Baltimore Orioles Rumors

Baltimore Orioles trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Free Agent Profile: Nick Markakis

Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis entered the 2014 season with a lot to prove coming off the worst season of his pro career in 2013, and he was able to reestablish a significant amount of value heading into what will likely be his first venture into the free agent market. While he does have a mutual option ($17.5MM with a $2MM buyout) — such options are rarely, if ever exercised by both sides — especially when they’re for such a lofty amount.

Strengths/Pros

Throughout his career, Markakis has consistently gotten on base at a strong clip. A lifetime .290/.358/.435 hitter, Markakis has never posted a single-season OBP lower than .329, and he’s never batted below .271, either. His lowest OBP and batting average both came last season on the heels of three 2012 surgeries — one to repair a sports hernia, one to repair a broken hamate bone in his right wrist and the other to repair a broken thumb in his left hand. Markakis performed well after the first two operations — the hernia and the hamate procedures — but the thumb injury ended his season. It’s possible that an injury to his dominant hand, coupled with the effects of the surgery on his right hand left him a bit sapped in that poor 2013 campaign.

Nick  MarkakisThough he does have those three fairly recent surgeries in his history, Markakis has otherwise been one of baseball’s most durable players over the life of his nine-year career. The former first-round pick (seventh overall) has averaged 152 games per season since debuting as a 22-year-old in 2006, topping 160 games five times and 155 or more on seven occasions. Aside from 2012, he’s never been on the disabled list.

As his OBP marks indicate, Markakis walks at a fairly strong clip. He’s never posted a walk rate lower than 7.9 percent in a season and is at 9.3 percent for his career (8.7 percent in 2014). He’s one of the toughest batters in baseball to strike out, as evidenced by a lifetime strikeout rate of 13 percent (11.8 percent in 2014). And, while he doesn’t have the plus power he showed earlier in his career, Markakis has hit 10 or more homers in each season of his career, including 14 this year.

Defensive metrics go back and forth on Markakis’ value in right field, but Ultimate Zone Rating has long been a fan of his strong, accurate arm, and he posted positive marks in both UZR/150 (+5.8) and Defensive Runs Saved (+1) in 2014.

Weaknesses/Cons

As noted, defensive metrics offer a wide range of potential outcomes on Markakis. While he was a plus defender in right field this season and graded as perhaps baseball’s best right fielder back in 2008 (+11 UZR/150, +22 DRS), he’s posted negative marks more often than not in recent years. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the heavy workload he takes on each season, and perhaps the hernia surgery in 2012 impacted some of his glovework, but agent Jamie Murphy of TWC Sports will likely have to deal with some teams that are skeptical of Markakis’ defensive outlook in the tail end of his prime years.

Though he’s a steady contributor in terms of batting average and OBP, Markakis hasn’t hit for power in recent seasons. He was on his way to a solid .174 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) in his injury-shortened 2012, but that mark has been nearly cut in half over the previous two campaigns (.097). He’s still a double-digit homer threat, but after routinely hitting about 45 doubles per season earlier in his career, he hit just 51 between 2013 and 2014 combined.

Also clouding the picture is a late-season swoon for Markakis, who struggled mightily for 45-50 games from late July to mid-September. He did recover with a strong 10-game showing to close out the season, but his second half was notably weaker than his first: .288/.351/.395 before the break and .256/.329/.372 following.

Personal

Markakis and his wife, Christina, have three children. Together, the couple launched the Right Side Foundation in 2009 — a nonprofit organization that seeks to better the lives of distressed children in the state of Maryland. Nick and Christina were honored by the Balitmore Sun when they received the Tim Wheatley Award for off-the-field contributions to the community.

Markakis is known as a driven player who will take the field even when he’s not at 100 percent — a fact that is reflected in the number of games he’s played throughout his career.

Market

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported yesterday that the Orioles are expected to decline Markakis’ option. I found this to be a moderate surprise, as the team could have picked up its half of the option and assumed that Markakis would decline; players with his track record at his age almost never want to play on a one-year deal, instead preferring a longer commitment even at a lower annual rate. That move would spare the O’s his $2MM buyout and allow them to make a $15.3MM qualifying offer. It’s possible they could still make the QO — the combined total of the QO and the buyout ($17.3MM) would still be less than that of his option — but this seems to suggest that the team isn’t comfortable risking a $17MM+ commitment to Markakis in order to secure a draft pick. If that’s the case, he seems likely to hit the market without draft pick compensation, which is great news for Markakis and his agent.

From a competition standpoint, Markakis is positioned well. Yasmany Tomas is the name generating the most buzz in terms of corner outfield options, but he’s yet to play a game in the Majors. Melky Cabrera is coming off a fine season and is perhaps the most direct competitor. Nelson Cruz has a bigger bat but is more than three years older with more pronounced defensive issues. Some teams will undoubtedly have more interest in making an upside play on someone like Colby Rasmus over a shorter term, but Markakis can rightfully claim that he’s a more consistent contributor. Nori Aoki brings a lighter bat at an older age. Beyond that grouping, Markakis will be competing with aging veterans, many of whom are coming off poor and/or injury-plagued seasons; Alex Rios, Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart, Mike Morse, Josh Willingham and Torii Hunter are among the alternatives.

Markakis isn’t going to make a cellar-dwelling team into a contender, but he’s the type of bat that an above-average club can look at as one of the final pieces to rounding out a contending roster. His steady batting average and OBP numbers slot are a good fit at the top of a batting order.

If the Yankees are convinced that Alex Rodriguez can play in the field enough to make Carlos Beltran a primary DH, then Markakis could be a right field option there. He’d make a nice replacement option for the Blue Jays in the event that Cabrera signs elsewhere, and the Tigers have some uncertainty in the outfield after Andy Dirks missed the 2014 season and given Hunter’s uncertain status. The Royals will need to replace Aoki if he does not re-sign, and the Mets have a well-documented corner outfield need. Seattle, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are all in need of corner outfield help as well, and the White Sox would make sense if they want to move on from Dayan Viciedo.

Expected Contract

Markakis has three primary competitors in my opinion: Tomas, Cruz and Cabrera. Beyond that grouping, he can make the case that he’s the next-best bat and a more certain commodity than others on what is unquestionably a thin market for bats. Players in this age bracket have been targeting at least four-year commitments, and I would expect Markakis to do the same.

The late-season swoon is a strike against Markakis, but the fact that he can likely come without a draft pick attached makes him an appealing alternative to Cruz and Cabrera, and he will of course be significantly less expensive than Tomas.

I still think there’s at least a chance that Markakis ends up with a QO, and if that’s the case, I’d peg him for a three-year, $39MM contract.

However, if he’s hitting the open market without draft pick compensation attached, I do think that’s enough to get him to four years, albeit at a slightly lesser AAV. Assuming there’s no QO in play, I’m projecting a four-year, $48MM contract in a weak market for hitters.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


O’s Expected To Make Qualifying Offer To Cruz, Decline Markakis’ Option

The Orioles are planning on making a qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz and decline their half of a $17.5MM option on Nick Markakis in favor of a $2MM buyout, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

The Cruz decision has been evident for quite some time, given the slugger’s MLB-leading 40 homers and strong .271/.333/.525 batting line. Cruz struggled in the wake of a qualifying offer from the Rangers last offseason, ultimately settling for a one-year, $8MM contract with Baltimore. While many contend that the qualifying offer crushed his market — and that’s certainly part of the reason for his struggles — Cruz also hit the open market with sky-high expectations in 2013, reportedly seeking as much as $75MM in the early-going. Had he been open to signing for less, a strong multi-year offer may have been on the table. However, now that he’s coming off such a strong season that put more separation between him and a suspension for performance enhancing drugs, he’s a lock to turn down that QO and in a much better position to land a strong multi-year deal.

The Markakis decision could have gone either way, in my mind, but the decision to decline his option seems to indicate that he won’t be on the receiving end of a QO of his own. The Orioles, in theory, could have exercised their half of the option in hopes of Markakis declining his, then made a qualifying offer, assuming that a player at his age and with his track record wouldn’t want to play on a one-year deal. I thought that to be the likely outcome prior to Heyman’s report.

However, declining the option suggests that they’re not interested in paying him $17.5MM, which is nearly the exact amount that the buyout plus a qualifying offer of $15.3MM would total. It’s possible that Baltimore will still extend the QO in order to have saved roughly $200K in the event that Markakis accepts, but that would be a very peculiar route to take with someone who is so respected within the organization. The likely outcome now seems to be that he won’t cost a draft pick this offseason, which should dramatically improve his free agent stock.

The O’s have a large number of arbitration eligible players, including Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and Bud Norris, so their arb-eligibles will inflate their payroll substantially. Because of that, it’s possible that the Orioles simply felt that they couldn’t fit both Markakis and Cruz into their 2015 budget, and their preference is to position themselves more strongly to retain Cruz’s power.  The 30-year-old Markakis certainly didn’t have a poor season himself, however, as he hit .276/.342/.386 with 14 homers and right-field defense that graded out favorably from a metrics standpoint.


AL East Notes: Duquette, Napoli, Minaya, Long

Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe examines Dan Duquette’s unusual journey to becoming the Orioles‘ GM. A Boston-area native, Duquette realized his dream at 36 years of age when he was named GM of the Red Sox, but that came to an abrupt end in 2002 when he was dismissed by new owners, only to see the Sox — anchored by a number of players he drafted or acquired — win the World Series two years later. Duquette spent 10 years away from the game, coaching his kids’ teams, founding a league in Isarael and running a college summer team, Abraham notes. Duquette revealed to Abraham that he was offered multiple jobs that he turned down — including a position with the Braves and an adviser role with the Red Sox — because he believed he’d get another crack at a GM role. Duquette feels the time away has made him friendlier and put things into perspective; his cousin, Jim Duquette (an analyst for MLB Network), says there are distinct differences between how Dan was with the Red Sox and how he is with the O’s. He isn’t bothered as much by “little things” and is less guarded. “Baltimore isn’t Boston. It isn’t New York. That aspect has been good for him. He doesn’t take himself so seriously,” said Jim.

More from the AL East…

  • Mike Napoli has dealt with injuries to his finger, back and toe, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, but despite all of those issues he’ll be undergoing surgery for a different procedure on Nov. 4 . Napoli will undergo Bimaxillary Advancement surgery in an attempt to end a career-long battle with sleep apnea. “I’ve tried numerous things and none of them worked,” Napoli told Bradford via text. “Dental mouth piece, CPAP machine, medicines … It’s just gotten to the point where I have to get this done.”
  • The Yankees have had serious dialogue about hiring Padres senior VP of baseball operations and former Mets GM Omar Minaya, multiple sources tell Newsday’s Erik Boland. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News tweets that the team would be interested in Minaya in a scouting or advisory role — not as a replacement for farm director Mark Newman. As Boland notes, GM Brian Cashman has brought former GMs into the fold before, hiring Kevin Towers as a special assignment scout in 2009 and hiring Jim Hendry to fill the same role since 2012.
  • Recently fired Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long is generating quite a bit of interest from other clubs, reports Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (Twitter links). To this point, Long has already spoken with the Mets, Braves and Blue Jays, including a meeting with Mets GM Sandy Alderson. The D’Backs, Brewers and Pirates are all possibilities as well, per Feinsand.


Cafardo On Peavy, Martinez, Samardzija

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Jake Peavy has gone from a likely minimal contract in free agency to a possible three-year deal.  The Giants are interested in re-signing him because they need him, and manager Bruce Bochy has gotten great work out of him.  For his part, the 33-year-old appears to enjoy being back with Bochy, his manager during his glory years in San Diego.  Here’s more from today’s column..

  • A major league source tells Cafardo that Victor Martinez‘s preference is to stay with the Tigers and, therefore, Detroit will get the first crack at him. The interest is mutual and the Tigers would like to get something done sooner rather than later.
  • If A’s GM Billy Beane listens to offers on Jeff Samardzija this offseason, you can count the Red Sox as one of the possible interested parties.  The Sox inquired with the Cubs about him before the trade deadline, and they would not give up a package that included lefthanded pitching prospect Henry Owens.
  • Orioles outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz enjoys Baltimore and wants to stay, but Cafardo expects the Yankees, Rangers, and Mariners to be in on the bidding.  No matter what, the 34-year-old looks like he’ll make a bundle somewhere on a three- or four-year deal.
  • First baseman Adam LaRoche likely won’t re-signed by the Nationals, who could move Ryan Zimmerman to first base.  However, LaRoche lines up nicely as a target for the Brewers, who have toyed with the idea of Ryan Braun moving to first but will likely keep him in the outfield.  He could draw interest from the Orioles if they lose Cruz.
  • While there’s intrigue over Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, there’s still some pushback from scouts who have seen him play on whether he can translate well to MLB.  Some are worried about the pronounced leg kick in his stance that lasts deep into his swing.  There also has always been skepticism over his defensive ability, even though he won the Korean version of the Gold Glove.

AL East Notes: Shields, Melky, Jays, MacPhail

Several executives around baseball are starting to think James Shields will receive some five-year offers in free agency this winter, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald reports.  This would be a sizable commitment in a pitcher who will be 33 years old on Opening Day, and since the Red Sox don’t like guaranteeing that many years to pitchers in their 30’s, the team could offer Shields a four-year deal with a higher ($20MM) average annual value.  If this isn’t enough to land Shields, however, Lauber feels by that point the Sox should just increase their offer to Jon Lester.

Here’s some more from around the AL East…

  • In a radio interview on The Jeff Blair Show (Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith has the audio link and partial transcript) Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said the team had had “some conversations” with Melky Cabrera about a new contract though seemingly little progress has been made.  “Clearly both sides right now can’t seem to get together for various reasons,” Anthopoulos said.  “I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to assume that there hasn’t been dialogue.  I wouldn’t assume that there haven’t been proposals exchanged.”
  • Beyond just on-the-field upgrades, the Blue Jays also need to re-establish trust between the clubhouse and upper management, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi opines.  Some Jays players were openly upset with the front office’s lack of major spending or acquisitions over the last year, and while Davidi doesn’t cite this lack of trust as the key reason why the Jays missed the playoffs, it obviously helps to have everyone in the organization on the same page.
  • The Orioles‘ success over the last three seasons wouldn’t have been possible without former president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune writes.  While MacPhail’s departure following the 2011 season coincided with Baltimore’s return to contention, manager Buck Showalter and several of the O’s best players joined the organization on MacPhail’s watch.
  • J.J. Hardy‘s extension with the Orioles only enhances Xander Bogaerts‘ value to the Red Sox, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes.  A young, controllable star at shortstop who can contribute both offensive and defensively is a major commodity, though Bogaerts obviously still work to do to establish himself on that level. “How much of a step forward Bogaerts can take at shortstop will have quite a bit to do with how much of a step forward the Red Sox can take in the American League East,” MacPherson writes.
  • In other AL East news from earlier today on MLBTR, I collected a set of Yankees Notes and Jeff Todd featured Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus in a Free Agent Profile.

Yankees Notes: Hardy, Robertson, Cashman

The Yankees wouldn’t have been willing to offer J.J. Hardy more than two guaranteed years in free agency, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reports.  The Bronx Bombers had “mild interest” in Hardy had he reached the open market but their recent underwhelming returns on veteran free agents left the team hesitant about a longer-term deal.  Hardy received three years and a vesting option for a fourth in his extension with the Orioles.  Madden predicts the Yankees will look to sign Stephen Drew or Asdrubal Cabrera to a one-year pillow contract as both players look to rebuild their value.

Here’s some more from the 27-time World Series champs…

  • David Robertson could be the first player to accept a qualifying offer, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post feels the closer will remain with the Yankees for at least the 2015 season.  The team figures to issue the $15.3MM, one-year qualifying offer to Robertson as the attached draft pick compensation could hurt his free agent market and make him easier to sign to a long-term deal.  From Robertson’s perspective, accepting the QO would ensure he gets at least one big payday in an uncertain free agent closer market and he’d still be in position to land another big deal in an extension with the Yankees or perhaps even another qualifying offer next winter.  MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently examined Robertson in a free agent profile and predicted he could receive a four-year, $52MM deal this offseason.
  • Now that Brian Cashman has been extended for three years, the general manager will be able to “create a Yankees team in his own image, with his own vision and his own players, and to finally build his own legacy,” ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews writes.  This may seem odd given that Cashman has already been the team’s GM since 1998, though Matthews argues that Cashman has never had to truly build a team since the Yankees always had the “Core Four” backbone in place since the Gene Michael/Bob Watson management era.
  • In a conference call with reporters (including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch), Cashman said that “I think it’s best to assume that we should have contingencies in place” should Alex Rodriguez no longer be able to handle regular third base duties.  “Until we get to see it on a daily basis, I think it’s just hard to assume anything,” Cashman said.  Joe Girardi recently spoke with Rodriguez about working out at first base, and A-Rod could provide some valuable depth at the position given Mark Teixeira‘s injury history.

Quick Hits: MASN, Cubs, Mariners, Cruz, Minniti, Santana

The arbitration order regarding Mid-Atlantic Sports Network television rights fees that is now the subject of litigation between the Nationals and Orioles would deliver about $300MM in payments to the Nationals over the five years, as James Wagner of the Washington Post writes. Documents filed in court show the structure of the award, which spanned the 2012-16 seasons and therefore would have both retroactive and going-forward impact. Beginning with an approximately $53MM payout for 2012, the award escalated to $66MM in 2016.

While that matter goes through the court process, let’s round up the news of the day:

  • In other television money news, the Cubs are sending signals that the team could be lining up for an earlier-than-expected cash boost, as Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports. The club has an unusual split of its TV rights, the more important part of which is not up for negotiation for some time, but seemingly could be lining up a means of unlocking some revenue ahead of schedule. (Of course, the now-underway Wrigley Field renovations have long been pitched as the key to the team’s anticipated return to big spending.) “We haven’t reached that next level yet where the payroll’s going to significantly increase,” said president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. “The TV deal is really the magic bullet, the paradigm-shifter that’s going to put us in a whole new level.”
  • The Mariners had a deal in place with Nelson Cruz last winter before ownership nixed the idea, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Cruz was set to sign for a relatively meager $7.5MM or so, while giving the team an attractive option in the $9MM range. Though the magnitude of Cruz’s production this year is surprising, that deal — and, especially, the upside conveyed via the option — sure look good in retrospect, especially for a Seattle club that fell one win out of a postseason slot. It is strange that Seattle did not follow through with the contract for several reasons. With a protected first round pick, the Mariners gave up their second pick to sign Robinson Cano, meaning that Cruz wouldn’t have hurt much in that area. And the team ultimately committed $7MM to Corey Hart.
  • Nationals assistant GM Bryan Minniti has left the team, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on Twitter. Minniti said he felt it was time for a change, as James Wagner of the Washington Post reports. Indeed, he could be preparing to enter another field of work entirely. GM Mike Rizzo made clear in a statement that Minniti was an integral part of the organization’s rise over the last five years.
  • The Twins could use Danny Santana at short or in center next year, GM Terry Ryan tells Darren Woolfson of 1500 ESPN (Twitter link). That flexibility will presumably open up some additional possibilities for Minnesota. The 23-year-old had a stunning debut, putting up a .824 OPS that dwarfed anything he had done across seven minor league seasons.

Quick Hits: Tomas, Fulenchek, Royals, O’s, Pace, Rookies

Though it’s early in the process, the market for Yasmany Tomas is beginning to develop, tweets MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. To this point, the Rangers, Phillies, Padres, Giants, Mariners and Dodgers have all shown strong interest in the young slugger. Most of those clubs are logical fits, though the Dodgers are a bit surprising given the logjam of outfielders the team already has under contract. The Dodgers are already unable to find regular at-bats for Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Scott Van Slyke, so adding another outfielder to the mix would make a semi-surprising addition.

Some more news items from around the league…

  • Braves right-hander Garrett Fulenchek and his agent, Craig Rose, have joined MSM Sports, MLBTR has learned. The 18-year-old Fulenchek was selected with the 66th overall pick in this year’s draft and will join the same agency that is home to No. 8 overall pick Kyle Freeland and Josh Harrison of the Pirates.
  • The Royals and Orioles have built somewhat unconventional rosters, writes ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, pointing out that their meeting in the ALCS marks the first time in the divisional era (beginning in 1969) that two teams that ranked in the bottom five of the league in walks will meet in an LCS or World Series. Crasnick looks at each team’s emphasis on defense as well as the Orioles’ emphasis on power and aggression and the Royals’ emphasis on speed. Somewhat incredibly, Baltimore ranked first in the Majors in homers and last in steals, while Kansas City ranked last in homers and first in steals. Crasnick spoke with Adam Jones, Buck Showalter and the Elias Sports Bureau’s Steve Hirdt for the piece, the latter of whom opined that clubs have gone from undervaluing walks to overvaluing them.
  • Crasnick’s colleague, Jayson Stark, writes that players feel underrepresented as MLB experiments with new rules to increase the pace of play. No active players were included on the seven-man committee to look into the matter, though MLBPA executive director Tony Clark (a former Major Leaguer himself) is on the committee to serve as a voice for the players, commissioner-elect Rob Manfred explained to Stark via email. Nonetheless, players such as Curtis Granderson, Kevin Slowey and Brad Ziegler all went on the record with Stark, and a number of players who wished to remain anonymous brought up several issues they’ve taken with the endeavor. Some players feel that too much of the blame has been placed on them, when there’s been little talk of shortening commercial breaks or the consequences that an increasingly matchup-based game has brought about (i.e. more pitching changes). More than anything, players hope to have a voice in the matter before changes are implemented, Slowey and Granderson explained.
  • Baseball America’s Matt Eddy compiled an “All-Rookie Team” for the 2014 season, highlighting the excellent work of Travis d’Arnaud, Jose Abreu, Mookie Betts, Nick Castellanos, Danny Santana, Billy Hamilton, Kevin Kiermaier, George Springer, Kennys Vargas, Jacob deGrom, Collin McHugh, Marcus Stroman, Masahiro Tanaka, Yordano Ventura and Dellin Betances. Names such as Matt Shoemaker and David Peralta also earned mentions, and you can read Eddy’s rationale behind his selections in the full article.

Orioles Extend J.J. Hardy

OCT. 10: Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun has the breakdown of Hardy’s contract (Twitter links). Hardy will earn $11.5MM in 2015, $12.5MM in 2016 and $14MM in 2017, per Connolly. He adds that the vesting option is valued at $14MM as well and comes with a $2MM buyout. The option will vest based on a certain number of plate appearances but will also automatically vest if Hardy is traded. Hardy can also earn up to $700K per season in performance incentives, according to Connolly, who also tweets that the deal does contain some deferred money.

OCT. 9: Shaking up the free agent market before it opens, and boldly looking to the future even as they prepare to open play in the ALCS, the Orioles have officially announced a three-year extension with shortstop J.J. Hardy.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Baltimore Orioles

Hardy will receive $40MM over a guaranteed three year term, representing a $13.3MM average annual value, though that must be discounted somewhat to reflect the deal’s inclusion of $6.5MM in deferred money. Hardy also gets a fourth-year vesting option, based upon plate appearances.

With the new deal, Baltimore will keep its key cog up the middle under team control through at least 2017, his age-34 season. And the free agent market has now lost one of its most appealing everyday position players.

Looking first at Hardy, who just celebrated his 32nd birthday, one finds a player whose profile has changed, but who nevertheless remains consistently productive. Manager Buck Showalter is said to have had a hand in encouraging an early reunion of Hardy and the O’s, reflecting the veteran’s respected standing in the organization.

Since coming to Baltimore in a lopsided trade with the Twins, Hardy has been a steady three-to-four win player, whether one prefers fWAR or rWAR. But how he’s reached those overall levels of production have changed dramatically.

In his first (and best) year in Baltimore, Hardy racked up 30 home runs and a .491 slugging percentage. Over the next two seasons, he steadily contributed twenty or more long balls, but saw his overall power numbers drop. His glove remained sharp, however, and a declining strikeout percentage offered promise. But things swung in 2014, when Hardy suddenly suffered a power outage (he recovered to hit 9 bombs by season’s end, but ended with a career-low .104 ISO) and saw his strikeout rate leap to a career high of 18.3%.

Obviously, those offensive numbers have swung rather widely, with Hardy posting anything from a 78 to a 113 wRC+. But what has not changed much has been his glove. Indeed, in his two down years at the plate (2012 and 2014), Hardy’s even upped his game in the field — at least according to UZR and Defensive Runs Saved. This year, Hardy rated a close second to Andrelton Simmons in overall defensive value among shortstops.

For Baltimore, then, Hardy’s work up the middle sets the floor while his power bat provides the upside in his new extension. While it had been expected, and perhaps hoped, that Manny Machado would slide over from third after this season, that option waned after Machado suffered a second-straight season-ending knee injury. If he can return to health, however, he’ll join Hardy to form the game’s best left-side infield defense.

The deal is not without its risks for the O’s, but few are. And limiting the terms to three years, with the fourth coming via a vesting provision, does reduce the magnitude of the risk somewhat.

More importantly, perhaps, it may have been more challenging to retain Hardy — or find an able replacement — had the team not struck during a brief lull in the postseason action. After all, while, the upcoming free agent market includes several shortstops who have at times been every bit as good as Hardy, none — excepting Hanley Ramirez, who may not stay at the position — has been as consistent. Those that remain, including Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, and Stephen Drew, should benefit from Hardy’s absence, if only because they would have had to wait to sign until he found a home. But the Orioles were likely to find a veteran shortstop one way or another, so the real impact may be on clubs that were hoping to make a run at Hardy.

Ultimately, while Baltimore does not look to have achieved any huge bargain, the club probably saved money against what Hardy might have cost to take back from the open market. Though he would have had to deal with qualifying offer-related draft compensation, Hardy no doubt would have looked to land a new contract somewhere in the realm of Jhonny Peralta‘s four-year, $53MM pact from last year.

Jeremy Conn of 105.7 The Fan was first to report that an extension was close (Twitter link), while Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the deal’s parameters on Twitter. Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com was first to tweet the final financial terms. MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli (via Twitter) and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (also via Twitter) reported that the deal was done. 


Orioles Working To Extend Cruz, Possibly Markakis

3:26pm: Markakis, too, says he is unaware of any current extension talks, tweets Connolly. He quotes the right fielder: “Nothing. Unless my agent hasn’t been telling me everything, because I haven’t heard anything.”

2:53pm: Cruz says that there are no talks at present, though he had some discussions with the Orioles earlier in the year, MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli reports on Twitter.

1:37pm: The Orioles have interest in reaching a late-breaking extension with outfielder Nick Markakis as well, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun suggests on Twitter. He does note that deals do not appear imminent with either Markakis or Cruz.

Earlier, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweeted that he would not be surprised to see the club try to open talks with Markakis.

12:08pm: After seemingly reaching terms on a deal with J.J. Hardy, the Orioles are now “pushing” to get a contract done with fellow free agent-to-be Nelson Cruz, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter.

Cruz, 34, enjoyed a monster season at the plate in his first year with the O’s, hitting an MLB-best 40 home runs while working his way to a strong .271/.333/.525 batting line. While he’s been known to have injury problems in the past, Cruz tied a career-best with 159 games played this season.

Cruz is currently playing on a one-year, $8MM contract after struggling to find a suitable multi-year deal last offseason on the heels of a PED suspension and a qualifying offer. The slugging DH/outfielder recently switched agents, signing on with Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports, so he’ll have different representation this time around than he did when negotiating his last contract.

If the two sides do indeed reach a deal, the free agent market will take a significant hit today. Hardy was arguably the best pure shortstop on the market, and Cruz represented perhaps the best power bat for teams looking to add some thump to their lineup. An extension for Cruz would be unquestionably good news for the likes of Victor Martinez, Melky Cabrera and Yasmany Tomas, as there will now be less competition on the open market.