BALTIMORE -- The Orioles will wrap up 2017 with plenty of questions surrounding their rotation, lineup and even front-office personnel, making '18 an intriguing -- and potentially game-changing -- year for an organization that is nearing a crossroads.
While this list is by no means exhaustive and subject to change in the offseason, here are five of the biggest questions for the O's right now looking ahead to next spring.
1. Who is in the rotation?
First things first after watching the Orioles' rotation become one of the worst in baseball. If there is just one thing that gets addressed over the next five months, it has to be this. Otherwise, Baltimore's chances of competing are pretty slim.
We know Dylan Bundy will be in the rotation, as well Kevin Gausman -- who had a frustratingly erratic 2017. The early word has been that the O's will look to add two starters. I wouldn't stop there -- I'd add three legitimate starters and look into another one or two as depth pieces you can stash in Triple-A. Could Gabriel Ynoa or Miguel Castro be among this group? Sure, as the additional pieces. The Orioles have to go out and get qualified, experienced Major League pitchers. They can't keep giving starts to guys who haven't earned them, simply because they don't have any other options.
2. Where do they go with Manny Machado?
There's no indication that the O's are intent on signing Machado long term before he becomes a free agent. That could certainly change, but this is an important domino for the organization. If they trade Machado -- which doesn't seem likely -- before next spring, they'll have lost their best player for 2018. If Baltimore lets Machado walk (he can become a free agent after the '18 season), it will have missed a key chance to cash in on a hefty return for him.
Sure, the Orioles could wait and see how they look at the 2018 non-waiver Trade Deadline. But with the addition of the second Wild Card spot, fewer teams are true sellers. Plus, trading Machado to a team as a rental wouldn't bring back near the return that trading him before the season would.
The O's are in a tough spot. And the only real solution that would make keeping Machado a smart move -- and other potential future free agents like Zach Britton, Adam Jones and Brad Brach -- would be winning.
3. Are some of these young guys for real?
Manager Buck Showalter likes to say Spring Training and September are the great foolers when it comes to evaluation. What, then, to make of Austin Hays, Chance Sisco, Tanner Scott and Ynoa? No one is sure. But those are the tough decisions Baltimore is going to have to make this offseason as it projects what roles these young guys have moving forward.
One sure graduate looks to be Trey Mancini, whose sensational rookie season has been overshadowed on a national level by Yankees rookie Aaron Judge. The most impressive part of Mancini has been his consistency, as the young outfielder has shown an ability to make adjustments and has played his way into an everyday role.
4. How do the O's improve their all-or-nothing lineup?
It seems like every offseason, the Orioles proclaim they want an on-base percentage guy to help balance out their lineup. But it never comes to fruition. To be fair, there's not a plethora of those players available anymore, and something would need to change as an organizational philosophy in the Minor Leagues to have real success with it as a team at the big league level.
Improving that -- and the defense -- will be a big part of Baltimore's to-do list this offseason.
5. Do the O's go all in for 2018?
I think the Orioles have to go for it one more time with this current group. One, they have some money coming off the books, which should theoretically help them make moves elsewhere (like their rotation). And as I mentioned above, the window is closing on Machado and others. It's also the final year of Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette's contracts. A lot could change this offseason depending on what the organization does.