Dan Duquette and the Orioles head into an important offseason. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
Now that the Orioles are reasonably certain that Manny Machado will be ready for spring training next February, maybe it's time for the front office and ownership to parlay that positive news into an enhanced commitment to hit the ground next spring with a much more competitive team than the one that couldn't get its second wind this September.
Of course, there will be the temptation to breathe a huge sigh of relief and bank on the continued development of Machado and the rest of the players who are still in the early stages of their major league careers, which would be just fine if you could guarantee that Manny will be the full Manny come March and the the rest of the key guys will be healthy and increasingly productive throughout the 2014 season.
What owner Peter Angelos and executive vice president Dan Duquette need to keep in mind is that the reason every member of the organization and the entire Orioles fan base held their breath for 24 hours after Machado crumpled to the artificial turf at Tropicana Field on Monday is because everyone recognizes that this team would have been playing meaningless games in August without him.
The same could be said for Adam Jones or Chris Davis or J.J. Hardy. The Orioles were a marginal playoff team with every key offensive player who started the season on the active roster getting more than 550 plate appearances, which represents a level of good fortune that no team that truly wants to win should ever take for granted.
So, this is an opportunity for the Orioles to be proactive now that Machado apparently will be ready for 2014, instead of having to be reactive and trying to find someone this winter to replace him for part or all of next year.
The Orioles clearly need to improve in a couple of areas to rise to the top of the American League East standings. They need to find a way to add a quality starting pitcher to join Chris Tillman at the front of rotation and they need a strong on-base-percentage guy to restore some sanity to the power-packed (but disjointed) offensive lineup.
Duquette has long professed the importance of OBP to a successful batting order, but he has so far been unable to put his philosophy into practice. The Orioles spent the 2013 season depending so heavily on the long ball that their offensive production was too inconsistent to carry them through their tough September schedule. It'll be interesting to see how aggressive the club will be in attempting to get more offensive production from left field and the designated hitter role.
The franchise recently announced gains in attendance and revenue that rank among the highest in Major League Baseball, so it's going to be hard to make the case that the Orioles cannot afford to add a star-quality player or pitcher who just might turn them into a World Series team. They can talk all they want about budget priorities and focusing on keeping their young players long-term, but nobody wins the big trophy with a sporadic offense and a middle-grade starting rotation.
The Orioles are looking forward to the emergence of promising infielder Jonathan Schoop and the continuing development of pitching prospect Kevin Gausman. They also are waiting on the return of Dylan Bundy following elbow reconstruction surgery. That's all good, but it's not going to be enough to elevate the club to elite status.
If you remember, manager Buck Showalter said when he accepted the job that there might come a time when he would go to the front office and say, "Now," because the club was a couple of big outside moves away from the promised land.
This should be that time. The Orioles rebounded from 14 straight losing seasons with an uplifting playoff run last year and remained relevant in the wild-card race this season until just a few days ago.
The most important thing now is to make absolutely certain that the club has enough talent and depth to keep moving in a positive direction.
It's one thing to blink in September — quite another to get blindsided in April.
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" on Friday mornings at 9on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.