At some point tomorrow, pitchers and catchers for the Baltimore Orioles will assemble in Sarasota to begin jogging around in shorts, fielding bunts and tappers back to the mound, and generally doing things that signal the beginning of the 2016 season. This year will be one of the more critical seasons in recent Orioles’ history. A franchise-record amount of money was unleashed from the Angelos family coffers, including the first nine-figure deal in team history. None of those moves, however, added to the Orioles’ roster. Rather, the moves ensured that the core of the team that 81-81 last season stayed intact.
The Orioles are on the verge of seeing their window to contend slammed shut. Things are being rebuilt in Boston, the Toronto Blue Jays ended a long-running postseason drought, and the New York Yankees can only keep their wallets closed for so long. The Orioles must be in win-now mode. There’s no avoiding that fact. The 25-man roster that will head to Maryland at the end of March will be very similar to the team that won 96 games and a division title in 2014, but that means very little in 2016.
There are still a few areas of concern for the Orioles entering spring training that could make or break the 2016 season. Here are the five biggest storylines to keep your eyes on as the Orioles begin preparation in earnest for the regular season. There are other lesser storylines, like the development of Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey or the rebound of Matt Wieters after an inconsistent return from injury, but the five stories on the following pages will have a bigger impact on the 2016 season.