Many excellent decisions helped make the 2012 season special for the Orioles.
Here are five of the most important:
1) Moving Nick Markakis into the leadoff spot
The Orioles struggled when Markakis missed six weeks with a broken hamate bone. It was the first time in Markakis’ career that he was on the disabled list.
When he returned after the All-Star break, the Orioles were floundering, and manager Buck Showalter decided to move Markakis from third in the order to leadoff.
With Markakis batting leadoff, the Orioles went 33-21 and became solid contenders. After his season was ended by a CC Sabathia fastball on Sept. 8, the Orioles finished out the regular season strongly, but his bat was missed in the Division Series loss against the Yankees, something that Showalter pointed out on Saturday.
2) Signing Adam Jones to a long-term contract extension
Jones was set to be a free agent this off-season, and there was talk before the season that the Orioles might deal him at the trade deadline if the team started poorly.
Even though Jones denied there was talk, a five-year, $85.5 million contract was agreed on in late May.
It stopped his future from being bandied about, rewarded him for his solid performance and showed the fan base that the team would spend money.
It also elicited this memorable line from Dan Duquette, the team’s executive vice president for baseball operations: “The dude rang the cash register every time he hit a home run.”
3) Picking Darren O’Day over Zach Phillips
During spring training, Darren O’Day pitched very little. He had a groin injury and most observers thought O’Day was headed to Norfolk. Zach Phillips, who pitched very well in spring training, looked to be the second lefty in the bullpen.
Showalter decided not to add a second left-hander and kept O’Day along with Troy Patton as his lefty.
O’Day was outstanding, going 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA and pitched five hitless innings in the Yankees series.
Phillips was unimpressive in his brief trials with the Orioles and was off the 40-man roster for a time. Surprisingly, he wasn’t claimed, but his future with the Orioles doesn’t look promising.
4) Moving Mark Reynolds to first base
Reynolds was terrible at third base in 2011 and played somewhat better at first in the last several weeks of the season. He told Showalter he wanted another crack at third, but after committing six errors in 15 games at third, the Orioles moved him to first.
Initially, Reynolds didn’t look much better at first than at third, but he worked diligently and became an acceptable first baseman. In the season’s final weeks, he became an excellent first baseman.
For much of the season, it was a sure thing that Reynolds would be elsewhere next season. Now, his $11 million option for next season doesn’t look outrageous.
The Orioles may seek to negotiate a lower base contract with perhaps an added year or two. There aren’t a lot of quality first basemen available in the free agent market, and there’s not a good alternative in their system.
5) Bringing up Manny Machado to play third base
Machado was playing shortstop for Bowie and discreetly taking ground balls at third until Aug. 8. The Orioles, tired of seeing Wilson Betemit butcher third base, called for Machado.
The 20-year old was an immediate hit, both at-bat and in the field. He won the AL Player of the Week after four games and played brilliantly at third.
Showalter knew the Orioles couldn’t win with the defense they were presenting, and along with Machado’s promotion, they brought Nate McLouth in to play left field.
The defensive improvement was marked. For much of the season, they led the majors in errors. They ended up 10th with 107 errors, a big step forward.
-Converting Brian Matusz from a struggling starter to left-handed relief specialist.
-Signing Miguel Gonzalez from the Mexican League and putting him in the rotation
-Being patient with Chris Tillman and having him live up to his potential.
-Signing McLouth to a minor league deal and batting him leadoff after Markakis was hurt
-Late August trade for Joe Saunders