Just as they began the offseason, the Orioles sit in the first week of January with few holes to fill and most of last year's playoff team returning. But for a team that brings most of its core back in 2017, the Orioles can very much be considered a team in limbo as far as its identity goes.
Will the 2017 Orioles continue to be like the franchise's recent teams, reliant on power? Or will it bring a group to Sarasota, Fla., that adds a renewed commitment to improving its on-base potential, adding speed on the basepaths and being sound defensively across every position?
There are still 5 ½ weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 13, so there's still plenty of time for the Orioles to go either way. First baseman Chris Davis didn't agree to terms on his club-record seven-year, $161-million deal last offseason until Jan. 16. And in years past, we've seen the Orioles add pivotal pieces well into spring training.
After leading the majors with 253 homers last season, the Orioles lost 38.3 percent of their power production (97 homers) this offseason through free agency. Most of that came from outfielder/designated hitter Mark Trumbo, who led the majors with 47 homers, and the Orioles remain interested in bringing the slugger back.
The Orioles replaced catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 17 homers last season, with Welington Castillo, who hit 14 homers last season with Arizona and was the best hitting catcher available besides Wieters.
There's reason to believe that Trumbo's market will lead him back to Baltimore. There aren't a multitude of alternate landing spots, although Colorado could be a fit because he could play first base and Oakland reportedly entered the fray with interest this week. But Trumbo enjoyed the best season of his career in his one season with the Orioles and seemed to find comfort in after playing with his fourth organization.
Still, the Orioles don't want to repeat last year's experiment of putting Trumbo in right field. That he will mostly be a designated hitter -- as well as team relinquishing the opportunity to gain a compensation draft pick if Trumbo goes elsewhere – will weigh in the team's decision on how much they ultimately want to commit to keep Trumbo.
Another alternative would be retaining Pedro Alvarez, who hit 22 homers in a mostly platoon DH role, especially if he can be utilized defensively in some way. In an effort to raise his stock, Alvarez is experimenting with playing the outfield, and the Orioles considered giving him a look there last spring and late in the regular season, but nothing materialized.
The Orioles could use Alvarez's left-handed bat, and some in the organization believe he showed enough against left-handed pitching last season that he could be used in a more regular role. But bringing back Trumbo and Alvarez likely won't work, as was seen late last season when Alvarez lost at bats as Trumbo moved into the DH spot more often. Manager Buck Showalter's bench flexibility would be hindered, especially if the team keeps rookie first baseman Trey Mancini as a right-handed DH. That would clog the team's bench with players who have limited defensive capabilities.
Despite adding on-base skills with left fielder Hyun Soo Kim and adding a spark from trade acquisition Michael Bourn for the regular season's final month, the Orioles still were in the bottom third of the American League in on-base percentage (.317). Besides Kim and Bourn, just two Orioles starters had on-base percentages over .330 (Manny Machado's .343 and Chris Davis' .332).
Free-agent bats like Brandon Moss and Chris Carter – the Orioles appear to be more interested in the previous than the latter – also provide power that can compensate for lost home-run potential, but offer little in terms of getting better with on-base capability or defense.
Rajai Davis, who led the AL in stolen bases, was on the Orioles' short list of outfield targets, but he signed a one-year, $6-million deal with the Oakland Athletics.
The remaining group of players who could help the Orioles balance their roster all represent a significant leap of faith in one way or another. The club loves what outfielder Angel Pagan could potentially do -- give the team a switch-hitting bat who is a proven table-setter and a capable corner outfielder. But Pagan will be 36 in July, and he's been on the DL at least once in each of the past four years.
Outfielder Chris Coghlan experienced a career resurgence when he was traded to the Cubs in June, posting a .391 on-base percentage in 48 games, but he was horrendous in Oakland before the trade. Outfielder Coco Crisp is coming off a .231/.302/.397 season now entering his age 37 season.
And even a reunion with Bourn, who posted a .283/.358/.435 line in 24 games with the Orioles following his acquisition on Aug. 31, has its questions. Bourn was rejuvenated by joining a contender in a season in which he played for four different organizations, but there is question whether his numbers would play over the long haul at age 34. Regardless, he gave the Orioles better outfield defense and speed they didn't have.
So in order to improve on their weaknesses, the Orioles would need to take a bit of a risk. Otherwise, they will go with what's familiar, stockpile power-hitting bats and ride out 2017 much like the past five years, which have included three trips to the playoffs, but glaring holes that have kept the ultimate goal – a World Series title – out of reach.