Although Thursday morning may not reflect it, Wednesday night in York felt every bit like spring.
The weather was unseasonably mild and the topic of conversation at Zion Lutheran Church was baseball.
It was the state of the Baltimore Orioles that was heavy on the minds of those in attendance. The curious crowd, clad mostly in orange, was ready to ramp up their knowledge of their favorite team from some of those in the know.
Former Baltimore Sun baseball writer Dan Connolly, who is now senior writer and content editor for BaltimoreBaseball.com, led the Hot Stove Baseball Talk panel discussion on the team. He was joined by former Orioles All-Star shortstop, and current MASN Sports color commentator, Mike Bordick, as well as Sirius/XM radio host and MASN panelist Mel Antonen.
Attendance was free for the seventh annual event, however the church took freewill offerings, with all proceeds going toward the church’s youth ministry program.
Team needs: The group dove right into the offseason needs for the team, with Connolly saying that adding outfield speed and a veteran starting pitcher were among the chief needs for the Birds.
Some of the names he sees as possibilities to fill those roles include Angel Pagan and Jorge de la Rosa, noting that whoever is signed will likely be on a minor-league or one-year deal.
“This is Dan Duquette’s best time I think,” Connolly said of the O's top baseball executive. “He is tremendous at finding these gems. Waiting, waiting, waiting until he finds these guys who are way undervalued and then help the team.”
A bounce-back year for Chris Davis is something Bordick sees as being necessary for success. Last season, Davis struck out 219 times, the third-highest mark in a single season in MLB history. He also hit just .221.
“He can be a game changer both offensively and defensively,” Bordick said. “... He was hands down the best (defensive) first baseman in baseball. He can do that on offense, he can use the whole field and get base hits. The guy can hit, but the thing is he wants to be Crush Davis. His focus will be better this year.”
Pitching: All three see the team’s pitching, more specifically its depth, as another story line entering the upcoming season. The group is looking to Kevin Gausman to possibly emerge as the team’s future ace, and they’re curious to see how Dylan Bundy holds up after last season.
Antonen was curious as to how the team would approach Bundy. A myriad of injuries hampered Bundy’s career before last season, so the team entered 2016 with a goal of 75 innings for the right-hander. However, other pitching injuries pressed Bundy into more service and he finished with 109.2 innings tossed.
“Do they have enough pitching depth,” Antonen wondered. “If you have five good starters, that’s one thing. But name a team that has gotten through the season with those five starters.”
Along with staff depth, Antonen identified the bullpen as another thing to watch as the season nears.
Matt Wieters: One name that seemed to be on the minds of many in attendance was free agent catcher Matt Wieters.
“I don’t know why he isn’t signed,” Connolly said. “I think there are questions about his defense, questions about the money he wants. It’s somewhat a mystery.”
With Caleb Joseph on the roster, and the recent addition of Welington Castillo, the problem for Wieters might be finding a solid role with the O's. Playing in a catching platoon might not be of interest to Wieters.
“If the price is right, there’s always a possibility (that Wieters could return to the O's), but what would he do? Where would he play,” Antonen said.
The group also noted that Mark Trumbo seems destined to fulfill the designated hitter role, while Seth Smith will man right field and Joey Rickard a possibility for left field.
“If Matt Wieters comes back, that means you’re going to see a whole lot of Mark Trumbo in right field,” Connolly said.
Trumbo's outfield defense last season was a cause for concern, which is why he's expected to mostly fill the DH role this season.
The Angels, Rockies, White Sox and Tampa Bay were all named as teams that are seeking catching help and could be possible alternate landing spots for Wieters.
Connolly notes some in the organization do want Wieters back, though, and what he brings to the clubhouse would be missed by the team.
Outlook: While the panel feels the makeup of the team is rather similar to last season, all agreed there’s reason to be optimistic. But they also felt the team's success may rely on the performance and health of Gausman and Bundy.
“I think they look great, another year under their belt," Bordick said. "I think they have a nice veteran nucleus with Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy. There should be a lot of optimism. Bottom line is this is a winning team, but it’s going to take one to two more pieces.”
Bordick was also quick to warn that the team’s window of opportunity might be closing. A number of players will soon reach free agency, and they will likely be seeking much larger contracts.
This year’s event drew one of the largest crowds, if not the largest crowd, in the event's seven years, Connolly said.
Connolly said video excerpts from the talk should be made available online at BaltimoreBaseball.com and the church’s Facebook page in the coming days.
Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org.