O's defense a strength heading into 2012

In the aftermath of Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis winning their first Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, I've been taking inventory of the Orioles' defensive stock.

It might be one of the few areas this offseason where the Orioles' new GM can say his warehouse is actually full.

There's no question, solid pitching is the key to winning championships and right now, the Orioles could use a major shipment of that. But when looking at the laundry list of improvements the Birds need to make to compete in the AL East, defense is a welcome absentee.

Three Orioles were finalists for American League Gold Gloves this year: J.J. Hardy, Markakis and Wieters. Adam Jones didn't get the nod, but already has one Gold Glove on his mantle and is undoubtedly among the top center fielders in the game.

Buck Showalter should be excited that he not only has Gold Glove-caliber defenders on the field, he has them in key positions.

In baseball, there are certain positions that must be occupied by sure-fire defenders: shortstop, centerfield and catcher. One year ago, the Orioles only had one of those positions locked up defensively as Jones manned center field.

Wieters, while showing glimpses of becoming a defensive stalwart, was still in many ways a baby colt trying to get his legs under him.

At short, Cesar Izturis brought the slick fielding the position commands, but was hurt a large part of the year. Must I point out that Julio Lugo was not the answer? Looking to the minors, it would be a long time before Manny Machado would ride in on his white horse.

We can't ignore Markakis' defensive prowess in right field in 2010, but right field, in my opinion, isn't a crucial defensive position like shortstop or catcher. Still, I'm glad he's there.

The emergence of Wieters as a human backstop and legitimate threat to baserunners is one of the single biggest achievements of the Orioles organization in 2011. The man had one passed ball in 132 games. That's impressive.

The addition of Hardy and his subsequent career performance in Baltimore is the second greatest achievement of the Orioles organization in 2011. His offense gave the club a spark, but his defense was best in the American League, as he led all shortstops with a .990 fielding percentage. Of his six errors, I can remember two that were not his fault and debatable with the official scorer. He deserved a Gold Glove.

Besides pitching, defense is the bread and butter of winning ball clubs. Fans love to see the longball, but the ability to prevent runs will prove more fruitful over the course of a long season. If the Orioles are looking for an identity in 2012, defense is a good place to start.