Although 85-77 isn't a bad record, the Baltimore Orioles failed to make the playoffs in 2013 and have plenty of room for improvement.
After making an unexpected playoff run in 2012, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette decided to keep quiet throughout the last offseason. This year should be different.
Unlike 2012, Duquette attempted to make adjustments through trade acquisitions this past season. However, as a whole, that strategy was ultimately a failure, as the Orioles floundered down the stretch.
Now, with a somewhat depleted minor league system and a roster looking for an extra spark, Duquette and the rest of the Orioles front office will do whatever they can to improve the team this offseason. To do this, they should follow three simple steps.
1. Decide who's coming back
Brian Roberts, Nate McLouth and Jason Hammel, as well as all of the midseason trade acquisitions other than Bud Norris, are set to hit the free agency market. Duquette and Co. must make decisions on each of these players. These decisions will set the course for the rest of the offseason.
If Roberts and/or McLouth don't return, a decision has to be made on how they will be replaced. The Orioles could give young, inexperienced players such as Jonathan Schoop or Henry Urrutia a shot, or they could go out and acquire some veterans.
It seems unlikely that the O's will bring back Francisco Rodriguez, meaning Duquette could try to trade for or perhaps sign another arm for the bullpen.
Then you have Jason Hammel and Scott Feldman. Should they be given another shot, or is it time to move on?
The asking price for each of these players will likely be a huge part on whether or not they return. So far, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, the Orioles have declined the $3 million option on Alexi Casilla and did not make qualifying offers to Roberts, McLouth or Hammel, none of which is surprising:
2. Sign a solid starting pitcher
Even if the Birds decide to bring back Hammel and/or Feldman, it's safe to say the team's biggest weakness is starting pitching.
In 2013, the Orioles' starting pitching ranked 27th in the majors with a 4.57 ERA, which simply isn't good enough for a team looking to make it to the postseason.
The free-agency market for starting pitching isn't necessarily loaded with talent, but there are a few pitchers who could help bolster the Orioles rotation.
Ervin Santana is arguably the most highly touted free agent this offseason, as he's coming off a career year where he pitched to a 3.24 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. According to Dick Kaegel of MLB.com, the Kansas City Royals have made Santana a one-year qualifying offer, but it is expected that the 30-year-old will test the market.
Even acquiring a durable veteran to eat up some innings, like Bronson Arroyo, would help an Orioles rotation that struggles to get deep into games.
Regardless of whom he chooses, Duquette needs to address the starting pitching situation this offseason. Although, according to Kubatko, it's highly unlikely the Birds will be willing to spend the money required to obtain a top starter.
3. Acquire/Decide on a designated hitter
Even with Danny Valencia's torrid run late in the season, the play from Orioles designated hitters as a whole was disheartening. A .234/.289/.415 line for a position that's sole purpose is to hit isn't particularly good.
Unless he's traded, Valencia should be with the O's come Opening Day. Still, his lack of consistency throughout his career and the fact that he may be playing third base if Manny Machado isn't ready at season's start mean the Orioles should contemplate acquiring a DH this offseason.
The O's could give Steve Pearce or the oft-injured Nolan Reimold another shot, but that seems more like a step backward than anything else.
Signing a veteran slugger like Kendrys Morales or Corey Hart would give the Orioles a much-needed boost to the DH position.
Regardless of what they decide, improving the designated hitting role is a must for the Orioles to succeed.