Buck holds court

SAN DIEGO— No matter what the Orioles do in the next few days at the Winter Meetings, manager Buck Showalter conceded Tuesday that it’s a tough task to keep the clubhouse chemistry following the departure of two key pieces of the 2014 club: Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis

“I think that’s one of my biggest challenges between now and the time we open up is not selling, but making sure our players feel like have the same morale,” Showalter said during Tuesday’s media session. “What comes first, is it winning games or having that? Because there’s nothing that takes the morale out of the team than not playing good baseball or losing a lot of games. Best players in the world, best coaches in the world, best, in some cases, umpires in the world, there’s such a fine line. We saw it last year, such a fine line between success and failure. And we’ve got some work to do.”

Showalter, who admitted losing guys like long-time Oriole Markakis was particularly tough, touched on a host of topics regarding his club and its quest to contend again in 2015. And in his trademark cheeky humor, he also poked fun at some of the free-spending in the American League East, asking “Have those guys run out of money yet?.”

The Orioles have money to spend right now given the losses of Cruz and Markakis and Showalter reminded reporters that the organization isn’t exactly in dire straits.

“The biggest reason we made a leap last year was our pitching,” he said. “And other than Andrew Miller, we haven’t really lost anything. Our starting pitching got a lot better, got us deeper in the game, allowed us to keep our bullpen healthy and matchup a little bit more. If we do that again we’ll have some fun next year.”

Showalter is also counting on a good year from Chris Davis, who will finish out his 25-game suspension on Opening Day.

“I think he’s in a good mindset,” said Showalter, who was with Davis on Saturday. “A lot of things point up with him, some that I won’t make note of, but you can probably figure out, as far as what this year means to him, not only as the future for him but also as a teammate and as somebody that he takes very seriously that his teammates and the fans count on. I can’t really see anything that would point to something being negative towards Chris having a big year and getting back on the saddle, so to speak, of where he was. I’m expecting him to be solid for us. Whether it be first base, right field, whatever. We’ve got a lot of options.”

Another option in the outfield is Steve Pearce, who Showalter said would be the team’s starting right fielder if the season started tomorrow. The Orioles are looking to add another outfielder while they’re here in San Diego, as well as relief help and catching depth. Matt Wieters is coming off Tommy John surgery and won’t be rushed back, though he remains on schedule right now along with third baseman Manny Machado.

Showalter isn’t tied to a schedule for naming his next hitting coach, though he did say he was “closer” to the task on Tuesday. He has three or four strong candidates and is leaning on his existing coaching staff in helping him replace Jim Presley. Having big league experience isn’t a necessary prerequisite, either.

“That’s why I interviewed [Minor League hitting coordinator] Jeff Manto,” Showalter said. “ That [experience] stuff lasts about two weeks, and then you want to know how you’re going to help them to be a good player and win.”

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