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Orioles looking to add to their club as 2016 begins

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Orioles looking to add to their club as 2016 begins

Was 2015 a good year for the Orioles?

For the first time in 30 years, the team secured, barely, its fourth consecutive non-losing season.

Chris Davis led the major leagues in home runs.

Manny Machado proved that two knee surgeries couldn’t prevent him from playing in every game as he demonstrated power and speed.

The bullpen continued to be terrific.

There were a number of not-so hopeful signs, too.

J.J. Hardy struggled offensively, and was often hurt.

Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman both had their poorest seasons in the Duquette-Showalter era.

As 2016 begins fans hope that it will be a better one for the Orioles, and there are signs that it could be.

A year ago, the Orioles had already lost three key members of their 2014 club to free agency: Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller.

There were questions whether Dan Duquette truly wanted to stay with the Orioles or move to Toronto to run the Blue Jays, and the team hadn’t done much in the offseason to improve on a team that handily won the American League East.

After 2014, only a World Series appearance would have been seen as an improvement, and that didn’t happen. The starting pitching wasn’t good enough.

But, so far this offseason, the Orioles retained two of their key free agents—and still haven’t lost any.

Matt Wieters returns—for 2016—at least, on a $15.8 million qualifying offer, and despite some fans fears, that hasn’t hindered the team from pursuing Davis.

Darren O’Day, who many considered a sure thing to leave, returns on a four-year $31 million contract, showing the fan base that the Orioles could accept the new reality of baseball economics.

Their offer to Davis, reported as 7 years, $150 million, probably doesn’t contain an opt-out and does contain substantial deferred money, is a fully competitive one—and far beyond what some of the frenzied fans thought they’d bid.

In fact, many of those who insisted that the Orioles couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t lose Davis, are now saying they shouldn’t spend that much money on the slugger and should look to spend the money elsewhere.

Well, they’re looking, and so are many other teams.

Seven weeks from now, spring training will be underway, and the team will look even more different than it does today.

Beyond the O’Day and Wieters’ signings, the Orioles acquired slugger Mark Trumbo, likely for a one-off in 2016, for relatively little, and signed South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who no one has seen play.

It’s been a fascinating offseason, and the intrigue continues.

There are more free agents, quality ones, available at this stage than there have ever been.

Usually the term “January signing” takes on negative connotations. It’s a role player, a valuable one, but not likely one to change the team’s fortunes.

That’s not the case this time around. Davis, Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Desmons Alex Gordon and Justin Upton are all among the top 10 free agents on the market, and all are still available.
So are Wei-Yin Chen and Yovani Gallardo as well as some other credible starting pitchers.

Usually, there are only a few names still looking for new baseball homes and some decent players. This year there are both.

The number of teams looking to sign free agents has narrowed, too. Some have already spent big money, and others like the Orioles have not.

According to Baseballreference.com, the Orioles estimated payroll for 2016—including raises for arbitration-eligible players, is nearing $120 million. That’s about where it was last year.

Obviously, the payroll will be increased for 2016, and there’s still room for a quality signing or two, but Duquette and the Orioles seem to work better in a narrower field.

If there are fewer teams bidding on Chen or Davis, and there still aren’t any indications anyone else has stepped up for the slugger, that’s good news for the Orioles.

Normally, the time during the holidays is a quiet one in baseball, but the Los Angeles Dodgers, have two new free agent pitchers, Scott Kazmir and Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda.

That would seem to remove another bidder for Chen.

At the outset of free agency, Duquette said he hoped to sign “a couple” of the Orioles free agents.

It would be unlikely, though not unwelcome if he began 2016 by adding a couple more.

MORE ORIOLES: Orioles show no interest in offering opt-outs in free agent deals

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Showalter fired as Orioles manager after 115-loss season

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Showalter fired as Orioles manager after 115-loss season

Buck Showalter has been fired as manager of the Orioles, who made three playoff appearances under his guidance but this year staggered through the worst season since the team moved to Baltimore in 1954.

Showalter confirmed the dismissal Wednesday in a text message to The Associated Press.

A three-time AL Manager of the Year, Showalter ranks second on the Orioles' career list with 669 victories, trailing Earl Weaver. He took over in August 2010 and orchestrated the resurgence of a team that suffered through 14 straight losing seasons.

Once hailed for making baseball in Baltimore relevant again, the 62-year-old Showalter is out of a job after a season in which the Orioles finished 47-115, 61 games behind Boston in the AL East. His contract expired at the end of October, and the Orioles opted against a renewal as they continue a major rebuild that began in late July, when they traded stars Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman for minor league prospects.

Those deals were made by Dan Duquette, the executive vice president of baseball operations, whose future with the organization is up in the air.

Showalter earned AL Manager of the Year honors in 2014 after taking the Orioles to the AL East title and a berth in the Championship Series. He was also named Manager of Year with the Yankees in 1994 and Texas in 2004. His career record is 1,551-1,517, including 669-684 with Baltimore.

"I just think ever since he came here, the franchise just gained a little more accountability, gained an edge for some time," Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said before the final game of the season. "It's the end of an era. A great manager, a great tenure. I don't know if he's going to coach or manage again, but he's got grandchildren. Go golf. Relax and go sit on the golf course."

With his future in doubt, Showalter appeared undaunted during the final series of the regular season.

"You know how good they've been to me? I'm not ever going to forget that, regardless of what happens," he said.

Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin was asked before his team's playoff game against the Yankees on Wednesday night whether Showalter was victimized by the trend toward analytics.

"I don't think Buck was a guy that ignored analytics," Melvin said. "I think it was probably a combination of how they did this year and maybe some relationships."

After the Orioles brought Showalter out of retirement, he offered renewed hope by fashioning a 34-23 finish in 2010 for a team that was 32-73 upon his arrival.

Baltimore ended a 14-year playoff drought in 2012, advancing to the AL Division Series following a victory over Texas in the wild-card game. Playoff appearances in 2014 and 2016 followed.

Last year, however, the Orioles fell to 75-87 after losing 19 of their final 23 games. Baltimore hoped the addition of starters Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner would enable the team to be a contender this year, but a horrid start quickly dispelled that notion.

The Orioles' deficit in the AL East reached double digits by April 18 and they were 8-27 on May 8. By the end of July, Baltimore fully entered rebuilding mode, leaving Showalter with the dubious distinction of overseeing a team that finished with the poorest record in the majors and one that surpassed the 1939 St. Louis Browns for most losses in franchise history.

Showalter never offered an excuse. He just grinded forward, working to prepare the team for 2019 even though he knew he might not be around to follow through.

At the outset of a season-ending series against Houston, Showalter was asked if he was thinking these might be his final days in the Baltimore dugout.

"We all have some private thoughts and emotions about that, but I don't think it serves the organization well for me to be worried about that right now," he said. "We've got some things to do these last four games that need to get done."

Showalter has a reputation as a no-nonsense manager, but his players appreciated his baseball knowledge and skill at handling a team. He made a point of talking to each of them on a regular basis, almost always offering encouragement.

"He gave me a chance," said catcher Caleb Joseph, who played six-plus years in the minors before arriving in Baltimore. "He believed in me in 2014, ran me out there and gave me a chance to be part of a championship team. He's really vouched for me ever since. I owe a lot to Buck and his loyalty. He's been a main figure here for a long time."

Sensing the end was near for the only big league manager he had ever played for, first baseman Trey Mancini said: "It's been an absolute honor to play for Buck. He's been incredible."

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Red Sox beat Orioles 6-2 to clinch home field through Series

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Red Sox beat Orioles 6-2 to clinch home field through Series

The Boston Red Sox broke a 106-year-old franchise record with their 106th victory on Monday night, clinching home-field advantage through the postseason by beating the Baltimore Orioles 6-2 thanks to a pair of hits from major league batting leader Mookie Betts.

Nathan Eovaldi struck out 10 hapless Orioles batters to assure the Red Sox of the best record in baseball this season and home-field advantage through the World Series, if they make it that far. For now, they know they will open the Division Series at Fenway Park on Oct. 5 against the winner of the AL wild-card game between the New York Yankees and mostly likely Oakland.

The 1912 Red Sox won 105 games in their first season at Fenway Park.

The Orioles (45-111) became the sixth AL team and the first since the 2003 Tigers to lose 111 games, falling 60 games behind Boston (106-51) in the division. It's the first time since 1939 that teams separated by 60 wins in the standings have played each other.

Boston scored four in the second inning, getting back-to-back doubles from Steve Pearce and Brock Holt, an RBI single from Christian Vazquez and Betts' two-run homer over the Green Monster. It was the 32nd homer of the season for Betts, a new career high.

Betts also singled and scored in Boston's two-run fourth, moving him into the major-league lead with 125 runs scored. In his last three games, he is 10 for 16 with three homers and four doubles, and he leads teammate J.D. Martinez (.328) in the AL batting race.

Renato Nunez had three hits for the Orioles, who fell to 2-15 against Boston and 18-61 on the road this season.

FOR STARTERS

Six days after throwing six scoreless innings against the Yankees, Eovaldi (6-7) allowed one run on four hits in five innings, walking none but uncorking a pair of wild pitches.

Baltimore starter Dylan Bundy (8-16) gave up four runs on five hits and three walks in three innings, striking out five.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: RHP Yefrey Ramirez is scheduled to start on Wednesday, but manager Buck Showalter said he wanted to give him an extra day or two. "I think Yefrey will pitch again, I just don't know when," Showalter said.

Red Sox: SS Xander Bogaerts was back in the lineup after feeling soreness in his left shoulder during a swing and leaving Sunday night's game. ... INF Eduardo Nunez ran on Sunday to test his hamstring and was scheduled to run again on Monday with the goal of having him back in the lineup by Wednesday or Friday.

UP NEXT

LHP David Price (15-7) tries to bounce back from a rough start in Yankee Stadium in the second game of the series in what could be his last start of the regular season.