While the euphoria of the Baltimore Orioles' magical 2012 season may carry the rejuvenated fan base to spring training, the club's front office must get on with the business of fielding an even better squad in 2013.
Here are the biggest questions facing the Orioles this winter:
What to do at first base?
The Orioles hold an $11 million option for 2013 on Mark Reynolds. While Reynolds isn't worth that type of money the club could try to bring him back on a new deal at a reduced salary. The Orioles' free-swinging ways came back to bite the club in the ALDS with the New York Yankees, and first base is one spot where the team could seek an offensive upgrade.
The problem is that outside of Adam LaRoche (who is coming off a career year at age 32) the free agent pickings at first base are slim. The Orioles could trade from their surplus of young pitching for a young first baseman like Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals or the Washington Nationals' Tyler Moore.
Who's on second?
The Orioles shuffled through a quartet of underwhelming offensive options at second base in 2012. Brian Roberts has one year remaining on his deal, but he can't be counted on next season. Robert Andino plays solid defense but his offensive warts become all too apparent when he plays regularly. Ryan Flaherty showed promise late in the season but wasn't consistent enough to be counted on every day.
The list of free-agent second basemen offers few options for the Orioles. Though it wouldn't impress fans, the Orioles may be best served by signing an inexpensive right-handed hitting veteran like Jeff Baker, Jeff Keppinger, or Ryan Theriot to platoon with Flaherty for a few months until top prospect Jonathan Schoop is ready for the big leagues.
Is Nate McLouth the answer in left field?
After flopping as an Atlanta Brave and a Pittsburgh Pirate, the 30-year-old McLouth morphed into Buck Showalter's Swiss Army knife in his brief time with Baltimore. McLouth is a free agent this offseason. The Orioles could seek to bring McLouth back on a multi-year deal, roll the dice with the oft-injured Nolan Reimold and youngster L.J. Hoes in left field, or sign a veteran free agent like Torii Hunter or Nick Swisher. The 37-year-old Hunter, who posted a .365 OBP and drove in 92 runs in 2012, would provide some much-needed plate discipline to the middle of the Orioles' batting order.
Do the Orioles have enough pitching?
The O's enter this offseason with Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, and Miguel Gonzalez seemingly locked into the top four spots in the 2013 rotation. Joe Saunders pitched with ice water in his veins in the postseason and could return on a short-term deal to buy time for phenom Dylan Bundy. The Orioles could bypass the free-agent pitching market and allow Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, and Steve Johnson to battle it out in spring training for the fifth starter role.
Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter could also be in the rotation mix, but at this point they seem better suited for the bullpen.
*Information gathered from http://www.baseball-reference.com.