No team was a bigger surprise in 2012 than the Baltimore Orioles. Even though people still didn't believe in them even as they were playing in the ALDS, the YOLOrioles decided to run it back, entering 2013 with largely the same roster, hoping to once again prove all their critics dead wrong.
Depth Chart (as of 2/28)
C: Matt Wieters
1B: Chris Davis
2B: Brian Roberts
SS: J.J. Hardy
3B: Manny Machado
LF: Nate McLouth/Nolan Reimold
CF: Adam Jones
RF: Nick Markakis
DH: Wilson Betemit/Danny Valencia
SP: Jason Hammel
SP: Wei-Yin Chen
SP: Chris TIllman
SP: Miguel Gonzalez
SP: Jair Jurrjens
CL: Jim Johnson
Didn't you read the intro? The O's added almost nobody to the 2012 roster. The only two new faces even worth talking about are Jair Jurrjens who is hoping to revive his career after being non-tendered by the Braves, but Jurrjens is on a minor league contract hoping to land the fifth starter spot. That is actually the most high profile addition they made. They claimed Alexi Casilla and Danny Valencia on waivers to beef up their bench, or at least they hope so as either player could land a starting gig, but that would be an ominous development for Baltimore's 2013 hopes. That's it, that's all they have, two waiver claims and a non-roster invite.
Making their inert off-season look even worse is that Baltimore lost a fair amount of talent in the off-season. Nobody was a key player, but they did lose more talent than they added. Mid-season acquisitions Joe Saunders, Randy Wolf and Jim Thome are all gone (Thome remains unsigned, but a return to Baltimore seems unlikely). Bench contributors like Nick Johnson, Bill Hall, Endy Chavez and Omar Quintanilla were all cut loose as well. The two most notable losses were last year's primary first baseman Mark Reynolds and second baseman Robert Andino. Neither were particularly productive players, but they do leave behind a lot of ABs that need to be replaced.
One reason the Orioles were so easily able to let a guy like Joe Saunders walk is that they have Dylan Bundy waiting in the wings. As one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, Bundy is destined to crack the Baltimore rotation at some point this season, possibly as soon as Opening Day. If he realizes his potential as quickly as some think he can, he could easily become the staff ace that the Orioles need. Right behind him is Kevin Gausman, another rapid developer in the system. He may not be ready as soon as Bundy, but it isn't out of the question that he could contribute later on in the season.
One of the more interesting battles, and by interesting I mean that in the sense that a car wreck is interesting, will be at second base where Brian Roberts is attempting his umpteenth comeback. The position is his if he can prove healthy and productive, otherwise Alexi Casilla will assume the spot by default. At DH, Wilson Betemit figures to be one half of the platoon, but the other half is open to competition. Danny Valencia has the inside track on that slot and is really only facing competition from a legion of non-roster invites, assuming Baltimore doesn't go out an acquire someone. Where things get really interesting is at the back of the Orioles rotation. Three spots are more or less spoken for by Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Tillman. After them, it is a free-for-all. Miguel Gonzalez and Jair Jurrjens are the initial favorites but youngsters (sort of) Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson and Zach Britton are all hoping for another chance. And that doesn't even take into account the aforementioned Dylan Bundy forcing his way into the conversation.
Brian Roberts is less an injury concern and more an injury eventuality. Otherwise the Orioles are pretty healthy. Tsuyoshi Wada is currently out rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but he could be back as soon as May which will only complicate that part of the depth chart even further. Nick Markakis had an injury-riddled season in 2012, but he looks to be healthy this season which will be a boon to the Baltimore lineup.
Can the Orioles recapture their 2012 magic?
Can their be a better template for a best case scenario than what the Orioles did last season? All those wins in close games, defying their run differential and generally just pulling wins out of their backside. If they can do that again, then Buck Showalter is clearly a wizard. I guess you could up the ante by having Dylan Bundy break camp with the team and become an instant All-Star and Manny Machado develop into the stud many expect him to be and you could actually have the Orioles win 90+ games again but this time with some actual respect this time.
OK, take 2012, now imagine what would happen if they lost all those one-run games instead of winning them. Then picture what the rotation would be like if Jason Hammel turns back into a pumpkin. Let's not forget, this is a guy the pitching-starved Rockies gave up on. Sprinkle in some regression from Adam Jones and Manny Machado failing to develop because he was called up too soon and thus had his development stunted. Suddenly things are getting pretty ugly in a hurry. Let's put the cherry on top and predict a Matt Wieters injury and before you know it the Orioles are scrapping just to avoid losing 90+ games.
Even with their lack of lack of off-season additions, the Orioles probably are better on paper than they were last season. That being said, they are probably not going to come close to their 2012 success. That might seem counter-intuitive, but it is really just a matter of no team being able to maintain the same luck in close games that Baltimore experienced last year. Still, they are going into this season looking at a full season out of Manny Machado and Chris Tillman, a healthy Nick Markakis, the potential debut of Dylan Bundy and more than enough warm bodies to throw at the back end of their rotation that the law of probablility practically mandates that at least one of them will pan out decently. Still, they just can't be that lucky again, not in a division as brutal as the AL East. In all likelihood the O's will be fighting to stay above the .500 mark rather than fighting for a playoff spot.