Baltimore Orioles 2012 lineup preview

Shortstop J.J. Hardy resurrected his career after a stellar season in 2011 with the Baltimore Orioles. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The 2011 Baltimore Orioles were an average offense. The team finished in the middle of the pack in runs scored and team OPS. But an average offense was a major improvement over the team’s dismal offensive output in 2010. After scoring a paltry 613 runs in 2010 Baltimore posted 708 runs in 2011. Andy MacPhail’s acquisitions of Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy were a huge factor in improving the offense as both infielders topped the 30-homer mark. The continued maturation of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold also played a role.

The five players above, coupled with Nick Markakis, give Baltimore a solid offensive nucleus. The team still has major question marks at second, third and designated hitter. The return of Brian Roberts from post-concussion symptoms would solve the O’s questions at second base and the top of the lineup. The problem is that Roberts is more of a luxury than a sure thing at this point. He hasn’t played a full season since 2009, and he will be 34 on opening day. If Roberts can’t play in 2012, Robert Andino would inherit second base duties. GM Dan Duquette is likely to seek additional middle infield help through free agency.

It’s hard to predict how the Orioles will address the holes at third and DH. Duquette just took the GM job a few days ago and has given no real indication of his intentions. In a perfect world, the O’s would sign Prince Fielder to man first base and shift Reynolds to DH. Unfortunately, Baltimore has never handed out a $100 million dollar contract, and I don’t expect them to start now. A more likely scenario would be for Duquette to sign free agent Aramis Ramirez to a three-year deal to play third, and then sign a free-agent first baseman like Carlos Pena or Casey Kotchman. Ramirez is past his prime and has never been a defensive standout, but his addition would further solidify the Baltimore offense. The Orioles could also attempt to acquire Martin Prado, who has apparently fallen out of favor in Atlanta. Prado could help Baltimore at either second or third base. There’s also a chance that Duquette could deal Jones for pitching help in an effort to stabilize the rotation. If Jones is dealt, Baltimore may have interest in free agents Coco Crisp or David DeJesus to play center field.

My guess is the O’s hold onto Jones and attempt to sign him to an extension. Signing Ramirez would seem to be the same old, same old for Baltimore; just another in a long line of aging stars coming to Charm City for a final payday. The Orioles should deal for someone like Prado or Chase Headley to fill the hole at third, leave Reynolds at first base where he played solid defense, and turn their attentions towards fixing that atrocious pitching staff.

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