While the Orioles continue to be questioned for their approach to the offseason, with complementary pieces added but no major impact moves, folks in the industry agree that the team has a nucleus that's the envy of its competitors.
One agent challenged me to name a club in the American League East that could top the Orioles in center field and at third base, shortstop, first base and catcher. A few opposing scouts echoed that sentiment at the Winter Meetings.
Take away Nick Markakis' disappointing production in 2013, and he's also included in that nucleus of Adam Jones, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters.
The critics and skeptics will point out, however, that the Orioles didn't make the playoffs with that same group. And now the lineup is minus left fielder Nate McLouth and second baseman Brian Roberts. The rotation is missing Scott Feldman and the bullpen is missing closer Jim Johnson.
The Orioles are leaning heavily on their nucleus while also banking on the improvement of their returning starters and Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia, and a full and healthy season from Nolan Reimold.
Of the six-man nucleus, Davis may be the only one who is set up to regress in 2014. It's going to be pretty hard to match or exceed those 42 doubles, 53 homers and 138 RBIs. He raised the bar pretty high, but who knows?
Manager Buck Showalter already has joked with reporters about going easy on Davis next season if the first baseman "only" hits 30-35 home runs.
Davis posted a .286/.370/.634 slash line last season while winning his first Silver Slugger Award and finishing third in Most Valuable Player voting in the American League. He's got a career .266/.327/.512 line in parts of six major league seasons.
Davis is taking full advantage of the opportunity to play every day in the bigs. What's a reasonable expectation for him next season?
Machado is a tough read because he's got only one full season under his belt, when he batted .283/.314/.432 with 51 doubles, 14 homers and 71 RBIs. As he fills out and adds strength, some of those doubles should become home runs. It's reasonable to expect Machado's power numbers to rise. Perhaps the same will happen with his on-base percentage.
Jones won a Silver Slugger Award after batting .285/.318/.493 with 35 doubles, 33 homers and 108 RBis in 160 games. He's posted a career line of .279/.322/.460 in eight seasons.
His on-base percentage? It is what it is, as the kids say.
In the last five seasons, Jones' home run totals read as 19, 19, 25, 32 and 33. No reason to think they won't continue to climb in 2014.
Hardy also won a Silver Slugger after batting .263/.306/.433 with 27 doubles, 25 homers and 76 RBIs in 159 games. He's got a career .312 on-base percentage in nine seasons. It's gone from .343 with the Brewers in 2008 to .302, .320, .310, .282 and .306.
Fans may have to settle for his power and exceptional defense. He's hit 30, 22 and 25 homers the past three seasons and has won two straight Gold Gloves.
Wieters batted .235/.287/.417 with 29 doubles, 22 homers and 79 RBIs in 148 games. He's a career .255 hitter with a .319 on-base percentage in five seasons. It's reasonable to expect at least a slight improvement next season, but there's been an obvious decline since he batted .288 with a .340 OBP as a rookie in 2009.
Over the last three seasons, Wieters has batted .262/.328/.450, 249/.329/.435, and .235/.287/.417. You want consistency? His home run totals the last three seasons are 22, 23 and 22.
Markakis batted .271/.329/.356 with 24 doubles, 10 homers and 59 RBIs in 160 games. He may be set up for the biggest improvements among the nucleus, judging by his track record. He's a career .292/.360/.441 hitter in eight seasons, and he exceeded 40 doubles in four consecutive seasons.
Markakis is healthy this winter and in the final guaranteed year of his contract. Can he rebound?