BALTIMORE -- The Orioles' September slide gave way to a finish in the American League East basement and an entirely different feel around Baltimore baseball for the season's final few weeks.
"It's been a long time since I've been through this the last two weeks of September. It's different. Actually been the first time in a long time a lot of us have been through it," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of his team's slide and first last-place finish since 2011. "It's something that you don't want to do again. You realize how many teams have gone through it. It's painful. You may not think it is, but it's painful, trust me. It's not fun."
To avoid a similar scenario in 2018, the Orioles -- who have a slew of pending free agents after next year -- will have to win big this winter. While there's plenty of time to dive in-depth into what went wrong and what the O's should do, let's take a quick look at their offseason outlook as it stands immediately after the season.
Starting pitching: The rotation will be the O's biggest priority this winter with the team looking for multiple starters to add behind breakout ace Dylan Bundy.
Right field:Austin Hays could be the answer here as the O's prospect did well in a short sample size in September. They'll also give Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander a look. Still, the O's will need some consistent production out of both corner spots.
Possible FA fits: There's not a lot of youth on the right-field market and Baltimore will certainly try to find a good deal here and allocate more resources toward pitching. There's a better chance they make a trade if they want to upgrade, but Jay Bruce, Melky Cabrera and Daniel Nava are among the free-agent names.
Shortstop/utility infielder:Tim Beckham provided a spark with his bat, but there's no question it will be difficult to replace the defense of J.J. Hardy. To that end, and with utility infielder Ryan Flaherty set to become a free agent, the O's could add a defensive-minded infielder to the mix.
Catcher:Welington Castillo has a player option for 2018, but it seems likely given his solid year that he'll want to test the free-agent market. If that happens, the Orioles could be set with prospects Chance Sisco and Caleb Joseph. Or they could add another veteran to the mix. Should Castillo stay, the O's would have a wealth of catching depth and could perhaps look into trading from that surplus.
X-FACTORS Money coming off the books: Hardy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman and Wade Miley (the team is not expected to pick up his $12 million option) are some of the bigger contracts coming off the books this year. That money will be redirected to pitching and could potentially put the O's in play for a some bigger free agents (Cobb?) than they would usually be comfortable signing.
Fixing the lineup:Chris Davis referenced it during the regular-season finale, but the O's all-or-nothing offense has to change if they're going to be a consistent force. How? By adding more versatility, encouraging the younger guys to use the field more and perhaps finally making on-base percentage a priority in an offseason acquisition.