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Five Biggest Questions Facing The Orioles In 2018

January 2, 2018
Spring training is six weeks away, and the Baltimore Orioles have a lot of work to do between now and then. Throughout the next several weeks, the shape of the 2018 Orioles should become clearer, but it's extremely likely that additional pieces will be brought on during spring training.
 
Here are some of the questions the Orioles must answer as spring training approaches:
 
1. What will the Orioles do with Manny Machado?
 
While the Orioles may not be actively shopping their star third baseman, they need to decide where he'll play if they keep him.
 
Machado would like a move to shortstop, and that would leave a hole at third base. Do the Orioles try and move Tim Beckham, who they acquired at last July's non-waiver trading deadline to play shortstop, to third, where he has limited experience?
 
Or do they make Beckham a super-utility player?
 
If the Orioles trade Machado in the next several weeks, they'll have a hole at third base with no obvious successor on hand.
 
2. What does the starting rotation look like?
 
For now, the only two likely starters are right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Originally, one of the rationales for a Machado trade was to find additional starters for the rotation in 2018 and beyond.
 
That can be revisited, and so can the free-agent market. Many of the pitchers the Orioles have been linked with in free agency -- right-handers Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Andrew Cashner and Miguel Gonzalez and left-hander Jason Vargas -- remain unsigned.
 
At last month's Winter Meetings, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said he wasn't inclined to offer a starting pitcher a four- or five-year contract.
 
The Orioles will have to hope the market for free-agent starting pitchers is a tepid one and they can land one or two starters.
 
3. Who's going to be in the bullpen?
 
Until closer Zach Britton suffered a torn Achilles tendon last month, the Orioles looked as if they had five solid relievers. They still have right-handers Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O'Day and left-hander Richard Bleier.
 
Now, they'll need another left-hander. They have Donnie Hart, who had a disappointing 2017, as well as three other left-handers on the 40-man roster: rookies Chris Lee and Tanner Scott as well as Nelson Cortes, a Rule 5 draftee. Non-roster left-hander Josh Edgin will probably get a long look in spring training.
 
Brach is the favorite to start the season as the closer, but keep your eye on Givens, who could close in the latter half of this season.
 
4. Are the Orioles going to get another left-handed hitter?
 
Ten of the 14 position players on the 40-man roster are right-handed hitters, and Chris Davis is the only starter who hits left-handed.
 
Chance Sisco, whose place on the 2018 Opening Day roster isn't guaranteed, hits left-handed. So does outfielder Jaycob Brugman, who was acquired from the Oakland Athletics. Last year's Rule 5 pick, Anthony Santander, is a switch-hitter.
 
There are many left-handed hitters on the free-agent market, and the Orioles will continue to look to find one who fits.
 
5. Who will be on the bench?
 
Manager Buck Showalter hinted at the Winter Meetings that the Orioles may carry 13 pitchers, and that would mean just three bench players.
 
A backup catcher, Santander, who must stay on the roster for 44 days to fulfill his Rule 5 requirements and is a versatile player, could be on the bench as the Orioles begin 2018.
 
Unless Beckham is the choice to play nearly everywhere, the utility player isn't obvious.
 
Ryan Flaherty, who filled the utility role for six seasons, is a free agent, and there will be a few minor leaguers in camp that are possibilities. Luis Sardinas, a switch-hitting infielder who has four years of major league experience, is a possibility.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox