While a dismal 2010 season started with a 2-16 record -- the second-worst opening in franchise history -- the O's went out with an air of respectability, posting a winning record over the final two months of the season.
There was the dismissal of manager Dave Trembley, replaced permanently by Showalter on Aug. 2, and interim manger Juan Samuel in between. Now, with Showalter inked through 2013, the question marks remain only within the Orioles' roster, where there will be plenty of decisions, starting with the team's seven free agents.
President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has made it clear that the top item on the O's shopping list is a middle-of-the-lineup power bat, although the market will dictate what position will fill that void. The thought is a true cleanup hitter will do what gambling on Garrett Atkins -- who was released due to poor performance -- did not: improve the guys around him. Players like Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are all young and under team control, and adding a menacing bat -- through a trade or free agency -- will help aid an offense that spent the first half of the season ranked last in the Majors in several offensive categories.
Other areas needs to be addressed, namely adding another starter to the mix. The O's have done a good job stockpiling young arms under MacPhail, and encouraging end-of-season performances from Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta make the 2011 rotation more competitive than in recent seasons. Still, the O's will need a veteran to complement Jeremy Guthrie, who has posted consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings, and must account for the growing pains that plagued their young starters this year. Twenty-two-year-old Chris Tillman will also challenge for a rotation spot, along with top pitching prospect Zach Britton, while Rick VandenHurk -- who is out of options this spring -- also figures to get a look.
The O's staff seems deep, and trading away one of their young arms as part of a package isn't out of the question. But this season showed how quickly that depth can be affected by underperformance, which places extra emphasis on Baltimore getting an innings-eater type who can help Guthrie shoulder tough top-of-the-rotation matchups.
In the infield, Baltimore needs to decide if it can afford to retain defensive-minded Cesar Izturis, as the well-liked shortstop leaves much to be desired offensively. If the O's get a bat for third or first base, it will also impact what they do about pending free agent Ty Wigginton, given that rookie third baseman Josh Bell does not figure to be Major League-ready by next spring. The health of Brian Roberts -- who missed 3 1/2 months with a herniated disc in his lower back -- means the team will take a closer look at retaining Wigginton, although Robert Andino has impressed Showalter in a small sample size.
The outfield, beyond Jones and Markakis, could be a spot the team decides to gamble with. Does it trade Felix Pie and retain free agent Corey Patterson as a part of a platoon with Nolan Reimold?
Similarly, the nature of the bullpen has some flexibility. A mess for the first half of the season, a healthy Jim Johnson, Koji Uehara and Michael Gonzalez helped provided a boost. Will the O's part ways with Uehara, who has durability issues but has shown he can get the job done? Will Gonzalez reclaim a closer's role he lost to injury and underperformance? David Hernandez, a converted starter, has been a pleasant surprise, and the O's are also tentatively planning on having reliever Jason Berken back from the disabled list. But like most Major League clubs, the O's 'pen figures to see some changes.
Assuming their young core continues to develop, if the Orioles make the necessary moves this winter -- avoiding filler-type moves -- they could start a turnaround that was supposed to come in 2010. But can they compete against baseball's best in the American League East?
Here's where the roster stands as an interesting winter looms:
Free agents: Ty Wigginton, INF; Koji Uehara, RHP; Cesar Izturis, SS; Corey Patterson, OF; Mark Hendrickson, LHP; Julio Lugo, INF; Kevin Millwood, RHP.
Eligible for arbitration: Jeremy Guthrie, RHP; Luke Scott, DH; Adam Jones, OF; Felix Pie, OF; Matt Albers, RHP.
Player options: None.
Club options: Hendrickson, $1.2 million with a $200,000 buyout.
Non-tender possibilities: Matt Albers, RHP
A position-by-position look at where the 2010 roster stands going into 2011. The arrows represent how the player's '10 season compared to '09.
Matt Wieters: Will be counted on to take a giant step forward.
Craig Tatum: Backup spot is not guaranteed.
Jake Fox: Could be the odd man out next season.
Wieters will be expected to take over the pitching staff, much like he did this season, and the 24-year-old was impressive in his first full season behind the plate. The O's backup spot will come down to whether the team favors the versatility of Fox or goes with a true catcher in Tatum.
Ty Wigginton: Cooled off after a hot start.
Luke Scott: Career high offensively, but his defense is a concern.
Brandon Snyder: Not ready to take over full-time role.
One of the biggest question marks for 2011, first base is a position the Orioles will look to upgrade with a big bat. If they find power elsewhere, they could retain Wigginton or give Scott a look as part of a platoon. All signs point to Snyder starting the season at Triple-A.
Brian Roberts: Will health be a long-term concern?
Julio Lugo: Free agent likely won't return.
Ty Wigginton: It's unclear if he would accept a part-time role.
Roberts' health was an issue in 2010, and the Orioles will need to get a backup who can be counted on for longer stretches, if needed. Lugo is almost certain to leave, and while Wigginton is versatile, it's unclear if he will accept a bench spot.
Cesar Izturis: Could be retained if the Orioles get a power bat elsewhere.
Julio Lugo: Expected departure clears a spot for Andino.
Robert Andino: Has impressed Showalter in small sample size.
Izturis is an offensive liability, but his glove provides an undeniable boost for a young and inexperienced pitching staff. Much of his future in Baltimore depends on where the Orioles get their power bat.
Ty Wigginton: Could be used if the O's get a power bat elsewhere.
Robert Andino: Limited reps at third makes this a long shot.
Josh Bell: Needs to prove he can hit at the Major League level.
Another question mark contingent on this winter's moves, Bell got an extended look this season but struggled mightily at the plate. Wigginton or Andino could be a solution unless the organization goes the route of this season, getting a veteran like Miguel Tejada and making a midseason trade if Bell improves in the Minors.
Nick Markakis: One of the O's team leaders.
Adam Jones: Bounced back from slow start to be a key contributor.
Felix Pie: Will he ever develop all that raw talent?
Nolan Reimold: Must bounce back to avoid being lost in the organization.
Corey Patterson: Could be retained if Pie is traded.
Patterson's future depends on Pie, as both players essentially do the same thing. The O's will likely use a platoon, and Reimold -- one of the bigger disappointments this season -- is far from a lock. Still, Jones and Markakis make the outfield one of the Orioles' strongest suits.
Luke Scott: Set a career high in homers
Scott proved this season he can be an everyday DH. The question is, can he replicate a career year?
Jeremy Guthrie: Emerged from disappointing '09 to be the ace of the staff.
Kevin Millwood: Career-worst season likely the end for him as an Oriole.
Brian Matusz: Solid finish to a roller-coaster rookie season.
Brad Bergesen: Four-seam, two-seam mix helped save his season.
Chris Tillman: Will compete for a starting spot again this spring.
Jake Arrieta: Ended 2010 on a solid note.
Rick VandenHurk: Orioles must decide where he fits in.
Zach Britton (Triple-A): Top pitching prospect will make it a tough race.
It will be a dogfight, more so if the Orioles require another veteran arm that they need to help stabilize the rotation. Still, there's plenty of promise in the youthful staff that will arrive at Spring Training, and the O's will need continued improvement from guys like Matusz, Bergesen and Arrieta, if they are going to compete in 2011.
Koji Uehara: Will the O's gamble on a free agent with durability issues?
Jim Johnson: Proved he can excel as a setup man when healthy.
Michael Gonzalez: Lost the closer job, and his role is undetermined.
David Hernandez: Pleasant surprise out of 'pen could take on a bigger role.
Matt Albers: Solid second half could save his spot.
Rick VandenHurk: Long man or spot starter?
Alfredo Simon: Great stuff, but must learn how to pitch.
Mark Hendrickson: Veteran free agent will likely part ways.
Troy Patton: Next year's Hendrickson?
Jason Berken: How will he bounce back from a season-ending injury?
If the O's don't retain Uehara, they have to decide if Gonzalez can do what they signed him to do: close games. Like Uehara, Gonzalez has had injury issues but has proven to be effective when healthy. The same goes for Johnson, who is a solid bridge to the ninth inning, and the addition of converted starters Berken and Hernandez, should give the team a solid group of arms. Patton could get a look to fill the long man/lefty void of Hendrickson, while Simon will fight to get back to his midseason form. The Orioles could pick up another arm or two here, while the rotation fight could also end in a starter being moved to the 'pen.