What are the chances that the Orioles will get a new big bat in the lineup?
-- Steve P., New Cumberland, Pa.
Not impossible, but a lot less likely than at the start of the winter. The Orioles' best avenue to add a middle-of-the-order bat has always been via trade, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette didn't sound overly optimistic last week that the club would add someone with that kind of power presence before Spring Training.
"We looked around the industry for that middle-of-the-order bat," Duquette said. "There was one free agent that was a significant player. There have been some other players available in a trade that I'm not sure they were better than what we had, and the cost of the acquisition has been a little pricey for us."
The Orioles have been linked to numerous players this winter, most recently for Michael Morse and Justin Upton, although nearly every scenario would require dealing away their young pitching. So far, Duquette hasn't given any indication he'd be willing to do that, with top pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman not going anywhere and the other young arms -- pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta -- being what manager Buck Showalter called undervalued on the trade market in comparison to what the O's think.
Could they pull the trigger on a deal if asking prices drop? Perhaps. But in most cases, and certainly in the case of Morse and Upton, both the Nationals and D-backs would reportedly be content hanging on to their players in lieu of a suitable offer. There's still time to make a trade, but if not, the O's will proceed with the same team they had last year -- minus Mark Reynolds -- and hope that the development of their younger players helps bridge the gap.
"Some of these guys in the middle of the lineup -- [Adam] Jones, [Matt] Wieters, [Chris] Davis -- they are 26, 27 [years old]," Duquette said. "Those guys should continue to improve. That's a legit middle of the order."
With Nate McLouth, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts all projected to make the Opening Day lineup this year, who gets first crack at the leadoff spot?
-- Matt M., Timonium, Md.
This is an interesting question and a debate that won't be fully resolved until it shakes out in Spring Training. In a perfect world, with all four guys healthy -- a tall order, considering three of the four were shut down early last season -- there's three solid candidates in McLouth, Markakis and Roberts. While he's an option against left-handed pitching, the preference for Reimold would be further down the order.
While McLouth did a great job filling in when Markakis went on the disabled list, the Orioles couldn't ask for better production from the leadoff spot than what Markakis did and the two could easily serve as a platoon.
Still, if Roberts is healthy -- a big if, considering his injury history -- how will he fare in the leadoff spot? Once one of the game's premier leadoff hitters, it's impossible to predict what kind of production he will have if he stays on the field. But it's another option for Showalter, who could have a nice mix of speed, on-base percentage and power potential atop the lineup to help supplement for a batting order without a bona fide middle-of-the-order bat.
Showalter is also a big proponent of the No. 9 spot as the "second leadoff hitter" and could use any of those guys, most likely McLouth or Reimold, there to help reset the order.
Are Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez already penciled in for the starting rotation in 2013, or will they need a strong showing in Spring Training to cement their status?
-- Nathan M., Statesboro, Ga.
Publicly, it's not Showalter's style to give out spots before camp has even started, and I'd be very surprised if that changes this spring. The Orioles will have plenty of competition when it comes to the rotation, but the efforts last season from Tillman, Gonzalez and Steve Johnson should give the trio a slight edge, at least on paper, heading in.
Keep in mind, though, that it's a small sample size for most of these young pitchers, and consistency has been the most common problem for the O's young arms. None of them can expect to have a horrific camp and be handed a spot in the rotation, particularly when the competition figures to be in the double digits. Showalter has made it pretty clear in his time in Baltimore that the days of developing at the Major League level are over. Tillman and Gonzalez, like everybody else, will have to prove again why they belong in the rotation.
Is Joe Saunders the only pitcher the Orioles are looking at? And what are their chances of signing him?
-- Josh T., Columbia, Md.
No, Saunders isn't the only pitcher that Baltimore has interest in. Duquette said last week that there are options on the free-agent and relief market that the organization thinks could help, but given that Saunders is a left-handed veteran who was part of last year's team, his name has come up the most often and he's one of the best fits.
The Orioles aren't putting all of their eggs into one basket, but it's entirely plausible that they're waiting on Saunders to decide before moving on to other options. There seems to be a decent market for Saunders, so it's tough to handicap the O's chances here, although he is from the area and made it no secret how much he enjoyed the last few months of the season playing for Baltimore.