Believe it or not, we’re nearly halfway through the offseason and a little over 11 weeks until spring training. Yes, the 2013 season ended eight weeks ago.
As the Orioles start to assemble their 2014 team, here are five who’ll try to falling off from their 2013 performance.
1) Chris Davis
How’s that for being obvious?
Davis had a season for the ages, with his 53 home runs, 42 doubles and 138 RBIs. It’s rare for players who hit 50 to follow it with an equally devastating season.
It’s happened. From 1996-99, Ken Griffey had seasons of 49, 56, 56 and 48 home runs.
Of course, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had remarkable seasons during that era, but they’re tainted. Davis isn’t.
More recently, Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard hit 58 home runs and had 149 RBIs in 2006. He’s never again hit 50, but in his next three seasons, Howard hit 47, 48 and 45 home runs.
The man whose Orioles’ single season home run record Davis broke, Brady Anderson, followed up his 50 home runs in 1996 with just 18 the next year. And, the last player to hit 50, Toronto’s Jose Bautista fell from 54 in 2010 to 43 in 2011. Both figures led the league.
Orioles fans should be happy with a similar drop off by Davis. If he hits 35 home runs and drives in 100, it will still be a terrific season.
2) Miguel Gonzalez
In his first two seasons in the big leagues, Gonzalez has been managed tenderly by Buck Showalter, and he’s produced with a 20-12 record and a 3.58 ERA.
Depending on who is in the rotation in 2014, the Orioles may not have the luxury of stepping lightly around Gonzalez, whose ERA is markedly lower when he has five or more days of rest. However, Gonzalez is 12-5 on four days rest.
If Showalter wants to give Gonzalez more rest at times, he’s going to need an additional starter or two around to help.
3) Tommy Hunter
Hunter has had better success as a reliever than as a starter, and though he’d like to get out of the bullpen, he’s better off there.
In 2012, Hunter allowed 2.2 home runs per nine innings. In 2013, pitching exclusively in relief, Hunter cut his home run ratio in half. He also decreased his walk ratio while boosting his strikeouts.
The Orioles felt that Hunter wasn’t physically strong enough to inherit the closer’s role, but it’s possible that he could be a candidate to succeed Jim Johnson in 2015.
In order for him to do that, he’ll have to be stronger and not regress in 2014.
4) J.J. Hardy
Hardy’s been almost too good to be true. In his last two seasons, he’s played nearly every game and won the Gold Glove. In 2013, he was the starting shortstop in the All-Star Game and won the Silver Slugger.
It’s hard to imagine that Hardy can continue to play at this high level without missing games. If that’s the case, they should reward him with an extension as soon as possible.
5) Danny Valencia
Valencia was an underrated acquisition last winter. When he finally got an extended audition late in the season, Valencia produced.
He hit .304 in 52 games, but pounded left-handers for a .371 average and batted just .203 against right-handers.
For Valencia to produce similarly in 2014, the Orioles will need an effective left-handed hitting DH.
If Manny Machado is not ready to start the season at third base, Valencia and left-handed hitting Ryan Flaherty may platoon there.
After Machado was hurt, Valencia got to play some at third and acquitted himself adequately. He’ll have to do the same in 2014.