Every time I write an Inbox, I get flooded with more questions and opinions about the Orioles. The one thing I've noticed this offseason, compared with the previous two in covering the team, is the shift in outside expectations. Fans are - understandably -- a little deflated by the organization's slow offseason on the heels of 2012's success.
As other clubs add and subtract parts, swapping players in trades and signing big-ticket free agents, it's been unusually quiet in Baltimore, even for a small-market organization that typically doesn't generate offseason headlines.
So in taking a break from some holiday food -- and with Michigan State's bowl game just around the corner -- I went through some of your latest questions and answered the most popular and pressing ones below.
Here's wishing all of you a safe and happy rest of the holiday season. Thanks for a memorable 2012.
What are the O's doing about second base and first base? I imagine Chris Davis will see time at first, but is he a full-season answer there? I also don't see the club counting on Brian Roberts at second base.
-- Eric W., Pasadena, Md.
As it stands right now, Davis will get every opportunity to prove he is the answer at first base. Manager Buck Showalter has said that he believes Davis is better defensively than he's shown, and barring any notable acquisitions, Davis is the Orioles' best option. Keep in mind the transformation for Reynolds at first base last season was a result of a lot of hard work and what Showalter calls "want to." Davis is athletic and has been lauded for his defense in the past, and you can bet the 26-year-old will do everything in his power to improve.
As for Roberts, there are a few contingency plans should the longest-tenured Oriole not break camp in Alex Casilla and Ryan Flaherty.
Should fans be concerned that the Orioles haven't signed any big bats or starting pitchers?
-- Jim C., Duryea, Pa.
The Orioles' lack of activity can be viewed a few different ways. One, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made it clear in Nashville, Tenn., at the Winter Meetings that he believes the club -- as it's currently constituted -- can be competitive and nearly everyone is returning. A good chunk of the 2013 payroll is going to raises for all of the team's arbitration-eligible players, so while they haven't made a lot of notable signings, the fact that they've allotted what amounts to some pretty significant raises in some spots to keep the roster intact is a positive.
The later things go into the offseason, the more names and options come off the table, and the Orioles could end up not filling any of their needs -- the most pressing of which is a middle-of-the-order bat.
Would that scenario be frustrating to fans? Absolutely. It would also make the Opening Day lineup a concern, particularly when you factor in the Orioles' struggles offensively in the postseason and the loss of free agent Mark Reynolds. There is still time to pull off some moves, and Duquette did some of his best work late last winter in signing Wei-Yin Chen and trading Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.
Jim Thome has said he'd like to continue playing if a team shows interest in him. O's players seemed to get so much out of his veteran presence in the dugout, so could you see him re-signing on a one-year deal to be designated hitter vs. righties?
-- Dean S., Monrovia, Md.
Thome was the consummate professional, and you're right in that the Orioles benefitted from having him around. In a perfect world, Showalter would like to have the designated hitter spot open so he can rotate in and out some of the position players, and Thome -- for all of his strengths -- would take that away. He's also 42 and has dealt with some injuries and declining numbers. While you can never say never, it's not an ideal fit for Baltimore right now.
Where do some of the top Minor League guys like Xavier Avery, L.J. Hoes and Jonathan Schoop fit in to the Orioles' plans? Are they candidates for next season?
-- Michael M., York, Pa.
All three of those guys will be in Major League Spring Training, with outfielders Avery and Hoes set for their second big-league camp. Of the trio, Schoop is the youngest at 21 and has played around the infield without a set position. While Avery and Hoes, who both had brief stints with the O's last season, would seem more likely to be promoted, the uncertainty around second base could change things in a hurry.
Schoop, one of the organization's top prospects, was added to the 40-man roster this winter, and the young infielder had an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League. While Avery, Hoes and Schoop aren't projected to make the team's Opening Day roster, it's certainly not out of the question for any of them to be with Baltimore at some point next season. Just ask Manny Machado, who was promoted from Double-A Bowie and moved from shortstop to third base when he was called up Aug. 9.
Will Machado play shortstop in the future or is he locked in at third base?
-- Shawn K., Caledon, Ontario.
Machado is expected to be the Orioles' Opening Day third baseman in 2013, with J.J. Hardy, who won an American League Gold Glove Award, playing shortstop.
While Machado transitioned better than anyone could have imagined to a position change at the Major League level, the long-term thinking is still that he will eventually be a big league shortstop. In the meantime, Hardy, who signed a three-year extension in July 2011, and Machado give the Orioles a pretty nice left side of the infield.