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Orioles off-season of uncertainty begins now

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Orioles off-season of uncertainty begins now

At the dawn of the Buck Showalter era five years ago, a breakeven season would have cause for celebration in Baltimore.

Now, it just feels empty.

After 14 losing seasons, shouldn’t four consecutive non-losing seasons—for the first time in 30 years—feel better?

No.

That’s because Showalter has succeeded in one of his most important tasks — raising expectations — and after an unlikely wild card team in 2012, a competitive one in 2013, and an AL East winner a year ago, a .500 team just doesn’t make it.

The Orioles had to win five straight games against Toronto and New York to close at the break-even point, just the second time in team history it finished there.

But, the fans who attended Sunday’s windy farewell knew all too well that big changes are in store.

After the first two winning seasons, the Orioles were able to keep their core of Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters together and had a young budding star in Manny Machado.

Markakis is gone, and now Davis and Wieters are expected to go, and fans aren’t pleased about it.

Davis is in an enviable position. Not yet 30, he’s a free agent in a year where there aren’t many quality first basemen available, let alone ones with two home run titles.

The Orioles are faced with an awful decision. If they do everything in their power to sign Davis, they’ll likely sacrifice the ability to add other stars and complementary pieces. They may also lose the chance to extend Machado, who’s still three years away from free agency, but may be worth more than Davis.

After Markakis and Nelson Cruz left, fans wondered how the Orioles would be able to replace them. A popular retort was that Davis, Machado and Wieters would all be back, happy and healthy.

That was mostly true. Davis nearly doubled his home run output of 2014. Machado hit 35 and became a much more selective hitter, but Wieters, due to a limited schedule in what was essentially a rehab year, didn’t produce what was expected.

While the losses of Cruz and Markakis were crucial, they also pointed to a lineup much too dependent on power. Machado is now a dangerous all-around hitter, and Jonathan Schoop is showing signs that he could be, too.

But, there were too many times when the team seemingly waited on the home run.

MORE ORIOLES: Showalter noncommital about coaches returning

The players that Dan Duquette and Showalter hoped would adequately fill in for Cruz and Markakis—Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider and Delmon Young—failed, and were all gone long before season’s end.

Steve Pearce failed to follow up on his surprising 2015, though he showed some late power, and Duquette was forced to try and replace Markakis at the trading deadline with Gerardo Parra, another pending free agent.

Davis, Parra, Pearce, Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day are all free agents, and if even two of those return, it would be a major victory.

While the club continued to hit home runs, it continued to strike out at an alarming rate, and the on-base percentage, which has been a concern of Duquette ever since he arrived four years ago, dropped yet again—to .307.

Those issues all could have been forgotten had the starting pitching maintained its 2014 excellence.

It didn’t.

While Chen continued to almost always provide creditable starts, and Ubaldo Jimenez rebounded to somewhat justify their investment in him, the others fell back.

None fell farther than Bud Norris, who led the team in wins with 15 in 2014, and won just two before his July 31 jettisoning.

Chris Tillman, who was the team’s best pitcher in 2013 and 2014, had a middling year, and Miguel Gonzalez stumbled, too.

The Orioles are hoping for more from Tillman, Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman, who turned in a few excellent late season starts.

All will have to be much better in 2016.

Of all the free agents, Chen is the least likely to return. The Orioles are betting, and I think they’re right, that they got a four-year bargain with Chen, and that re-upping him isn’t wise. He earned $15.47 million for the past four years, and in his next contract, he could average that on a four-year deal.

Even if O’Day leaves, which will probably happen, the Orioles may be somewhat protected with the emergence of Brad Brach and Mychal Givens to set up for Zach Britton.

Duquette and Showalter will address the 2015 season and what they think lies ahead for the next few months this afternoon.

One area that must be immediately addressed is the uncertainty surrounding the coaching staff, which Showalter has repeatedly said, is the best he’s had. None are under contract for 2016.

The off-season begins now.

MORE ORIOLES: Mancini wins Orioles top minor league player award

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Orioles agree to one-year deal with pitcher Chris Tillman, according to reports

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USA Today Sports

Orioles agree to one-year deal with pitcher Chris Tillman, according to reports

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A person familiar with the negotiations says pitcher Chris Tillman and the Baltimore Orioles have agreed to a $3 million, one-year contract.

The deal includes performance bonuses, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because the deal had not yet been announced.

Tillman was 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 19 starts and five relief appearances last year. He would be the second starter added by the Orioles in the past week after right-hander Andrew Cashner.

Tillman likely would join right-handers Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Cashner in the rotation.

The 29-year-old right-hander lives in Sarasota and had been working out at the Orioles' facility before spring training. Manager Buck Showalter watched Tillman throw and was impressed.

Tillman began last season on the disabled list with right shoulder stiffness.

"Better than he did last year at this time. I think he's got the chance to pitch well for somebody this year," Showalter said. "A lot of the challenges he had last year -- this time last year -- aren't there. Somebody's going to reap the benefits."

Tillman's is 73-55 with a 4.43 ERA in nine major league seasons, all with the Orioles. He won 16 games in both 2013 and 2016.

"He's a guy when he's healthy you can bank on him giving you 200 innings and keeping his ERA between a 3 and a 4," Gausman said. "That in the AL East is always going to be very valuable."

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Orioles Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Orioles Spring Training Schedule 2018

Live baseball is close to gracing our television screens again. The Orioles haven't had the most active offseason, to put it mildly. Fans are still wondering who will make up more than half the spots in this year's rotation, and Manny Machado's upcoming free agency is looming over every decision the organization makes.

Still, it's exciting to be able to follow the team again. Not every game is televised, so get ready to constantly refresh your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll be comforting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Jonathan Schoop is building on his breakout season, or if top-prospect Austin Hays is all he's cracked up to be (spoiler: he is).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing in the next few weeks. The O's haven't yet made a big splash this offseason, but with the sheer volume of capable players still on the market, you have to wonder if they'll try to sign some impact players at bargain values.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the lineup or rotation has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be taking place while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for thier seasons, so bookmark this page to check on on the Orioles spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Orioles 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 (SS) - Rays at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 (SS) - Orioles at Phillies, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Feb. 24 (SS) - Twins at Orioles, 6:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Orioles at Red Sox, 1:05 pm 
Monday, Feb. 26 - Tigers at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Orioles at Rays, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Cardinals at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 1 - Orioles at Rays, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 - Pirates at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 (SS) - Orioles at Phillies, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 - Red Sox at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Tuesday, Mar. 6 - Orioles at Twins, 1:05 pm 
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Orioles at Rays, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Blue Jays at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 9 - Orioles at Blue Jays, 1:07 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 (SS) - Pirates at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 (SS) - Orioles at Red Sox, 1:05 pm 
Sunday, Mar. 11 (SS) - Phillies at Orioles, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Orioles at Pirates, 1:05 pm 
Tuesday, Mar. 13 - Orioles at Twins, 1:05 pm 
Wednesday, Mar. 14 - Yankees at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Orioles at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 - Orioles at Mets, 1:10 pm 
Saturday, Mar. 17 (SS) - Blue Jays at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Mets at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Orioles at Tigers, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Rays at Orioles, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Orioles at Yankees, 6:35 pm 
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Red Sox at Orioles, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Rays at Orioles, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Twins at Orioles, 6:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Orioles at Phillies, 1:05 pm 
Monday, Mar. 27 (in Norfolk, VA) - Orioles at Tides (AAA), 3:05 pm