Four Keys to Baltimore Orioles Building a Perennial Contender Under Showalter

Alexander Van Rees@Alex_VanReesContributor IIINovember 30, 2012

Four Keys to Baltimore Orioles Building a Perennial Contender Under Showalter

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    Critics and even many fans counted the Baltimore Orioles out of the 2012 playoff race from the get go. And, really, who wouldn’t blame them?

    I know I didn’t expect the Orioles to advance to the postseason. I just was hoping for a winning record for the first time since 1997.

    After 14 consecutive disappointing losing seasons with a revolving door of sub-par managers in the history books, the Birds finally were able to put together a strong core of young, talented players. The only problem last season was their experience level—they could not handle the pressure that comes with the postseason.

    However, as the months and years progress, I’m sure they will be more adept and learn how to win as a team and advance further in the playoffs.

    Even though the Birds forced the nail-biting Game 5 against the always tough New York Yankees this past October, critics still believe that this season was a fluke and they won’t be able to build and grow. They don’t think the Orioles have a shot next year because of their recent history of bad decision-making and struggles.

    But, if Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette have anything to do with that, the Birds will be just as much a contender next season, if not even better.

    I’ve compiled a list of the top four keys to the Baltimore Orioles building a perennial contender under the leadership of Buck Showalter.

1. Establish a Strong Starting Core

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    The first key to the Orioles continued success is for Showalter to establish a strong core for the starting rotation. Everyone has heard the saying that pitching wins baseball games, and that will always be the case.

    No matter what type of offense a team has, there is no way they can win without a strong and reliable pitching staff.

    Just take the Texas Rangers from the mid-2000s for example. They were one of the most powerful offensive teams in the majors at that time, but they struggled because they failed to put together a pitching staff that could keep them in enough games to put together a winning season.

    Last season, the Orioles went through a number of starting pitchers and their rotation constantly evolved and changed throughout the season. At the beginning, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Zach Britton were the main three and young core.

    However, each of them landed on the DL and all of them spent major portions of the year in the minors rehabbing and working on their stuff to get back to the major league level.

    Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and Steve Johnson (and Joe Saunders toward the end of the season) finished the season as the main starting rotation.

    However, next season is a new year and all of these pitchers should be healthy. Saunders might not return, but the Orioles are hopeful he will. He tossed 11.1 innings, scattered nine base hits and surrendered only two earned runs in two must-win games for the Birds in the playoffs.

    Chen definitely pitched his way into the rotation next year. Hammel led the Orioles for the first half of the season in wins, and if he is healthy, he should remain in the rotation. Gonzalez came out of nowhere and posted a 9-4 record with a stunning 3.25 ERA in the regular season.

    Britton, Arrieta and Matusz are all young, talented pitchers and although they have struggled a bit in their careers, they have proven at times that they can pitch in a major league starting rotation.

    Not to mention, Tsuyoshi Wada never even pitched in a regular season game for the Birds because he was injured in spring training. However, he is supposed to be a top prospect from Japan.

    Showalter will have a very difficult decision on who he thinks will be the best starting five at the beginning of the year, and spring training will have a major impact on that decision. There are so many options for the skipper, I’m sure that will be one of the most important questions come February when pitchers report to training camp.

    I think it is very important for him to establish the starting rotation at the beginning of the year, and not stray too far from it. Of course, if there are injuries or a hurler struggles mightily, change it up. But I think he needs to stick with a core five that will be able to last for a number of seasons (so he needs to choose younger pitchers).

2. Sign a Proven Clean-Up Power Hitter

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    Another key to the Orioles building a strong team under Showalter is the front office has to go out and sign a clean-up power hitter that is able to anchor and be the core of their lineup.

    Last season, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds, among others, rotated in and out of the fourth spot in the lineup. All of them put together strong years, but none of them were able to consistently be a force out of the clean-up spot.

    That was one area that Orioles struggled with last year. When looking at their lineup, they did not have a power threat out of the clean-up position. Wieters is young and inexperienced. He is still growing into his own and does not need to have that added stress on him. He is a better hitter when he is batting in the fifth spot in the order.

    Jones spent most of his time in the fourth position, but he is still young and learning like Wieters. I think he would benefit from hitting third in the order in front of a power hitter who can give him protection.

    Who knows if Reynolds is coming back, but he is definitely not a fourth place hitter. And Davis, although he finished the year on a homerun-hitting spree, he is not the prototypical homerun threat.

    Of course, adding Josh Hamilton would be the best possibility for the Orioles to gain a proven, clean-up hitting threat. But, like I wrote in my previous article, he wants a huge deal and I’m not sure if the Birds are willing to dish out the amount of money he wants.

    Regardless, the Orioles are still in search of a full-time first baseman and an outfielder. If all goes as planned and the Birds add both a left fielder and a first baseman, Davis will mainly be the designated hitter. He has the ability to play both first and the outfield, so he can fill in when a regular needs the day off.

    A proven, powerful clean-up hitter will help fortify the Orioles lineup and they will be a force to be reckoned with. Right now, they have a couple of holes in the order, but if they were able to add a power hitter, things would change greatly.

3. Continue to Develop Young Talent

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    Another key to the Orioles continued success under Showalter is for their minor league system to continue developing young talent like they have with Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy, among others.

    Don’t forget, the Orioles’ system also developed Wieters, Brian Roberts, and Nick Markakis to mention a few.

    The 20-year-old Machado played in 51 games for the Birds, hit .262, smashed seven home runs and drove in 26 RBI. He drilled three home runs and drove in seven RBI over his first week with the team, winning the AL Player of the Week award.

    Bundy, who is also just 20 years old, pitched just two games with the Orioles this season, but failed to allow a run and allowed just one base hit over 1.2 innings. The phenom tossed 30 innings of scoreless ball at the Delmarva Single-A level in his first trip to the minor leagues.

    After eight impressive games, the RHP moved up to Single-A+ Frederick and pitched strong there as well. In 12 games, he sported a 6-3 record with a strong 2.84 ERA. And, finally, in his last trip before the majors, he stopped at Double-A Bowie. There, he went 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA over three contests.

    Overall, in 23 minor league games, he compiled a 9-3 record with a very impressive 2.08 ERA.

    Although he pitched so well throughout the minors, he most likely will not make the team out of spring training. There is no doubt he will get the call next season to make his debut out of the rotation, but the question is when.

    Both infielder Jonathan Schoop and RHP Kevin Gausman, who the Orioles selected fourth in the draft this past season, will make their way up to the big leagues in a couple of seasons.

    Fans have been hearing over the last 15 years that the Birds’ front office is developing their young talent and they’ll be good in the future. Well, the future is finally there. I guess all that work has finally paid off.

    But, they need to continue to develop their young talent and the key is not to trade their future stars away. Many of the teams these days trade away their best minor league prospects for one major, year-changing player.

    The Birds cannot fall into that pattern, and over the last couple of years, they’ve stayed true to developing within their own organization, and I don’t think things will change with Duquette in charge.

4. Re-Sign Buck Showalter

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    The last key to the Orioles building a perennial contender under Showalter is to re-sign the skipper. The Birds signed him through the end of the 2013 season, so he has at least one more year left at the helm.

    However, I think the Orioles need to try their best to keep Showalter as long as they can. In an article written a week after the Yankees eliminated them from the playoffs this past October, Duquette expressed his interest in keeping the skipper on board for years to come.

    The former Yankees, Diamondback and Rangers’ manager is only 56 years old and has a great track record in the major leagues. There is no doubt that he is a baseball guy through and through.

    He has a baseball mind and understands what it takes to win. He has won two manager of the year awards, and was very close to winning his third this year. Not to mention, he is known for rebuilding a team and making them a contender.

    Showalter brought back a winning team to Baltimore. Yes, you have to give credit to the players and Dan Duquette for putting together a strong, young core. However, without Showalter leading the way, who knows where the Orioles would have finished this season.

    He does not demand their respect, but he commands it. There is a big difference.

    He does not have to ask for their respect. He is the type of manager who players want to play for. You can see in the player’s eyes that they want to be on the field and they want to win. They want to go out there and lay everything they have on the line.

    In years past, it was obvious that some teams just did not care to be out there. They did not play like they want to win. They just fielded a team, and endured through losing seasons.

    Under Showalter, there’s a different attitude. Everyone plays their hardest and leaves everything on the field. Showalter did not have to come to Baltimore and embrace a losing team who had lost 11 consecutive years at that point.

    Not only is Showalter a winning manager, but he is a community activist and really believes in the Baltimore faithful. He and his wife Angela have teamed up with KidsPeace Trik-or-Trot 5K walk/run event in October in Canton.

    It’s obvious he wants to be a part of this community, as he has done other community activist events in the past and is always a supporter of the community around him. (Appreciation for the fans)

    Showalter has been the most consistent and strongest manager the Orioles have seen since Davie Johnson left after the ’97 season.

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