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Offseason-In-Review: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles plan to compete in 2018. Whether they actually will or not is another story.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles (75-87)

Additions: Andrew Cashner, Alex Presley, Colby Rasmus, Danny Valencia

Subtractions: J.J. Hardy, Wellington Castillo, Wade Miley

After enjoying multiple seasons as a surprise postseason contender, the Orioles finally took a step back in 2017, finishing last in the AL East and prompting a strong desire for a rebuild among O’s fans. Despite possessing a strong offensive core highlighted by Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop, the Orioles have struggled to put together enough of a starting rotation to get over the hump in years past.

Given the trajectory of the team’s offseason this winter, it’s hard to imagine much different for the 2018 season.

In what is a crucial period for the franchise, Dan Duquette and the O’s have elected to give one more run with their current core before a flood of cornerstone players hit the free agent market, including Jones and Machado. Machado, who will make the move to his original shortstop position this season, was the center of multiple trade rumors throughout the winter, but the O’s proved unwilling to move their superstar and pending free agent, at least for now.

With Machado shifting to shortstop, 2017 midseason acquisition Tim Beckham will move over to third base, where the O’s hope he can settle in while continuing the offensive production he showed in Baltimore last season. In 50 games in an Orioles uniform last season, the 27-year-old posted a 131 OPS+, well above his career average of 105. With Beckham, Machado, Schoop and Chris Davis rounding out the infield, the O’s are banking on a potent offense to mask their pitching problems that were hardly taken care of over the winter.

That commitment to the present could change by summertime if the O’s are already out of a playoff race thanks to a putrid starting rotation that ranked dead last in baseball in starting pitcher ERA last season (5.70). The O’s brought back Chris Tillman and his 7.84 ERA (in 93 innings pitched), while signing crafty veteran Andrew Cashner, who has improved on forcing soft contact over the past few seasons while his strikeouts per nine numbers continue to decline. Cashner will have to keep the ball on the ground in 2018, especially in the hitter-friendly AL East parks, but adding Cashner to a rotation of Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Gabriel Ynoa is hardly encouraging, especially when two of their divisional rivals added two of the deadliest power bats in the game over the offseason (Giancarlo Stanton, J.D. Martinez).

Part of what kept the Orioles competing in years past was a stellar bullpen, which helped their weak starting pitching staff. Their once dominant relief corps will be working from behind in 2018 after Zach Britton went down with an achilles injury, one that will keep him out until around the All-Star break. For at least the first few months of the season, the bullpen will have to be held down by Darren O’Day and Brad Brach. With Britton on the shelf, the O’s may have missed an opportunity to move him for maximum assets after refusing to part with him at last year’s trade deadline last season.

Again, this Orioles roster will score runs in 2018. That’s not much of a concern. Machado stumbled out of the gates in the worst way in 2017, when he batted just .224 in April and .191 in May, but in a contract year, that should improve. The O’s let catcher Wellington Castillo and his 20 home runs leave for free agency, but top-prospect Chance Sisco figures to compete for the role in 2018, fighting Caleb Joseph for the starting spot.

Left fielder Trey Mancini is coming off an incredibly productive first season that put him in the Rookie of the Year conversation, and he will help form an outfield with Jones and newcomer Colby Rasmus, who was signed to a minor league contract after walking away from baseball last season. We’ll see if the 31-year-old’s brief hiatus could help bring back some pop in his bat.

The rotation figures to be a season-long concern, but we’ve seen potent offenses disguise poor pitching in the past. However, given the top of the AL East and a weakened bullpen, it’s hard to imagine the O’s getting back to contenders in 2018, especially given their lack of activity this winter.