The Orioles will undoubtedly have lots of new faces next year. They will also have lots of players coming back, and there are several who they’re looking for to improve on last year.
1) Nick Markakis
In order to contend, the Orioles need a healthy and a productive Markakis. In 2012, they had a productive one, but not always healthy. In 2013, Markakis was healthy, but not always productive.
From 2007-2011, Markakis averaged 160 games a season, twice hitting more than 20 home runs and twice driving in 100 or more runs.
In 2012, he was plagued by injuries for the first time in his career and missed one-third of the season, but still had 13 home runs and 54 RBIs.
In 2013, playing a full season, Markakis had just 10 homers and 59 RBIs and his batting average dropped to .271, a career low.
Markakis’ skills in right field are hardly diminished. He didn’t make an error, but offense is where the money is.
He’s in the last year of his contract. The Orioles hold an astronomical $17.5 million option for 2015, and while he’d probably like to stay in Baltimore, it may not be possible.
2) Wei-Yin Chen
In 2012, Chen was a revelation. He was the Orioles’ leading winner last year, but 2013 was a lot tougher.
He finished 7-7 and after missing two months with an oblique injury, Chen didn’t win in his last seven starts, and underwent knee surgery right after the season ended.
Chen should be the Orioles’ No. 2 starter. Chris Tillman has established himself as the staff ace, and the left-handed Chen would balance him nicely.
Perhaps his knee is to blame, at least in part, for his lack of stamina, but Chen has lots of ability and is willing to work hard. His cultural adaption from Taiwan was an easy one.
The Orioles say that Chen should be ready for the start of spring training, and a big year from him is necessary.
3) Darren O’Day
After a wonderful 2012, the Orioles rewarded O’Day with a two-year contract and a third year option.
His overall stats weren’t much different in 2013, but lefties batted .309 against him. Right-handers hit .154. In 2012, righties hit .201 with just two home runs in 169 plate appearances and lefties .205.
In 2012, O’Day had been injured through much of spring training, and it didn’t look as if he would make the team. He did, and produced brilliantly.
Whether Jim Johnson is with the Orioles or not in 2014, O’Day will have a vital role, and it will be key for him to help set up Johnson, Tommy Hunter or someone else.
O’Day will earn $3.2 million in 2014. The Orioles’ option is $4.25 million for 2015. O’Day must pitch well in order for the Orioles’ bullpen to succeed and to make the team’s decision on him a difficult one a year from now.
4) Matt Wieters
While his defense can’t be questioned, his offense needs some work. Wieters’ OPS dropped to .704 in 2013 and he struck out 104 times while walking 43. His .235 batting average was a career low.
I’m going to assume Wieters is with the Orioles next season unless the team is overwhelmed by a trade offer.
Manager Buck Showalter always likes to say that defense is of primary importance when judging a catcher, but Wieters has shown some signs of offensive prowess. He’s had more than 20 home runs in the last three years.
It would be nice if Wieters was an Oriole for the long term, but in the short term, he’ll have to hit a little better for the team to return to the postseason.
5) Ryan Flaherty
Flaherty was on scholarship in 2012 as a Rule 5 draftee. He struggled with the bat early in 2013, but after a 10-day demotion to Norfolk, he hit better.
It’s possible that Flaherty will have to open the season at third base if Manny Machado’s recovery goes slowly. If that’s the case, the Orioles will need some offense from him.
Flaherty showed off some nice power at times, and he cut the strikeout to walk ratio some, but more improvement is needed if he’s going to be thought off as a regular instead of a utility player.