O's have sights set on return to prominence

Questions remain, but pieces in place to contend

O's have sights set on return to prominence

BALTIMORE -- The new year is a fresh start for everyone, and the Orioles are hoping to return to prominence in 2016. With postseason berths in two of the past four seasons (including an American League East title), Baltimore has its core group returning and eyes set on returning to the top of the division.

"You talk about needs. I like the way this clubhouse is right now. Obviously, you can add a few pieces, so if we bring this team back and add a few pieces, I'd like that," center fielder Adam Jones said at the end of the season. "But, the reality is, this clubhouse is going to be very different, especially with the number of free agents. Bring back who you really, really want and you really think is going to be the most effective for the next five years, at least three of four years, until I'm up, Manny [Machado is] a free agent. There's a lot of things. I think the next three years are going to be very important to this organization."

The O's have already brought back two of those free agents, with catcher Matt Wieters accepting a one-year qualifying offer and reliever Darren O'Day signing a four-year deal earlier this month. But more questions remain. In no particular order, here are five of the most pressing facing the O's. They could go a long way in determining whether the Orioles thrive in '16.

5. What happens with Chris Davis?
Does he stay? Should he stay? When news of the Orioles' contract offer leaked out to Davis in December, there was a surprising amount of fans ready to move on if the slugger didn't want the record-setting deal. No matter how this ends, it will be a big part of this season's storyline.

4. Can the corner-outfield spots step up?
Baltimore is still looking for a left-handed-hitting outfielder, and the corner spots in 2015 were a definite sore spot. The preference is for Mark Trumbo to play first base and designated hitter, though he could see some outfield time, depending on what else happens. Regardless of who it is, the O's need better production to have a more balanced lineup.

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3. How will Matt Wieters fare?
Sidelined until June, Wieters accepted the qualifying offer and will make the most on a one-year deal in O's history. While health doesn't seem to be an issue, a full season of Wieters -- who was on his way to a career year before he got hurt in '14 -- could add some firepower. Caleb Joseph has done a great job when Wieters was sidelined and having both on the roster gives manager Buck Showalter a lot of flexibility. Wieters will be a free agent again after '16, so this is a huge season for the switch-hitter.

2. Does Dylan Bundy play a role?
Out of Minor League options, Bundy is projected to be a part of the Opening Day bullpen. He'll get every chance to prove himself this spring, with the plan to give Bundy -- who has dealt with a litany of injuries -- plenty of work. Can he stay healthy and be the promising young arm the O's drafted with visions of someday being a frontline starter? Time is running out.

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1. Will the rotation be better?
Forget Davis for a second and the team's needs in the outfield. If there's one thing that has to improve next year, it's the rotation. The Orioles are expected to add at least one starter, but the rest -- including Kevin Gausman -- are going to be relied on heavily to take a step forward.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.