While the Baltimore Orioles' 2013 season is far from over, it's never too early to speculate on the future of the ballclub.
The O's have a solid team and they don't have that many players who are free agents after this season, meaning their lineup probably won't look extremely different from this year's starting nine.
Still, they do have a couple of holes to address and everyone loves predictions. So, here is how the Baltimore Orioles' lineup may look like in 2014.
Nate McLouth is one of the few Orioles who will become a free agent at the end of this season after having signed a one-year, $2 million deal last offseason.
Although that does mean there is a chance that McLouth isn't with Baltimore next season, it doesn't mean that the Orioles won't do whatever they can to keep the 31-year-old.
So far in 2013 McLouth has been a solid table-setter with his .272/.343/.406 batting line and 28 stolen bases. While he may not be the most dynamic player in the Baltimore lineup, he does have decent pop at the plate and is reliable in the field.
He shouldn't be too expensive this offseason and fits in well with the Orioles' lineup. There also isn't any major threat to his position in the Orioles' farm system other than perhaps Henry Urrutia. Odds are that McLouth returns to Baltimore next season.
Other Leadoff Possibilities: Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts
Other Left Field Possibilities: Henry Urrutia
It was somewhat of a surprise when manager Buck Showalter decided to bat Manny Machado second in the Orioles' lineup back in the beginning of April.
But long story short, Machado did not disappoint.
While he has cooled down somewhat and no longer looks to be threatening Earl Webb's single-season major league record of 67 doubles set in 1931, the 21-year-old continues to lead the majors in 2013 with 43 doubles and can still break the Orioles' club record of 56 set by Brian Roberts in 2009.
From a fielding perspective, let's just say Machado is extremely good and leave it at that.
There's probably a slight chance that he could be moved to third in the batting order, but having Machado bat second and play third base is probably the surest bet in the Orioles' projected lineup for next season.
Other Possibilities for Batting Second: Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy
Other Third Base Possibilities: None
To say that Chris Davis has had a good season and is an important member of the Orioles' lineup is an understatement.
With 45 home runs, 115 RBI, a .305 batting average and a 1.069 OPS and still over a month of the season remaining, Davis has had an excellent campaign at the plate.
However, where Davis bats in the lineup remains a question.
While he's probably best suited for cleanup, that's probably unlikely to happen as long as McLouth leads off and Machado bats second. Manager Buck Showalter usually tries to set his lineup by alternating between left-handed and right-handed hitters, so batting Davis third would not only get him a few extra at-bats, it would also satisfy Showalter's strategy.
Other Possibilities for Batting Third: Adam Jones, Nick Markakis
Other First Base Possibilities: None
Adam Jones will play center field in 2014 and will probably bat cleanup or third in the lineup. Both of those statements are more factual than opinions.
He's only 28 years old with five years left on his contract after this season and he's averaging .300 and poised to hit 30-plus homers.
As long as Jones is healthy, he'll be playing every day next year.
Other Possibilities for Batting Clean-Up: Chris Davis
Other Center Field Possibilities: None
The Orioles are in need of a designated hitter and Justin Morneau seems to be a good fit.
There have been a multitude of rumors linking the Twins' Morneau to the Birds since the trade market started to take shape back near the end of June. Although Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has reported that the Orioles' interest in the left-handed slugger is lukewarm, it's still a possibility that Morneau is in an Orioles' uniform by the end of the season.
Even if the Orioles fail to acquire the 32-year-old prior to the end of this season, he is a free agent this offseason and could be targeted by the Orioles then. He's not the same player he was back when he won AL MVP honors in 2006, but he's still has solid pop in his bat and wouldn't be too expensive.
Other Possibilities for Batting Fifth: Chris Davis, Matt Wieters
Other Designated Hitter Possibilities: Henry Urrutia, Steve Pearce, Danny Valencia, Wilson Betemit
J.J. Hardy has another year left in his contract, so he will be returning to play shortstop for the Orioles in 2014.
After a down year offensively in 2012, Hardy has picked up the pace in 2013, already matching his home run total of 22 from last year. With 66 RBI, he is only two away from matching that total from last season as well.
Defensively, Hardy is as solid as ever.
It's highly unlikely that he'll be moved any higher in the lineup, simply because there's not really any room, but there's nothing wrong with having a player like Hardy bat sixth or seventh.
Other Possibilities for Batting Sixth: Matt Wieters
Other Shortstop Possibilities: None
Nick Markakis just isn't the same player he used to be.
He used to bring a ton of doubles, decent power and a batting average near .300 to the table. But he hasn't hit over 31 doubles since 2010, hasn't had over 15 homers since 2009 and is only hitting .279 this season.
Yeah, that's not awful, but it's not worth the $15 million he's making in 2013 either.
He's still great in the field and has at least a year left on his contract before the Orioles have to make an interesting decision on whether or not to exercise a $17 million team option on him, so Markakis will be in the Orioles' lineup next season.
However, he may not be able to keep his third spot in the lineup, especially if the O's sign a reliable DH.
Other Possibilities for Batting Seventh: Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy
Other Right Field Possibilities: None
Matt Wieters hasn't lived up to the lofty offensive expectations that were set for him back when he was a top prospect in 2009, but he has been decent offensively and terrific defensively over the past five seasons.
The Orioles haven't been able to work out an extension with the 27-year-old catcher, who is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. But as for next year, Wieters will remain behind the plate for the Birds.
If the O' fail to sign a designated hitter, Wieters will not be this low in the batting order, as he has routinely hit in the middle of the lineup over the last few seasons, including this season. However, while he still has 20-plus home run power, a .235 average is probably better suited for lower in the lineup.
Other Possibilities for Batting Eighth: Any DH other than Justin Morneau
Other Catcher Possibilities: None
Other than the designated hitter spot, the only other major question regarding the Orioles' lineup in 2014 is at second base.
They certainly have options.
Although Brian Roberts is decent and has the most experience of any of the other choices, he is a free agent at the end of this season. He'll be 36 next season and is prone to injury. The only way he returns to Baltimore next year is if he takes a major pay cut. Even he does, the Orioles may be looking to move on to younger and cheaper options.
Ryan Flaherty is another option. He's still relatively young and has some potential, but his .217 career average isn't overwhelmingly convincing.
Alexi Casilla is a more of a utility infielder than a starting second baseman and 27-year-old prospect Buck Britton hasn't really done enough to be given a starting opportunity in the majors yet, so having either of those two getting the job is unlikely.
That leaves Jonathan Schoop. He's the Orioles' top non-pitching prospect according to MLB.com and is only 21 years old. While his Triple-A numbers don't jump off the page, they aren't awful either and he has shown decent power.
On paper, Schoop seems to be a pretty reliable second baseman in the field as well. He has only made one error in 46 games at second this season.
The biggest question is whether or not he is ready for the majors. He'll probably have to win the job in spring training, but having Schoop start at second base for the Orioles next season is definitely a possibility.
Other Possibilities for Batting Ninth and Playing Second Base: Ryan Flaherty, Brian Roberts, Alexi Casilla, Buck Britton
Orioles Possible 2014 Lineup:
1. Nate McLouth, LF (LH)
2. Manny Machado, 3B
3. Chris Davis, 1B (LH)
4. Adam Jones, CF
5. Justin Morneau, DH (LH)
6. J.J. Hardy, SS
7. Nick Markakis, RF (LH)
8. Matt Wieters, C (SH)
9. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
Whether you disagree or agree, if you have any thoughts, concerns, questions or predictions, please comment in the section below.