Prior to the 2012 season, the Baltimore Orioles hadn't finished with a winning record in 15 years. In fact, they'd only finished better than fourth place in the A.L. East once.
Over the course of the last two years, everything has changed. The O's are coming off of consecutive winning seasons, and they feature one of the most potent lineups in all of baseball.
By all accounts, the Orioles organization is moving in a very positive direction.
A few months ago, I could have never made that statement with such conviction. Baltimore was making absolutely no noise in free agency, and fans were beginning to fear that the historically frugal owner of the Orioles, Peter Angelos, was satisfied with third-place finishes and 85-77 records.
However, that all changed in mid-February when the Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract.
This signing showed that the Orioles are serious about winning, something that fans and players alike always love to see.
JJ Hardy said of his pending free agency that it crossed his mind on the Jimenez signing that it signals #Orioles are serious about winning.— Brett Hollander (@BrettHollander) February 20, 2014
After the Jimenez signing, it seemed like the floodgates opened. The Orioles then signed former All-Stars Nelson Cruz and Johan Santana to deals.
Baltimore Orioles sign Johan Santana to one-year deal http://t.co/dMdGjxuZ2W— ESPN New York (@ESPNNewYork) March 4, 2014
Suddenly, a Baltimore Orioles team that led the league in home runs in 2013 was getting another power bat in the lineup. Plus, their pitching staff that had looked overmatched at times last season had added an ace in Jimenez and a seasoned veteran in Santana.
After the hectic free-agency period, the social media buzz around the Orioles shifted to players' performances during spring training. Who was impressing? Who was making a case to be named to the 40-man roster?
Early on, two players stood out.
Early on, top position prospect Jonathan Schoop and non-roster invitee Delmon Young are making a strong case to make the #Orioles ball club.— Denim McDemus (@DenimMcDemus) March 3, 2014
Perhaps the best news for the Orioles in regards to Delmon Young has been his weight. A supremely talented player who was the taken with the first overall pick back in the 2003 draft, Young has struggled to stay in shape throughout his career. Could the Orioles have struck gold with this signing?
Chris Davis has been “crushing” the ball thus far, which should come as no surprise after blasting 53 home runs and driving in 138 runs last season.
Nick Markakis, who is expected to be the O’s leadoff hitter again this season, isn’t doing too bad, either (notice Davis' numbers somehow got even more absurd, too, after his next game).
It isn't just a few Orioles that are hot right now, either; it's the whole team.
The Orioles have best record in Grapefruit Lg at 8-2, scoring 29 runs their last 3 games and 79 runs in 10 games.— Steve Melewski (@masnSteve) March 9, 2014
Needless to say, Baltimore has been an offensive force down in Florida so far. Will the pitching rotation match that success, though? That's been the question for the Orioles in recent years.
Jimenez helps, Chris Tillman is coming off of a great year, and now rumors are circulating that the O's might get even more free-agent help in the form of Ervin Santana.
ESPN's Buster Olney speculates that even if they don't land Santana, the Orioles could make another splash elsewhere.
Total speculation: If the Orioles are willing to spend on @ErvinSantana_54 but miss out, could they use $ to go after Kendrys Morales?— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) March 9, 2014
After remaining quiet for so long this offseason, the Orioles have come on strong recently. As a result, the excitement level around the team is at an all-time high.
Stuck in the American League East's cellar for so long, the O's are poised to make a strong playoff push this season and build off of their recent success. The fact that management seems to recognize the window of opportunity that they have here is surely music to the Orioles fans' ears.
Will Davis and Adam Jones have huge seasons again? Will Markakis play how he's capable of playing after a down year in 2013? Will Jimenez be the ace that the Orioles desperately need? Will Ervin Santana land in Baltimore?
We'll find out soon enough.