Core group to shape Orioles' success in 2017

Veteran returnees will be key as club looks to fill in roster this offseason

Core group to shape Orioles' success in 2017

BALTIMORE -- What to make of baseball next year in Baltimore?

The Orioles will return the core of their rotation, All-Star closer Zach Britton and third baseman Manny Machado, who is coming off a career year. The club has a ridiculously good bullpen, but big question marks in the outfield and a lineup heavy on power and strikeouts.

The O's haven't been particularly active so far this offseason, but that is executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette's MO. Baltimore already has serious money committed -- including more than $95 million for eight players -- and arbitration will ensure that the O's exceed last year's Opening Day payroll, for a new franchise record.

But will it be enough? Here are some of the biggest lingering questions for the new year.

1. What will happen with Mark Trumbo?
The Majors' home run leader, Trumbo had a magnificent season and was singlehandedly responsible for numerous Orioles wins. But, right now, he's a free agent and the O's -- while trying to reach an agreement -- are left with a large hole. Bringing back Trumbo would keep most of a devastating lineup intact and be a big offseason move for Duquette.

2. Can the starting pitching hold up?
The Orioles' rotation did fare better in the second half of the season. But is that enough? Duquette has made it clear the O's will not go after pitching this offseason, meaning the current group -- which ranked at the bottom of the American League -- will be tasked with stepping up. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are reason enough for optimism, though the organizational depth could quickly get thin if there's an injury this spring.

Gausman's eight shutout innings

3. How will the post-Matt Wieters era go?
For the first time since 2008, the Orioles will go into Spring Training knowing that a backstop not named Wieters will be getting the bulk of the playing time. Wieters -- now a free agent -- has been replaced by Welington Castillo, who signed a one-year deal with a player option. Castillo is a veteran with a good bat, and he'll ensure that No. 2 Orioles prospect Chance Sisco isn't rushed to the big leagues. The O's are also hoping for a bounce-back year from Caleb Joseph, who will compete with Francisco Pena for the backup spot.

O's sign Welington Castillo

4. Who is playing alongside Adam Jones?
The O's primary offseason goals have been catching and outfield, and they'd ideally like a left-handed hitter on one side of Jones to help balance the lineup. They'd also like to get some better outfield defense to help the pitching staff and alleviate Jones from having to cover so much ground out of center field. Obviously Trumbo could play into this mix, though Hyun Soo Kim, who platooned in 2016, could be poised for a breakout sophomore year, and former Rule 5 Draft pick Joey Rickard is expected to be fully healthy this spring. Expect a few external candidates to make the outfield a fun competition this spring.

Must C: Orioles come back late

5. Can Duquette and manager Buck Showalter pull off another upset?
The Orioles were predicted by some outside of the organization to finish last in 2016, and they stormed out of the gate with a first half that put them in first place and 15 games over .500. They went on to the postseason, falling in the AL Wild Card Game to the Blue Jays. Duquette and Showalter are no stranger to low expectations and seem to thrive off surprising people. With largely the same group, can they do it again?

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for since 2010. 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.