Orioles put priority on retaining Davis, improving pitching
BALTIMORE — Seeking an encore to their appearance in the AL Championship Series, the Baltimore Orioles sputtered through a .500 season primarily because they couldn't replace stars lost to free agency and received sub-par performances from several of the 2014 standouts.
Baltimore won the AL East with a 96-66 record last year. Over the winter, major league home run leader Nelson Cruz left for Seattle, standout reliever Andrew Miller signed with the Yankees and right fielder Nick Markakis shuffled off to Atlanta.
The Orioles might have been able to survive those losses if Bud Norris, Delmon Young, Alejandro De Aza and Steve Pearce played as they did last season. None of them came close. The trade for Travis Snider and the addition of free agents Chris Parmelee, Wesley Wright and Everth Cabrera also backfired.
"I liked our roster coming out," All-Star reliever Darren O'Day said. "Guys just didn't perform, for whatever reason."
After losing the league's top home run hitter a year ago, the Orioles have to determine whether to retain the current home run king. Chris Davis, who hit 47 homers and drove in 117 runs, becomes a free agent in November, along with O'Day, catcher Matt Wieters, outfielder Gerardo Parra and Pearce.
Davis fit perfectly on a team that relies heavily on the long ball, but he will be due a costly, lengthy contract.
"I don't know what the final market is going to be for Chris Davis," Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Monday, "but it's going to be a lot of money. We're going to have to weigh the competitiveness of the team and the need of the team to field a strong pitching staff."
Despite losing Cruz, Baltimore scored more runs this year than last (713-705). But the Orioles gave up exactly 100 more runs (693-593), a statistic that will dictate the course of the offseason.
"We need to focus on a stronger pitching staff," Duquette said. "I know we've got plenty of free agents to sign, but you've got to have a good pitching staff. That's where it starts."
Norris won 15 games last year and went 2-9 this season before being released. Chris Tillman went from 13-6 to 11-11, and Miguel Gonzalez led the staff with 12 losses after going 10-9 in 2014.
"If we're going to improve our pitching staff, we're going to have to add to it," Duquette said. "You'd love to have a top-of-the-rotation starter. We're going to have to develop players we have and look at the trade market."
There's only so much money to spend, and Orioles hope they won't have to sacrifice their sluggers to get live arms.
All-Star third baseman Manny Machado had a solid season, playing 162 games and hitting a career-high 35 home runs. But he really doesn't want to go at it alone in 2016.
"From the season we had, losing Nelson Cruz and Markakis, we've got to do something," Machado said. "I think our top priority will be signing Davis and try to get a couple more key pieces to stay here as well. I think we've just got to get them back to be where we need to be. Losing Davis is definitely not going to help us."
Davis loves Baltimore, but that might not be a factor in the negotiations.
"I'm kind of all ears right now," he said. "It's the first time I've gone through this."
Wieters is also an important piece, and one who's spent his entire career with the Orioles. The former No. 1 pick has played seven years in Baltimore, and it's quite possible he won't be back for No. 8.
After he had two RBIs in Baltimore's season-ending 9-4 win over the Yankees on Sunday, Wieters said, "I loved every second I've spent here. I loved everybody in this clubhouse, and I loved all the fans. If it ends today, it was a great time."
The offseason arrived far sooner than the Orioles wanted, but that gives them a jump on what should be a busy offseason.
"We've already started," manager Buck Showalter said. "Time to go."