'It's time to win' for the Orioles

Buck Showalter leads an Orioles team that last reached the postseason in 2014. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Manager Buck Showalter says he can't wait to "get the smoke cleared a little bit" at the Baltimore Orioles' spring training camp. And you didn't need to be a volunteer fireman to know exactly what sort of smoke the manager was talking about.

There were no official updates Wednesday confirming the smoky reports that the Orioles had reworked their three-year, $35 million agreement with pitcher Yovani Gallardo into a two-year, $22 million guarantee. And there was nothing official to report on outfielder Dexter Fowler, either, though Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was helpful enough to reveal:

"I spoke with him. He's excited. He should be on his way here now."

Great. Always excellent to have Adam Jones handling the transactions report. But however this shakes out for this team once that smoke clears, Orioles players have gotten the message.

"It's time to win," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "They're showing us they're in, 100 percent."

Yeah, nothing shows you're in like a little $270 million spending spree. And once the Orioles finally finish off their deals with both Gallardo and Fowler -- to go along with the $214.8 million they'd already dropped on Chris Davis, Darren O'Day, Matt Wieters and Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim -- that's how much they'll have parceled out to the grateful free agents of the world this winter.

Asked what he thinks his front office is telling him by writing all those checks, pitcher Kevin Gausman made it clear he'd long since figured that out.

"I think they already said it this offseason," he replied, "by bringing back everybody that they did bring back. They want to win. They want to win a championship. They're not just happy with going to the ALCS. They want to get to the World Series. And I think they know that there's an opportunity right now to do it with this group of guys that has really been together for the last couple of years."

But how realistic is it to look at this group as a win-the-World-Series kind of team? It would take a lot of dreaming. And a lot better starting pitching, even with the addition of Gallardo.

These Orioles can still mash. That was true before they closed in on Fowler. And it’s still true. They cranked 217 home runs last season, the third most in the major leagues. They've since traded for that famous home run derby winner waiting to happen, Mark Trumbo. And then there's Fowler, coming off a career-best 17-homer season for the Cubs.

"Fowler's got some pop," Jones said, with his customary ebullience. "Especially in our ballpark. If it's warm, he can get some out there. And Trumbo, I'm excited to see him hit in our ballpark. He can mishit the ball and still hit it to the damn Hilton."

Even more important, though, for a team whose .307 team on-base percentage last year was the seventh lowest in the big leagues, is that Fowler brings some badly needed on-base skills. He has disproved the notion that his numbers were a Coors Field phenomenon the past two years by putting up a .375 OBP for Houston in 2014 and a .346 OBP for the Cubs last season.

That .346 on-base percentage was actually a career low for Fowler in any full season of his career. But it would have been the third best among Orioles regulars, behind only Chris Davis' .361 and Manny Machado's .359. So Fowler figures to solve the Orioles' leadoff questions. Unless the manager has other ideas, especially if Kim (.406 career OBP in Korea) can make his own on-base skills translate on this side of the Pacific.

"I've created like 10 mock lineups with him," Jones said of Fowler. "With him in the lineup. Without him out of the lineup. I see him leading it off. You've got Machado, C.D. [Davis] or me. You could flip us. You could put me at 2. You could do a lot of different things. ... So I think [with] this lineup, Showalter is going to have a headache deciding where to put people.

"But with the lineup we've got," Jones concluded, "I think we're going to be pushing for one of the best lineups in baseball."

And outside of the fact that they appear heavily right-handed, and they whiff a lot, it's hard to argue.

Fowler also gives the Orioles an everyday right fielder, something they never had last season, and he could potentially be an option in center field, too, on nights when Showalter is resting Jones. So at a price tag of less than $12 million a year, he's an excellent fit, even if it winds up costing the Orioles a first-round pick.

But would Gallardo be a substantial upgrade for a starting rotation that finished next to last in the American League in starting-pitching ERA (at 4.53) and lost its most dependable starter, Wei-Yin Chen, in free agency?

"I think he'll definitely help," said Hardy, a former teammate of Gallardo in Milwaukee. "I played with him for three years. He's a great guy, a great teammate. And I know that he'll fit in great here. He goes out there, and he makes his starts and competes. He's a guy who I enjoyed playing behind him in Milwaukee, and I'm sure it will be the same here."

Of course, at the time he was uttering those words, his team was not quite so sure. There was a time Tuesday and Wednesday when it appeared that deal might be in jeopardy, due to concerns about Gallardo's shoulder that arose in the Orioles' always-exhaustive physical. And the irony there is that Gallardo's No. 1 selling point to other teams this winter was -- what else -- his durability.

He has never been on the disabled list with an arm issue. And he's one of just six active starting pitchers who have made at least 30 starts in each of the past seven seasons. The others: Felix Hernandez, James Shields, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels and Max Scherzer.

But Gallardo's average fastball velocity has been declining steadily over the past five seasons, dropping to just 90.5 mph, according to PITCHf/x. And his pitches per inning rose to a career worst (17.5) in 2015. So there were red flags hovering, even before the Orioles began second-guessing the state of his throwing arm.

The bottom line is, with or without Gallardo, this isn't a win-the-World-Series rotation unless Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez rediscover their past magic and Gausman finally achieves the greatness that has long been predicted for him.

"Definitely, I think there's a lot on us," Gausman said of this rotation. "If we'd pitched to our abilities last year, I think we'd have been in the playoffs."

Instead, this was an 81-81 team -- and one that appeared to be in danger of losing many of its most important pieces to free agency. But a funny thing happened after that season ended. Jones told the owner, Peter Angelos, he had some thoughts he'd like to share over dinner.

"And you see the result of that," Jones said, with a heavy-duty chuckle.

In truth, of course, we'll see the results of that from April to September, because that's how this stuff works. In the meantime, those Baltimore Orioles have some smoke to clear.