9:11am: Cruz and the Orioles have mostly been discussing the possibility of a one-year deal, ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets.
7:02am: The Orioles are close to a deal with slugger Nelson Cruz, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Heyman adds, "There are still a couple issues to be resolved, according to sources, though a deal looks extremely likely."
Cruz was one of 13 players to receive and turn down a one-year, $14.1MM qualifying offer in November. Signing such a player requires the forfeiture of a draft pick, which contributed to slow markets for Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, and the still-unsigned Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales. The Orioles signed Jimenez on Monday to a four-year, $50MM contract, a franchise record for a pitcher. The O's sacrificed the 17th overall pick in the June draft to do so. At the trade deadline last year, the Orioles dealt their Competitive Balance Lottery Round A pick to the Astros in the Bud Norris deal, currently #33 overall. That means their next available pick to sacrifice for a qualifying offer free agent is #52, so the penalty to sign Cruz is less pronounced. The Rangers will receive a supplemental first round pick for their loss.
On Friday, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted that the Orioles were in talks with both Morales and Cruz, and a deal with one could happen soon. In Cruz, they'll get a 33-year-old right-handed bat who hit .266/.327/.506 with 27 home runs in 456 plate appearances in 2013. The overall line is reflective of Cruz's recent body of work: good power, not too many walks. His home run total ranked second among free agents, even though he was suspended 50 games for a connection to Biogenesis. Cruz explained in an August statement that a gastrointestinal infection led to "an error in judgment that I deeply regret" weeks before he was to report in spring training 2012. It appears that the draft pick attached to Cruz affected his market more than the 2013 suspension, with Jhonny Peralta scoring a $53MM contract in November after serving an in-season Biogenesis suspension.
For the Orioles, Cruz could play both left field and designated hitter, as they're not locked into an established or expensive player at either position. Cruz has played 384 2/3 innings in left in his career, though his defense is generally considered below-average.
Back in November, before the plight of certain qualifying offer free agents was fully established, MLBTR's Steve Adams predicted a three-year, $39MM contract for Cruz. He's represented by Adam Katz of Wasserman Media Group.
Clearly, the Orioles signing Cruz would remove a suitor for Morales. According to Heyman, Morales has been working out for a month at the Boras Sports Training Institute on the campus of St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. Morales could still return to the Mariners, and Boras has pitched him as a potential first baseman for the Pirates.