SARASOTA, Fla. — This is the time of year when every best-case scenario seems plausible, so you can't really blame Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette for trotting out just about every one available to him on Tuesday.
The Orioles will open spring workouts with much the same team that reached the playoffs last year, and without a dynamic offseason acquisition to juice up the starting rotation or the batting order. The front office apparently is convinced — or just wants to convince you — that there is enough talent already in place to replicate last year's success.
"The good news is that we have a much more established team and we have a team that had the experience of going through a pennant race, also playing in the playoffs,'' Duquette said, "and so I think it's a much more mature team and it should be a more competitive and confident team because they proved to themselves that they can compete against the best teams in the league."
That certainly is good news, but it's fair to ask what happened to all the lofty promises the organization made after that uplifting postseason run. Didn't team officials, flush with post-playoff fever, give every indication that they were going to pursue a quality hitter and a veteran starting pitcher? Didn't you get the impression that the Orioles were willing to push up the payroll to make sure the magic continued?
Now, it seems like the plan all along was to troll the waiver wire for small complementary pieces and hope against hope that the club's winning chemistry carries over.
It's all very confusing, because Duquette spent a lot of time Tuesday explaining how the Orioles went from being a poor defensive team early last season to being one of the best defensive teams in the league over the final months. He also pointed out how the Orioles improved their on-base percentage during the second half of the season with Nick Markakis and then Nate McLouth in the leadoff spot.
These things are all true and they speak to a team that is in a growth spurt, but it's pretty clear that the front office is doing some serious rationalizing and gambling on a lot of unpredictable factors to justify its far-from-dynamic attempt to upgrade the club over the winter.
"This team we are returning had good pitching and good defense and we hit more home runs than any other Oriole team but one,'' Duquette said. "So, we had the pitching, the defense and the power. I'm hoping that with the experience that we got last year, we got a better on-base capability and it will be pitching, defense and three-run homers, right?"
Well, maybe. The more cynical fans are convinced that the Orioles are still trying to do it on the cheap and could see their recent good fortune turn upside down again in a hurry. It's probably more logical, however, to keep the faith in Duquette and Buck Showalter until something happens to warrant losing it.
Remember, this is basically the same way Duquette fine-tuned last year's club and Showalter made it work by brilliantly manipulating the 40-man roster to squeeze production out of almost every spot.
The Orioles do appear to have good pitching depth and a very solid defensive club with plenty of positional versatility. Showalter loves that. They also could get a big boost if Nick Markakis is healthy all year and either Nolan Reimold or Brian Roberts stages a successful comeback season. Based on his performance early last year, a healthy Reimold could be that quality bat Duquette couldn't find this past winter.
There will be plenty of time during this extra-long training camp to get a handle on all of that, so it's still possible that Duquette might do more to improve the club over the next several weeks.
"We are always looking to add to our ballclub,'' Duquette said. "When there are opportunities and players available to us, we will continue to add them."
Don't hold your breath waiting for a marquee hitter or a big-name starting pitcher, but hold your criticism until you see how things play out. Duquette has proven us all wrong once before.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.