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Orioles tab pitching as top offseason priority

BALTIMORE -- Asked about his future in 2016, Orioles manager Buck Showalter made it crystal clear.

"It's a great honor managing the Baltimore Orioles and I don't plan on doing anything else," said Showalter, who like executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is signed through 2018. "This is my last rodeo."

Now Showalter and Duquette -- who both laughed off reports of friction between them -- face the real test: rebounding from a .500 season that, by all accounts, wasn't good enough following 2014's American League East title run.

The chief issue that both Showalter and Duquette can agree on is this: the O's pitching staff allowed 100 more runs, making upgrading the starting rotation the No. 1 priority for next spring.

"Do we have the resources to have a good pitching staff? Yes," Duquette said, noting that additions will be necessary to this year's group. "The development of the pitchers, the trading for the pitchers and the signing of pitchers, I think we are going to have to do all those things."

Pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti, along with the rest of Showalter's staff, have been invited back though many are drawing outside interest. Duquette said he would like the coaching issue resolved soon so the organization can turn its attention toward more urgent matters: upgrading the pitching and negotiating with some pending free agents.

Qualifying offers, which are $16 million this year, are being discussed for Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen and Matt Wieters, though it's a certainty that both Davis and Chen will decline them and instead seek multi-year contracts.

Video: Must C Crushed: Davis' ML-leading homers Nos. 46, 47

In the case of Davis, who hit 47 homers with 117 RBIs, the Orioles will try to re-sign the slugger. But the question remains, can they afford to pay for one of the most sought-after power hitters on the market?

"We've let some players go [in the past], we have had some challenges to keep this team competitive. But I'm confident we can field a competitive team within the resources of the market," said Duquette, who could not retain Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis as neither move sat well with the fanbase last year. "I don't know what the final [number] is going to be for Chris Davis, but having looked at some of the other contracts, it's going to be a lot of money. It's going to be a lot of money. And we are going to have to weigh that with the competitiveness of the team and the need to staff a strong pitching staff, and look at the possible replacements."

Davis is represented by Scott Boras, a notoriously tough negotiator, and Duquette said the O's had previously made an offer to Davis -- and Wieters -- but the two sides couldn't reach a deal.

Video: NYY@BAL: Wieters singles in pair to give O's the lead

"There's a lot bigger markets that are out there than this market. So, I don't know where that is going to end up," Duquette said. "But we like Chris Davis. We tried to sign Chris Davis, I don't know where that's going to end up. But we'd like to have him back for next year."

Several Orioles have made it public that they'd like to see Davis return, including Adam Jones -- who Duquette said "has earned the right" to voice his opinion to ownership -- and Manny Machado. Extending Machado, under team control for three more years, isn't necessarily on the back burner this winter, but Duquette said:

"We have a lot more urgent things to look at. We have already looked at that and will again. Manny's a great player and we'd love to have him here long term."

As for the team's payroll, which is generally in the middle of baseball's 30 clubs, Duquette didn't offer specifics or hint that any kind of big jump was coming.

"We are going to fund a payroll that allows us to field the best team we can field and then have the best experience we can have for our fans and our market," he said.

And that starts with some better pitching, a tough task considering the Orioles are already likely losing their best starter this season in Chen.

"We didn't play well on the road this year and that's a big byproduct of our pitching ... we weren't any less prepared, sometimes you go through periods. That was very frustrating," Showalter said. We've got some work to do in the pitching department, but that's not just it. We didn't do some things well offensively for a long period of time, especially on the road. Last year what happened a lot is we offset something that was missing that night."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.
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