SARASOTA, FLA. — As the Orioles officially open spring training this week — pitchers and catchers report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex Thursday — their roster could look dramatically different in the upcoming days because of their continued pursuit of free-agent right-hander Yovani Gallardo and outfielder Dexter Fowler.
Whether the Orioles are ultimately able to lock up the pair remains to be seen. Regardless of the outcome, the club heads into spring training this year with few roster and position battles. That's because leading up to this point, the Orioles' offseason focused on keeping its core group intact, and they've done that in retaining first baseman Chris Davis, setup man Darren O'Day and catcher Matt Wieters.
Although the roster questions entering camp are scant, the ones that exist are pivotal to the Orioles returning to the postseason following a disappointing 81-81 season, especially in an upgraded American League East.
Here's a look at some of the top storylines as the Orioles enter spring training, using some key numbers to put them into context.
4.53, ERA of the Orioles starting rotation in 2015: One thing most prognosticators agree on is that if the Orioles are going to improve on last year's .500 finish, it starts and ends with getting more out of their starting pitching. The Orioles haven't done much to upgrade their rotation, adding right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne in a trade with the San Diego Padres and right-hander Vance Worley on a waiver claim from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The club is counting on right-handers Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to rebound from disappointing 2015 campaigns, as well as continued progress from 25-year-old right-hander Kevin Gausman. Adding Gallardo, who has averaged 191 innings and posted a 3.69 ERA over the past seven seasons, would add much-needed stability to the Orioles rotation, especially after losing left-hander Wei-Yin Chen to free agency. Even with Gallardo, the Orioles rotation still would have its share of ifs, and it's the main reason experts predict the club will struggle.
.364, Manny Machado's on-base percentage hitting in the leadoff spot last season: The Orioles' All-Star third baseman enjoyed his best offensive season last year and did it mostly from atop the team's batting order. Machado's power numbers took a jump, as he hit a career-high 35 homers, suggesting that the 23-year-old's future might be better suited for the middle of the lineup. But that might not happen unless there's a suitable replacement for Machado at the leadoff position. That's why the Orioles could use a player like Fowler, who owns a .362 on-base percentage in 550 career games hitting leadoff. Fowler's .346 OBP last season would have ranked third among Orioles regulars behind Davis and Machado. But if the Orioles don't land Fowler, there's no clear internal replacement for Machado in the leadoff spot, and it's likely he'd open the season atop the order again.
1, Bullpen spots likely available this spring: The Orioles bullpen will again be one of the team's strengths, as the club retained O'Day with a four-year, $31 million deal to solidify the back end of the 'pen along with closer Zach Britton. Right-hander Brad Brach emerged as another dependable reliever as he was able to navigate a number of roles and held his own in high-leverage situations last season. Brian Matusz is the team's only locked-in lefty aside from Britton, and right-hander Mychal Givens was marvelous in the brief time he was on the major league club in 2015. Pitching prospect Dylan Bundy must stay on the 25-man roster as long as he's healthy because he's out of options, and the oft-injured right-hander is probably best off working out of the bullpen as he builds innings. Unless manager Buck Showalter carries an extra relief arm going into the season — he doesn't need a fifth starter until nine games into the season — there's probably only one bullpen spot remaining. Out of the expected group, Givens is the only one who can be sent to the minor leagues.
11, Number of Orioles to make at least one start in right field in 2015: After nine years of Nick Markakis offering stability in right field, the Orioles had a difficult time replacing him last year, and that search continues entering this year's spring training. The Orioles tried a variety of options in right last year, including Davis prior to the trade deadline acquisition of Gerardo Parra. Again, the addition of Fowler would solve the problem. But if that doesn't happen, the Orioles have no clear Opening Day starter in right field. Nolan Reimold, who made just three starts in right in 2015, posted a respectable .274/.391/.466 hitting line in September and October last season. Prospect Dariel Alvarez made 10 starts in right, but he'd need to win the job in camp. Newly acquired slugger Mark Trumbo also has experience playing right, but he's rated a below-average fielder there, so he should see most of his at bats at designated hitter.
1,131, Games outfielder Hyun-soo Kim has played during his 10-year professional career in South Korea: Kim, who signed a two-year, $7 million free-agent deal in the offseason, arrives in the major leagues with plenty of experience and accolades from a decade playing in the Korean Baseball Organization. He was one of the best hitters in the KBO last year, hitting .326/.438/.541 with 28 homers and 121 RBIs, but he's no longer playing for the Doosan Bears. How well Kim transitions to the major leagues will be a major storyline of the spring. The 28-year-old is projected to start in left field on Opening Day, but he will still have to earn a starting role. It will be more of a story if he doesn't.