O’s current group of players will need to improve for better 2016 season

There is so much discussion and speculation right now about what players the Orioles may look to sign and/or re-sign. We’ll all wait to see how this offseason is going to play out for the team.

But, especially with the starting pitching staff, next year’s Orioles are also going to need better production from a few players to be a good team in 2016.

When MLB Network recently looked at the American League East, analysts Bill Ripken and Carlos Pena spent as much time talking about current Orioles as they did speculating about who the club could add this winter.

“I think for me a big key is going to be J.J. Hardy,” Ripken said. “Missed a lot of time and he has two years and an option left on his contract. If he can rebound, that would be big for Baltimore.”

hardy-looking-up-after-swing-white-sidebar.jpgPena also talked about some of the current players.

“I think they are going to have to try and improve what they have within,” he said. “I don’t see them getting that big free agent. They’ve never really gone above the middle of the pack as far as payroll is concerned.

“How about try and revamp some of these guys like (Chris) Tillman getting back to form. How about Ubaldo Jimenez? We’ve seen him pitch well even though he has also had some tough times over the last few years. How about seeing what it is that they need to get back to what we know they are capable of doing.”

There are probably a group of four Orioles who could step up their play over what we saw from them in 2015 and that list includes Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Hardy and Steve Pearce, if he is re-signed.

From 2012-14, Tillman went a combined 38-16 with an ERA of 3.42. In those years, he ranked tied for 11th in the American League in wins and was 15th in ERA. But last season, he went 11-11 with a 4.99 ERA. In 2014, Gonzalez led all O’s starters in ERA when he went 10-9 with a 3.23 ERA. He posted his best ERA followed by his worst last year, when he went 9-12 with a 4.91 ERA.

Pearce had a 2014 slash line of .293/.373/.556 to one last season of .218/.289/.422. Hardy averaged 26 homers per year from 2011-13 and then hit 17 total the last two years.

Ripken said he sees the AL East race as wide open for next season and the Orioles have a solid core to build around.

“I do (see a wide-open race). When you are talking about going into spring training, the club that has the most what ifs usually doesn’t fare very well. The Orioles have quite a few what ifs right now.

“But the pitching is interesting. You’ve got to hope Tillman will be better. (Kevin) Gausman could be thrust up toward the top of that rotation. They were 81-81. Can you find nine games? If the core stays healthy and if the pitching figures stuff out and you can pick up nine wins, you are right in the thick of it again.”

To get back to 90 or more wins, the Orioles will need to add talent, no doubt. But they’ll also need some of the current players to produce bounce-back seasons and better stats than they did last year.

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