The last three years have been unexpected surprises for the Orioles. While there is still plenty of time to put the coal in the hot stove to heat up some more trade talk or free agent signings the Orioles are in the minus column with respect to lost players. In 2015 they will be minus the bats of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They have not signed anyone to replace them. They also lost relief pitcher Andrew Miller, who was a late season acquisition from the Red Sox. While they signed Wesley Wright to a free agent contract, he is far from the talent of Andrew Miller.
So what do the Orioles look like at those positions. Steve Pearce can go back into left or right field. His defense will not match Markakis, but if his bat stays on cue the offensive production will be better. The Orioles will need to find a bat to fit into the leadoff spot and hope the 2014 season from Pearce was not a one shot wonder.
The player they may ask to replace Markakis in right field would be their Cuban signing Dariel Alvarez. They are impressed with his arm and he had a solid season in AA and AAA combining for a .306 average with 15 homeruns. At 26 years of age (if his age can be believed) he should be ready to debut on the major league team.
Replacing Nelson Cruz at the DH spot will be tougher. The Orioles are trying to resign Delmon Young. He generally only becomes a starter against lefthanded bats. This would allow Buck to rotate players among the DH spot against righthanded pitchers, making the defense oriented David Lough free to patrol the outfield while Pearce or Chris Davis move to the DH spot. Or they could still put Alejandro De Aza in left field, though he reminds me more of a fourth outfielder type.
Last year Chris Davis played a lot of third base after Manny Machado went down with his second knee injury. This could give the Orioles a bit of flexibility, moving Chris to third to allow Manny to DH and bringing prospect Craig Walker up to play first. Defensively, if the Orioles had their say, they would prefer to play Ryan Flaherty at third, but his bat has been about as impotent as David Lough.
The bullpen will miss the setup role Andrew Miller gave to Zack Britton. That role will now have to be filled by the inconsistent Tommy Hunter, who lost his job as the closer in 2014. The other option is to hope for improvement from Brad Brach. They could also cross their fingers in the belief that submariner Darren O’Day can fill the role, his delivery not negatively impacted by his increased exposure to hitters. None of those pitchers have the history of success achieved by Andrew Miller his last couple of years.
What makes Oriole fans optimistic is bounce back seasons from Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy, healthy seasons from Manny Machado and Matt Wieters and improvement from second year player Jonathan Schoop. They also have a number of young pitchers percolating in the farm system in Mike Wright, Tim Berry, Zack Davis and the resurgence of Dylan Bundy from his surgery that could find themselves in the starting rotation. Those improvements it is hoped will make up for the losses of Markakis, Cruz and Miller.