Orioles fans probably have a lot of questions about their team going into the 2014 season. Can they break through to the promised land once again? Will Buck Showalter’s magic continue for another season? Will the Orioles struggle without closer Jim Johnson in the fold? All of these questions are worthy of being asked, but they’re not the three key questions for this Orioles team.
Can Chris Davis continue to be superhuman?
The year that Davis had in 2013 was spectacular – 53 home runs. A 1.003 OPS. A double digit walk rate. A strikeout rate under 30% (which trust me, is a massive accomplishment for Chris Davis). But can he repeat that season? Despite his dominance, there were some flaws in Davis’ 2013. Against left-handers, he hit just .235/.289/.475 with “only” 13 home runs and a walk rate south of 6%. In the second half, Davis’ mojo also began to run out, and he hit .245/.339/.515 with “just” 16 home runs. Davis is also 28, heading into free agency after the 2015 season, and has no sustained track record of success. Was 2013 the new norm for him, or was it simply the high point of his career? Davis will likely make at least $12 million in 2015, his final year of arbitration, and if he doesn’t replicate his 2013 this year, the Orioles need to determine whether or not he’d be worth that substantial chunk of change.
What can the Orioles expect from Manny Machado in 2014?
Machado took the baseball world by storm in 2013, hitting .283/.314/.432 and winning the “Platinum Glove” as the American League’s top defender, all while not turning 21-years old until July. But then in September, Machado suffered a horrific knee injury, and is now questionable for Opening Day. After seeing something that horrible happen, can the Orioles really expect a comparable performance from their young third baseman this season?
Even before the injury, Machado was starting to slow down. In the second half, he scuffled to a .240/.277/.370 line, one more fitting of a 21-year old Gold Glover. After pounding 39 doubles in the first half and stirring up talk that he could challenge the all-time record, Machado hit just 12 in the second half. So when you combine his injury with his decreased production in the second half, thinking that Machado is once again going to be an All-Star for the Orioles is perhaps an optimistic viewpoint. He’s still incredibly young and will likely continue to improve over his career, but expecting another 50 doubles and a Gold Glove in 2014 might be taking things a tad bit too far.
Is Nelson Cruz enough of an upgrade for the offense?
If Cruz doesn’t have a productive 2014, his struggles will immediately be blamed on a lack of PEDs after he was suspended as part of the Biogenetic mess last year. The Orioles picked up Cruz on a one-year deal this winter with the expectation that he could adequately fill their gaping hole at the DH position, and it wouldn’t exactly take a lot for that to happen – Orioles designated hitters hit .234/.289/.415 a year ago, which was shockingly near the middle of the pack in the American League. Plugging Cruz and his .266/.327/.506 line into the DH position will serve as a massive upgrade over the likes of Brian Roberts, Steve Pearce, Chris Dickerson, Henry Urrutia, and Nolan Reimold, who ate up nearly 60% of the at bats at DH last season for Baltimore.
But will Cruz be enough? After all, with Machado out of action, the light-hitting Ryan Flaherty and Jemile Weeks will both be thrust into the starting lineup. Right fielder Nick Markakis bottomed out last season with a .271/.329/.356 line. Catcher Matt Wieters had his worst year at the plate, and his OBP fell to a ghastly .287. 28-year old David Lough will get a bulk of the plate appearances in left field, and while he played well last season with the Royals, he walked just ten times in 335 plate appearances. Hell, even center fielder Adam Jones and shortstop J.J. Hardy are flawed players, mixing high power numbers with low on-base percentages. Cruz will surely be a fix for Baltimore, but he isn’t a panacea that will make their offense elite.