Are there any reasons for Orioles to be optimistic?

Are there any reasons for Orioles to be optimistic?
December 28, 2013, 10:15 am
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(Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports)

Fans will remain down on the Orioles until they make some flashy moves or until, like 2012, they start playing well enough to justify optimism.

There are some reasons to still be upbeat about the Orioles. Here are five.

1) Kevin Gausman

In his first starts, Gausman seemed a bit overmatched, but emotionally handled it well.

When he came back up to relieve, he did well, and in September, Gausman showed that he had the stuff to be a major league pitcher.

As far back as spring training, the Orioles kept Gausman with the major league club longer than Dylan Bundy. They were clearly intrigued by him.

The Orioles would prefer he start 2014 at Norfolk, made a few starts with successful results, and then be inserted into the rotation.

If Gausman can be the pitcher they think he can, he’ll join Chris Tillman as a dynamic 1-2 punch.

2) Dave Wallace

The Orioles’ new pitching coach has gotten excellent results from staffs much less talented than the one he’s inheriting.

Wallace will have to work with Tillman and Brian Matusz, who, since 2010, have had four pitching coaches. He’ll try to coax more from Wei-Yin Chen, who has hit the wall late in the season in both of his seasons.

When Wallace interviewed, he seemed to be the least logical choice. Rich Dubee and Carl Willis had more recent success. Andy Hawkins had familiarity with Buck Showalter, and Wallace hadn’t worked in the big leagues since 2007.

If he does as well with the Orioles as he did with the Dodgers, Mets and Red Sox, this is the best move of the offseason.

3) Manny Machado

If he’s not ready at the start of the season, Machado should be by the end of April.

Machado’s fielding was outstanding, but the Orioles feel his hitting should get even better. They’d like him to be a little more patient; he walked just 29 times and struck out 113.

His 51 doubles were just a tease. Machado is capable of much more.

4) Adam Jones

Jones followed up his excellent 2012 season with a year that was even better in some respects. Though his on-base percentage was down, and he drew less than a walk per week, Jones had a career high 108 RBIs, and with 33 home runs, hit one more than a year before.

He clearly benefitted from batting immediately behind or ahead of Chris Davis.

Jones will have to cut down on his strikeouts, and follow through on his spring training vow of 2013 to walk an additional time per week. Fifty walks would easily be his career high.

2013 was his the first year of a six-year contract, and it’s looking like the Orioles made a fine deal.

5) Buck Showalter

Showalter has often found ways to do more with less. 2014 may be another challenge for him.

His favorite closer, Jim Johnson is gone. There’s no clear leadoff hitter nor designated hitter, and second base is up for grabs.

It’s likely that Ryan Flaherty will play second, and if the Orioles don’t sign Fernando Rodney that Tommy Hunter will close. Nick Markakis may return to the leadoff spot.

Those may be the easy questions.

Showalter’s spring training roster will contain lots of new names to consider for backup jobs. Undoubtedly more will be added over the next seven weeks, and others will probably drift in during spring training.

He always likes to find a nugget or two each year, a player whose talents may not be obvious, but can do something to help the team win.

In 2012, Lew Ford helped for a bit. So did Steve Tolleson. Last year, there was Steve Pearce, and perhaps Josh Stinson, who pitched well late last year, will be a Showalter nugget.

NOTE: On Friday, Orioles owner Peter Angelos released a statement mourning the death of Paul Blair.

“It is with great sadness that we learned of Paul Blair's passing last evening. Paul was a key member of many of the Orioles' most memorable and successful teams, as his contributions at the plate and his Gold Glove defense in center field helped the club to two World Series and four AL pennants. After his on-field career, Paul made the Baltimore area his home and stayed involved with the organization through his appearances in the community and at the ballpark. On behalf of the Orioles I extend my condolences to his wife, Gloria, and his family.”