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O's optimistic for 2014 with key pieces on the mend

O's optimistic for 2014 with key pieces on the mend

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O's optimistic for 2014 with key pieces on the mend

BALTIMORE -- The calendar will soon flip to 2014, a welcome change for the Orioles after a disappointing 2013.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter will be tasked with trying to recreate the magic from '12 and ensure Baltimore -- eliminated in the final week last season -- plays host to some more playoff baseball.

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2014 schedule
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The Orioles have had a slow offseason and have plenty of holes to fill before heading down to Spring Training in Sarasota, Fla., in early February. All they've done so far is trade away closer Jim Johnson, lose Nate McLouth, Scott Feldman and Brian Roberts to free agency, and add reliever Ryan Webb (who was non-tendered by Miami) and outfielder David Lough (via trade).

While they are optimistic for a better finish in 2014, the Orioles -- like the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball -- enter the new year with a fair share of questions. Here they are:

Will Dylan Bundy be a factor?

The pitching prospect had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in late June and could be a factor in the second half of the season. Bundy's power arm is progressing well in his rehab, and he now is throwing off flat ground. For a pitching staff without much star power, Bundy's presence -- in the rotation or bullpen -- would be a welcome boost.

Can Nolan Reimold stay healthy? 

Coming off his second consecutive season-ending surgery -- a corrective neck procedure after the first one didn't fuse properly -- Reimold has endured a string of terrible luck and horrific injuries, the latest of which stemmed from diving for a ball in the stands. A potential non-tender candidate, the Orioles elected to offer Reimold a contract in what figures to be the 30-year-old's last chance with the organization. Reimold has shown flashes of power when healthy and would be a huge coup for the O's if he can find a way to channel that again.

How will the starting rotation shake out?

There will be Chris Tillman at the top, and Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen figure to have spots as well. Bud Norris is another option and Kevin Gausman -- who made his debut last season -- also will compete for a spot, along with Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Steve Johnson, to name a few. Before camp, the O's would like to add another external candidate or two, as the rotation struggled to go deep into games last season.

Will Manny Machado be ready for Opening Day?

The 21-year-old All-Star has started running in his rehab from knee surgery and is on track to potentially be ready for March 31. Machado won a Gold Glove Award in his first full season as a big leaguer, and his progress will be carefully monitored -- but not rushed -- this spring.

Which Nick Markakis will show up?

Coming off the worst season of his eight-year career, Markakis has regained his health and, as Showalter cautioned reporters, could be a potential Comeback Player of the Year candidate. More importantly, the Orioles need Markakis to step up at the plate and be a leader, even more so without Jim Johnson and Roberts. The quiet right fielder, who had three operations in 2012 and was slowed last spring by a neck injury, is working out earlier than in previous winters with the hope to leave last season behind him.

Who will play second base?

Without Roberts, who signed with the Yankees, the Orioles will most likely turn to Ryan Flaherty for the bulk of second-base duties. Jemile Weeks, the 26-year-old switch-hitter acquired from Oakland, is another option, as is the recently outrighted Cord Phelps. Don't be surprised if top position prospect Jonathan Schoop, 22, arrives at some point, with the organization preferring that Schoop spends another month or two at Triple-A first.

Which prospects will emerge?

Schoop is a possibility, and it could be a big year for Bundy and Gausman as well. Other names to watch include Michael Almanzar, who is a Rule 5 Draft pick, outfielder Henry Urrutia and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez. Duquette has said the club's core players need to come from within, and their farm system is in a much better spot than a few years ago, with players ready and capable of filling in on the horizon.

How do the Orioles replace Jim Johnson?

The search for a new closer turned ugly recently when the O's broke off an agreement with Grant Balfour because of concerns with the right-hander's physical. Who do they turn to now? They've been rumored to have interest in Fernando Rodney, but could eventually look in-house at a guy like Tommy Hunter. Either way, it's a tall task to replace Johnson, who recorded at least 50 saves in back-to-back seasons.

Can the Orioles reach the postseason?

In the end, this is the only question that matters. Can the O's manage to keep pace in the American League East to be there at the end?

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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