Determined Orioles look to be true to their word
Additions to front office, roster, fuel optimism in rugged AL East
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Painted on the walls above the Orioles' lockers in the club's new Spring Training clubhouse are a series of 18 words hand-picked by manager Buck Showalter.
Words like intensity, fearless, relentless and confident are scrawled in orange and black up above the stalls.
The meticulously-prepared Showalter, often seen driving around in a golf cart at all hours to check the fields, had the players take a test this spring. One of the questions had them list as many of the 18 words as they could.
The message was clear: be aware of your environment and don't overlook the details -- two things that will be paramount if the Orioles are going to move forward in 2012.
The sweeping front-office changes and influx of new players on the 40-man roster are hoping to foster a culture change in Baltimore, which has posted 14 consecutive losing seasons in a brutal American League East division.
W: Arrieta (1-0) L: Pavano (0-1)
SV: Johnson (1)
The team's new additions, while void of any big-name free agents or blockbuster trades, were acquired with the idea of adding depth and fostering competition. Both could help lend to another of Showalter's words: determined.
"It's time to be competitive," said new executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who has gone on record to say this year's club can be better than .500. "We are making good progress. If we are going to be a perennially-contending team we have to build a good farm system, good scouting, good international [scouting], and a good pitching staff. Those are the requirements, and that's where I've been spending all my time and energy.
"I think an organization has to have a philosophy and a stance for winning baseball. And we are in the process of doing that."
The Orioles head into the 2012 season as heavy underdogs in the AL East, which Showalter has called the toughest division in professional sports.
There's baseball's two behemoths, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the savvy small-market Tampa Bay Rays, who could have the American League's best rotation, and an improved Toronto Blue Jays club that won 81 games last year.
Fresh off a 69-93 season, Baltimore believes it can outperform outside expectations and get rid of the mindset that just being .500 is good enough.
"I think we are going to surprise a few people this year," said first baseman Chris Davis. "I know there's been a lot of talk about us getting out of the cellar and not finishing in last place, but if your goal is to not win the World Series every year, then you are in the wrong spot.
"It might not seem realistic, but there were a lot of people who didn't think the Rangers would be in the World Series in 2010."
Acquired in a mid-season trade along with starter Tommy Hunter, Davis will anchor an infield that also includes Mark Reynolds at third, J.J. Hardy at shortstop and Robert Andino at second base. The outfield should be bolstered by the addition of Endy Chavez, who joins Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.
The uncertainty surrounding second baseman Brian Roberts, who will start the season on the 15-day disabled list as he recovers from a concussion, is a major blow. While Andino is coming off a career year, the 27-year-old, like the rest of his teammates, is rooting for a return of their dynamic leadoff hitter.
"I know he's been here for millions of years," Andino said of Roberts, the longest-tenured Oriole on the team, "I want him to come back because I'm here and I want to win. And I know with him it gives us a way better chance to win."
But, ultimately, the Orioles' season will largely be dictated by how their young pitchers continue to develop.
Brian Matusz had a solid spring and looks to be back on track after a disappointing 2011, while Jake Arrieta appears to be fully recovered from right elbow surgery. Joining them will be Hunter and Jason Hammel, who was acquired in a trade with the Colorado Rockies.
Duquette also added a pair of international starters in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada, and Chen has wasted no time fitting into the rotation. Getting Wada on track and having a healthy Zach Britton -- who will start the season on the DL -- could go a long way toward adding rotation competition later in the year.
"We might play a team that's better than us on paper, but they may play bad that night and we may play better than them and beat them," Davis said. "I think winning is definitely a mindset. If you think of yourself as a contender and as a team to beat, you are going to go out and give that team the business, so to speak. I just don't understand why you wouldn't set the bar as high as you possibly can."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.