With the sudden loss of three major pieces from a team that won the Orioles' first division title in 17 years and advanced to the American League Championship Series, manager Buck Showalter realizes he has work to do to duplicate this past season's success.
In rebounding from the departures of outfielders Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz and left-hander Andrew Miller in free agency, Showalter said Tuesday that recreating a strong morale will be his biggest challenge in 2015.
"I don't know about working harder, but I think that's probably one of my biggest challenges between now and the time we open up," Showalter said. "Not selling, but making sure our players have the same morale.
"What comes first though? Is it winning games? Or is it having that, because there's nothing that takes morale out of a team like not playing good baseball and losing a lot of games. ...There's such a fine line. We saw it last year. Such a fine line between success and failure, and we've got some work to do."
Markakis was the team's longest-tenured player, having played his entire nine-year career in Baltimore. Cruz was the team's best offensive player, receiving Most Valuable Oriole honors as he led the major leagues with 40 home runs. And Miller, a trade deadline acquisition, was a huge factor down the stretch and in the playoffs.
All three will be difficult to replace in their own way, Showalter said.
"Each one is different," Showalter said. "I'm not saying there's going to be somebody from within to replace Nick. That's going to be hard to do.
"But they all leave a certain void we have to fill, and that's what we're supposed to be able to do. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. It's a very competitive situation. We'd like to have them, but I try not to dwell on it. It's easy to."
Around the horn
While executive vice president Dan Duquette reiterated Tuesday that he doesn't see anything imminent on the trade front, it's no secret that the Orioles would be willing to listen to offers for left-hander Brian Matusz. …Showalter said he has three or four strong candidates to fill the team's hitting coach vacancy. "We're getting closer," he said. "We're sifting through some, making sure we're taking everybody into consideration. Like I said before, we're not going to get caught into some false deadline, so when it happens, it happens. We're going to get a good one. We're taking a lot of input from our coaches, our other five coaches, a little bit from everybody." ... Showalter said he is optimistic that both third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters will be recovered from season-ending surgeries at the beginning of the 2015 season.