Orioles manager Buck Showalter faces the task of reshuffling a roster that took a severe hit this week in a five-day span in which the club traded All-Star closer Jim Johnson and former Orioles Nate McLouth and Scott Feldman, two of the team's top priorities to resign, signed elsewhere.
The club has several holes to fill, needing a starting pitcher, left fielder, left-handed designated hitter and now a closer. The roster will likely look different when the Orioles takes the field come February in Sarasota, Fla.
In advance of next week's Winter Meetings in Orlando, Showalter discussed several team topics, reflecting on the recent losses, the free-agent market and where the Orioles go from here.
This week you lost a big part of your team when Jim Johnson was traded. Not only was he a 50-save closer, but a veteran leader in your clubhouse. Moving forward, how do you replace him?
Well, there's a lot of offseason left. There are a lot of things that can happen between now and April, and I think I would take precaution of not getting too far down the road with this. Jimmy is a good man. You form that bond with all your players, especially with a guy who is a lifelong Oriole. You get to know who he is and [his wife] Liz and [his children] Levi and Abby, it's tough. I've been through it, some of this, before and you understand the game moves on without you sometimes. You understand that — I don't want to get too deep — but it's the circle of life. It's tough but what are you going to do? Give in? I'm not wired that way and neither are the rest of our players. I look at it that they have confidence in me and the rest of our guys that we can do something to make up for the loss. We'll see.
When you think about how you're going to replace Johnson, where do you go? At this point do you foresee a competition for the closer spot?
I think we're too early into it. We're looking at everybody and who's available, whether it be a free agent or a trade. I'm personally looking from within to what I would do, where I would go. As people become available and an option for us, Dan [Duquette] and I talk about it. It's obviously a players' market right now. Let's face it, there are going to be some fourth and fifth starters signing for $10 million a year times three [years], but that's what the game is right now for right now. I'll say this, it's not so much signing the [Jacoby] Ellsburys and the [Robinson] Canos, those guys. It's when you see the Red Sox signing [Edward] Mujica and the Yankees signing Kelly Johnson. Those are the support guys who cover them. That's where it hurts, but nobody said it was going to be fair.
How tough is that to see?
It's not tough. It's an opportunity. It's an opportunity for Kevin Gausman. It's an opportunity for T.J. McFarland, who is having a great year in winter ball. It's a great opportunity for Josh Stinson, who we might have hit on at the right time there. It's an opportunity for [Dylan] Bundy when he's healthy. It's an opportunity for Zach Britton, who is out of options. It's an opportunity for Mike Wright. That's the way I'm going to look at it. I could rip off 10 names last year who nobody really knew much about or had never heard of and at the end of the year, they're saying, "Damn, that's pretty good. I didn't see that coming." That's our job, you know, to try to evaluate that. I'm trying to figure out a way that we don't have that many save opportunities. We led baseball in save opportunities the past two years. We have to do a better job of that.
This week you also saw two players who the team wanted to resign, Nate McLouth and Scott Feldman, go elsewhere. What is your reaction to losing those two?
There's a long time between now and April. We'll see. Nate did some really good things for us. He was a real pleasure to manage. I'm real lucky to have him pass my way. He was fun to have around. He's a good young man. I hate to see him go. With Scott, he's another one. But it's just another opportunity for someone else.
Speaking of left field, you have some options, having signed Nolan Reimold and with Henry Urrutia coming off a good fall league season, but how do you see that position shaking out?
I'm lucky you look on the roster and there's Reimold, [Steve] Pearce, Urrutia and [Francisco] Peguero … There's a lot of unknown with Nolan, but we're going to take a look at it one more time and see how it goes. He's going to play at 30 years old. Henry had a great fall league but there's also some unknown there. Adam [Jones] and Nick [Markakis] have a track record there but I think there are some things we're still looking at. ... I think you'll see us make an addition there. There are six outfielders on the major league roster, so you've got to figure something's coming.
This time last year, you were talking about how you really needed one of your young starters to take a step up. You got that this past season with Chris Tillman, but looking at the rotation, regardless of whether you're able to add another arm, how important will it be to get another young arm to take that next step?
Obviously, [Wei-Yin] Chen will be someone who will be in the rotation. And I think if Gonzo [Miguel Gonzalez] can stay healthy all year, I think you can see him do it. Looking at those guys [with Tillman], and of course [Bud] Norris. You've got Zach. We'll see where Gausman is. You've got [Brian] Matusz, Steve Johnson and McFarland … I think McFarland can really be an interesting guy. He's athletic. He's got good stuff. He knows how to sink the ball. He really showed us something. And with Steve Johnson, this guy was pretty good for a while. I think he's got a little edge on him and he wants to show everybody why everybody's thought highly of him. He's really gotten after it this offseason. I know how important that is to him and I know how much it means for Brian Matusz to be a starter. Gausman is as talented as hell. We got a really nice look at Mike Wright and Eddie Rodriguez last year in camp.
While we are talking about the pitchers, you were able to bring in a pair of very experienced coaches — new pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti — in this offseason. How will they make a difference?
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I don't think we could have added two better guys. I'm excited about them. I think this might be the best coaching staff I've ever had. We're just working hard to give them talent to work with, that if all things are equal they can be difference makers. They're not miracle workers, but if it's there, I'm confident that they'll get it out of them. I just want to know guys will be as good as they're capable of being. Whatever that is, I want our guys to be able to see their level.
You mentioned Kevin Gausman. He obviously gained some valuable experience this year. How will that help him, and can you project him as a starter in 2014?
Gaus will go in as a starter and he will go in and compete. We'll see how it goes and see what's best for him and the club in the spring. I think last year was big. A lot of those things, if you look at the track record with prospects like him, there's usually a [difficult] period they go through early. He's a smart young man and he's athletic. He's the type of guy who's not going to go home and feel bad for himself. He never really had the deer-in-the-headlights look. And now there's not going to be that period where he doesn't know what he's getting into. He knows now. And I guarantee you the time he spends between the end of the year and February, you're going to be surprised. Not surprised. He's got the ability and he's got the stuff. I'm just glad we went through that period with him.
Finally, Buck, one of the stories of the spring is going to be Manny Machado's recovery from knee surgery. He's said he's going to do everything he can to get back by Opening Day. But knowing he's just 21, how do make sure he's coming back when he truly needs to?
I know in my mind the date when he needs to play games in order for him to get ready. … I can slow him down and I can speed him up. It will be very matter of factly. Its not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. And I'll be the first to tell you that we gave a very conservative and cautious approach when we put out dates on his recovery. I try to be a half-full guy and I think Manny has a good chance to start the season with us, but a lot of things have to go right. We don't want to do anything to jeopardize his prolonged future, and that's one of the reasons why he and we did this procedure, because we wanted him to be right for the long term. I've got a lot of confidence in our medical people and in Manny.