Thousands of Orioles fans will converge on the Baltimore Convention Center on Saturday for the team’s annual FanFest event, many of them tempering their optimism because of the uncertainty that circles this season’s club.

The event will be a feel-good one for the most part. Some big names will be absent, including late scratches Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop, whose reasons for not attending haven’t been disclosed, as well as Chris Davis (whose wife gave birth to twins this week) and Zach Britton (rehabilitation from Achilles surgery).


But fans have the rare opportunity to interact with players, get autographs and participate in question-and-answer forums. FanFest is for the fans, and in recent years, it hasn’t been a news-making event. The Orioles aren’t expected to unveil some big free-agent signing, but it’s the first time since the end of last season that players are made available to the media for interviews, so there are some interesting nuggets that could come out of Saturday’s event.

Here are five:

Schmuck: FanFest looms and Orioles have done nothing to chase away the gloom

Orioles FanFest is a week away and the Orioles need to do something to get fans interested in the 2018 season. So far, there little reason to line up at the ticket office.

Where is this team going? The day will open with a question-and-answer session for season-ticket holders with executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter, and Duquette could face the brunt of queries wanting answers for the team’s slow offseason. With Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman the only established starting pitchers returning, the Orioles still need to fill out most of their rotation, and Duquette will likely point to some promising internal options. Some fans will want to know why the team hasn’t gone out to spend on established starting pitching. The Orioles are known to wait out the market, a strategy that most teams are copying this offseason, so the team’s usual approach could bear fruit with patience. But with less than three weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., some fans would like to see more proactivity, especially after watching last year’s rotation crumble before their eyes. Also of interest would be hearing about the Orioles’ plans to extend any of the team’s pending free agents — including Machado and Adam Jones — or for that matter, Schoop, who is now just two seasons from free agency.

What you need to know about Orioles FanFest 2018

All the information you need about Saturday's FanFest

Who will play shortstop? Along with the Machado trade talk that emerged at the winter meetings, there was also the All-Star’s desire to shift to shortstop from third base this season. Machado had made his desire to play shortstop known at the end of last season, and it’s believed he didn’t do so earlier out of respect for veteran J.J. Hardy, who had been a mentor to Machado. The Orioles, however, acquired Tim Beckham at the trade deadline with the idea he would man the position for the next three years that he is under team control. Now that it appears Machado won’t be dealt, it leaves a conundrum for Showalter, one he’s said is a good problem to have. Even though Machado won’t be at the event, Showalter has kept in touch with both Machado and Beckham, because he doesn’t want doubt about who is playing shortstop lurking going into spring training. If Machado does move to short, the question is who plays third? Would it be Beckham, or would he buy into a role where he plays all over the field, including the outfield, to help keep other veterans fresh?

What is Showalter’s future? Showalter, who is also in the final year of his contract, has made it clear that he’d like to remain in Baltimore beyond 2018. But he indicated that he’s content working through his current deal and doesn’t believe an extension for him should be the priority. He’s said that most players and coaches work under one-year deals – he makes a valid point on both cases – so why should he be any different. Showalter has always said that Baltimore will be his last stop, and that still seems to be the way he feels. A lack of extension talk also averts what could make for an awkward situation if Showalter is extended but Duquette, who is also in the final year of his deal, is not and left waiting in the wind.

Orioles to extend protective netting in 2018 beyond dugouts at Camden Yards, Ed Smith Stadium

How far the netting at Camden Yards will extend has yet to be determined, but it is expected to reach from Section 16 to Section 58.

What is the reaction to potential pace of play amendments? The players haven’t been a proponent of the pace of play changes, which include the introduction of a pitch clock that would for the first time make violations result in penalties that would affect the game. Pitchers who don’t beat the pitch clock would have an automatic ball charged, and hitters procrastinating in the batter’s box would be charged a strike. It’s a dramatic shift from previous pace of play rules, which have used warnings and fines to enforce the rules. Mound visits would also be limited to one an inning. The commissioner’s office and the players union will continue to work toward common ground, but the commissioner has the power to implement changes without the union’s approval.

What do players think about the netting at Camden Yards? There seems to be varied opinions from fans on the Orioles’ decision this week to extend the protective netting at Camden Yards beyond the far ends of both dugouts, with safety proponents applauding the move and traditionalists balking that it will take away from the intimacy of the game and the feel of the ballpark. The Orioles are the 25th of the 30 major league clubs to make the move. What will players think of it? For the most part, they’ve been supportive of added netting for years, mostly for fan safety but also because it takes away any liability.

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