Even though the 2013 regular season is still a little over a week away from its conclusion, it's not too early to start looking forward to the 2014 campaign and what lies ahead. There's always lots of speculation about the construction of a team's 25-man roster and the Orioles will be no different. The difference for the Birds going into next season is that most of their roster will likely be set. Starting position players are mostly under contract aside from second base and left field. There will be tons of conversation about the futures of Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth. While key decisions are sure to impact the players around the diamond, I'm most interested to see who takes the mound every fifth day for this team.
The starting rotation is always something up for debate when a new season dawns. Over the past few seasons the O's have had two or three arms that were virtually assured of a rotation spot before February and others slotted in behind. Next season will be no different. There are only about two or three pitchers that, barring an unforeseen injury, have locked down a spot in the rotation.
Chris Tillman has proved to be the team's most reliable and stellar pitcher this season. He still has a knack for giving up far too many home runs, but at this point, it would be a shock if he didn't take the ball at home against the Boston Red Sox for opening day. Bud Norris is also definitely going to be back in the rotation. When the O's acquired Norris from the Astros in July, they did it with the understanding that he would be arbitration-eligible but under contract for the next few years. The 28-year-old has pitched very well for the Birds and seems to like the environment and the opportunity the club has given him.
There was a time when Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen seemed like sure bets to stick in the rotation going into the future. I don't think there's any doubt that both will be involved and on the team, as they are both under contract, but to hand over spots in the rotation without making them work a bit would be irresponsible. Each needs to prove that he can be more consistent and stay healthy over the course of a long season.
Scott Feldman is a free agent following this season. This isn't a surprise to anyone, as it was well-documented that he was a rental player when acquired from the Cubs at mid-season. Feldman likely won't return to the O's in 2014. He's going to be a fairly prized free agent on the market and could grab himself a good-sized contract. There's always the chance that the Orioles reach out and attempt to bring him back, but I don't see it happening. Jason Hammel is another player that likely won't be returning as he heads into free agency. The right-hander was the club's opening day starter this year, but has performed terribly and added more injuries to his resume along the way. A change of scenery is likely just what the doctor ordered for Hammel.
If you include Gonzalez and Chen along with Tillman and Norris, that leaves one spot open in the rotation. There are plenty of candidates for that spot, and perhaps a few from outside the organization. Kevin Gausman jumps off the page as someone who the club and fans alike would love to see fill the role. Guys like Steve Johnson and Josh Stinson could also be in the picture going forward. There will be an interesting decision to watch with Tsuyoshi Wada and whether or not the club tries to bring him back on a reduced contract after he spent most of his two years with the team on the disabled list. There are still a lot of unknowns about him as he has yet to even pitch in a major league game. Dylan Bundy's situation will obviously be dictated mostly by health as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Even if he's able to pitch and perform well in the spring or soon after, I still think he's a guy that needs some more seasoning in the minor leagues.
The importance of the starting pitcher can't be understated, especially in the American League East. The Orioles have used 14 different starting pitchers this season, most in the majors. More consistency from the rotation and stability from one through five could help the team in the long run. If starters can go deeper into games, it can cut down on the innings used in the bullpen and make everyone's performance that much stronger.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.