and major league home run leader Nelson Cruz. If that's as far as you want to go.
Of course, that's not really an argument against looking for other ways to make substantial improvements in the aftermath of a very successful 2014 season, especially with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox moving decisively to close the talent gap with the defending American League East champion.
But Duquette was having none of that Thursday.
"The most powerful thing we could have done of any offseason move was getting those three guys back and getting them into our lineup," he said. "There's nothing else we could have done that would compare to those guys coming back and being healthy for our team."
Wieters is back from Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery and will not be cleared to throw in game action until mid-March. Machado will be under no restrictions when full-squad workouts begin next week. Davis, who missed most of September while serving his Adderall suspension, still must miss Opening Day, but he said at FanFest that he's ready to go after playing hurt for a lot of 2014.
If you assume that all three will come back to have representative seasons, the Orioles should field another power-packed offensive lineup and play great defense the way they have the past two seasons. But manager Buck Showalter does not like to get ahead of himself.
"Obviously, we played a good portion of our season without Manny and Matt," Showalter said. "Any time you get those back, it's encouraging. Chris, we played a lot of the season with. It's an encouraging thing for us on paper, but the season doesn't always play out on paper. You're always an injury away.
"It's no given that they are going to be healthy and ready to start the season. From all indications they are, but until they are on that 25-man roster, I'm not going to assume anything with them."
Though the Orioles are constantly called out for lacking a true No. 1 starter, they will open workouts for pitchers and catchers with solid depth in both the rotation and the bullpen. The bullpen will miss Andrew Miller — because who wouldn't? — but they still could face some tough decisions when it comes time to set the staff in early April.
The front office only can hope there's still a surplus at that point, since it would give Duquette the ability to make a deal if the need arises. He indicated Thursday that there may be a couple of minor league deals in the club's near future, but seemed satisfied with the current composition of the roster.
"This should be a good ballclub," Duquette said. "We're returning the core of the team. We've got some young guys coming back. We've got good leadership on the team. [Adam] Jonesy's back. We've got J.J. Hardy back. I like the left-handed hitters that we added. I think they're going to helpful."
In other words, what you see is what you get. And nobody is going to apologize for that.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.