Baltimore Orioles Rumors

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

AL East Links: Rays Stadium, Duquette, O’s, Marrero, Sox

The Rays are nearing an agreement with St. Peterburg mayor Rick Kriseman that will grant the team permission to explore new stadium sites in Hillsborough County, report Stephen Nohlgren and Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times. Kriseman would like to finalize an agreement within the next month and “definitely before Christmas” so he can present the plan to City Council. If the Rays do leave for a new Hillsborough stadium, the city of St. Petersburg would be entitled to monetary compensation, as the Rays’ current lease at Tropicana Field runs through 2027.

Here’s more from the AL East…

  • Orioles GM Dan Duquette was named Major League Baseball Executive of the Year by The Sporting News, and he spoke with MLB.com’s Paul Hagen about the honor. Duquette, who narrowly edged out Dayton Moore of the Royals, said his focus from day one has been improving the club’s pitching staff. He also addressed the success he’s had in finding value from unheralded minor league signings, and how that success makes them an attractive destination: “…when players sign with us, whether it’s Triple-A or the big leagues, they know they’re going to get an opportunity.”
  • Duquette tells Andy Martino of the New York Daily News that he has enough financial flexibility to sign both Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz (Twitter links). He plans to meet with Cruz’s new agent, Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports, at the GM Meetings, and the book is not closed on Markakis returning even though he’s meeting with other clubs.
  • The Red Sox are receiving a lot of interest in minor league shortstop Deven Marrero, reports Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com (Twitter link). The 24-year-old was the club’s first-round pick back in 2012 and has an excellent defensive reputation, though he batted just .258/.327/.372 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. The Mets, of course, are one team known to be looking high and low for a shortstop.
  • Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal spoke with Sox GM Ben Cherington about interest in Marrero, and while he noted that there has indeed been interest, Cherington said it hasn’t been any greater than the interest he’s received in the past. Marrero has drawn steady interest over the years, according to Cherington. As MacPherson notes, however, Marrero is posting particularly strong numbers in the Arizona Fall League this year.
  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe discussed the possibility of the Red Sox acquiring Cole Hamels with Hamels’ agent, John Boggs, and came away with the belief that the team has a shot, even though the Sox are on Hamels’ no-trade list. Hamels doesn’t have any issue with Boston, writes Cafardo, though he’d likely use the no-trade clause as leverage to get his 2019 option picked up in advance, as Ken Rosenthal noted yesterday. The Phillies have scouted Boston’s system extensively and like many of their players.
  • Cafardo also notes that the Sox are receiving quite a bit of interest in Yoenis Cespedes. Boston is “desperately” trying to keep an outfield spot open for Mookie Betts, making a trade of Cespedes possible.
  • The Boston Herald’s John Tomase spoke with Cherington, who stopped short of labeling any of his prospects untouchable, but he made it clear that those who contributed in 2014 (e.g. Betts) are extremely unlikely to be moved, Tomase adds (Twitter link).

Markakis’ Agent To Meet With Multiple Clubs This Week

Talks between the Orioles and Nick Markakis on a four-year deal appear to have stalled, as Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that Markakis’ agent, Jamie Murphy of TWC Sports, will meet with several clubs at this week’s GM Meetings. Asked if the Orioles were among the clubs with whom he planned to meet, Murphy told Connolly, “No, not at this time.”

According to Connolly, the two sides were at one point nearing agreement on a four-year pact that would have paid Markakis $10-12MM annually. However, the agreement was never reached, and the two sides haven’t had any meaningful discussions in a week, Connolly writes. Prior to today, Murphy had been negotiating exclusively with the Orioles, but that has changed, and he’ll now shop for a palatable deal with teams around the league. Connolly tweets that he doesn’t get the sense this latest development has closed the book on Markakis re-signing in Baltimore.

Markakis, who just recently won his second Gold Glove, is coming off a season in which he rebounded from a poor 2013 with a .276/.342/.386 batting line and 14 homers. Though he wasn’t the doubles machine that he was earlier in his career, he still posted a solid OBP and home run totals that are in line with his career norms. I profiled Markakis last month and projected him to sign a four-year, $48MM contract.


Quick Hits: Orioles, Blue Jays, Rockies, Sandoval

The Orioles and Blue Jays discussed a potential Adam Lind trade before the Jays sent Lind to the Brewers, reports MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko. The Jays asked for Steve Pearce in the deal, which would have amounted to something like a challenge trade — Lind and Pearce are the same age and play the same positions, although Lind is left-handed and Pearce right-handed, and Lind has one more year of team control. Pearce is coming off a significantly better season and will be much cheaper in 2015 (a projected $2.2MM for Pearce versus $7.5MM for Lind), however, so it’s not surprising that the Orioles said no. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.



East Notes: Orioles, McCarthy, Coppolella

The Orioles‘ payroll will likely increase next season, MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski writes, adding up likely expenditures to reach a projected Opening Day payroll of about $121MM. That’s up from $107.5MM in 2014. Melewski includes free agent outfielder Nick Markakis for $12MM in his projections, in line with the four-year, $48MM contract MLBTR’s Steve Adams projected Markakis would get. (It’s since been reported that the Orioles were discussing a four-year deal with Markakis.) The Orioles could non-tender a player or two to drop their total, but one problem is that they’ve got 11 arbitration-eligible players, including many who were very good last season and two others (Chris Davis and Matt Wieters) whose salary baselines are already very high thanks to their performance in previous years. They also have Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Ubaldo Jimenez locked up to relatively expensive long-term deals. Here are more notes on the East divisions.

  • The Yankees have tried to re-sign Brandon McCarthy, but McCarthy is waiting to see what the market has in store for pitchers like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweets. After an outstanding stretch run in New York, McCarthy is attracting interest as a potential alternative to the top tier of free agent starting pitching.
  • Emerging executive John Coppolella is now John Hart’s “right-hand man” with the Braves, but he got his start in the Yankees organization, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes. After turning down a lucrative job at Intel, Coppolella became a baseball operations intern in New York right after graduating college, also working part-time at Chili’s to make ends meet. That led to an opportunity in Atlanta, where he’s worked his way up to assistant general manager. He’s widely seen as a top GM candidate.

AL East Notes: Jays, Kendrick, Yanks, Cruz, Sox

Blue Jays president Paul Beeston appears set to continue on in that capacity, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. Of course, as Davidi notes, both Beeston and GM Alex Anthopoulos could face questions if a postseason berth is not in the offing in 2015. The front office will have at least $20MM to $30MM in free salary, Davidi reasons, which could be bolstered with a spending increase and/or move to shed some payroll obligations. As Davidi rightly notes, Toronto has a very clean balance sheet after this year, which could potentially leave the team with a big hammer to wield in free agency.

Here’s more from Toronto and the rest of the AL East:

  • The Blue Jays have a number of possible offseason targets on both the trade and free agent front, writes Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. Among them is Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, who Toronto has “placed multiple calls on,” according to Nicholson-Smith — who, it should be noted, also recently reported that the Jays are on Kendrick’s no-trade list.
  • Whether or not the Yankees are big free agent spenders this year remains to be seen, but the club’s financial muscle is flexed in many and disparate ways, as Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs writes. Over recent years, New York has consistently controlled the market for minor league free agents, bringing bigger and better offers to the table for players like Yangervis Solarte. (In an interesting note to give context to this relatively minimal spending, McDaniel says a team source told him the team could break even financially even if it carried $500MM in total payroll obligations, including luxury tax costs.)
  • The early set of rotation targets for the Yankees features names like Brandon McCarthy, Jason Hammel, and Chris Capuano, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. That jibes with another recent report suggesting that New York has no current plans to attack the arms at the top of the market.
  • Free agent closer David Robertson, who is currently weighing a qualifying offer from the Yankees, is one of the most fascinating free agents to watch. Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that his sense is the club will be interested in exploring a multi-year deal with Robertson, but may not chase him at the top of the market and would be comfortable allowing him to walk.
  • Another QO recipient, Nelson Cruz, told MLB Network Radio (via Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun) that a return to the Orioles is his preferred outcome. “No doubt it’s my first choice,” said Cruz. “I’d love to be back. I understand the business. I know they’re interested in bringing me back. Hopefully we can work something out.” Cruz was not willing to say he would take a lesser deal to stay in Baltimore, though it is obviously hard to fault him for not copping to that publicly — or, for that matter, for choosing the best contract offer he receives, if that ultimately proves to be the case.
  • The Red Sox catcher of the future is Blake Swihart, not Christian Vazquez, opines J.J. Cooper of Baseball America. But the team need not decide now how it will sort out the presence of two highly-regarded young backstops. Instead, the team has the option of adding a veteran presence alongside Vazquez for the coming year while Swihart continues to develop in the minors. Assuming Swihart establishes himself as a big league regular, Boston will have plenty of time to assess whether it makes more sense to keep both players or deal one away.

Free Agent Profile: Nelson Cruz

Last winter, Nelson Cruz turned down a $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Rangers only to find that the market wasn’t anywhere close to what he had hoped.  The Orioles wound up inking him to a one-year, $8MM deal which proved to be a brilliant signing.  This time around, he shouldn’t have any trouble landing a multi-year deal.

Strengths/Pros  

In 2014, Cruz turned in a .271/.333/.525 slash line with 40 homers on the way to his third career All-Star selection.  Cruz’s 40 dingers weren’t just a career-high, it was the highest home run total of anyone in the majors in 2014.  Cruz’s .525 slugging percentage was good for eighth in the majors, putting him above the likes of Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, and David Ortiz.  In a season where the Orioles got just 26 games out of Matt Wieters and lost Manny Machado for half the year, Cruz stepped up in a major way and helped propel them to first place in the American League East. nelson cruz (vertical)

The advanced metrics were also very fond of Cruz’s 2014 performance.  His 137 wRC+ put him in the upper echelon of sluggers.  Meanwhile, Cruz’s .288 BABIP was actually a bit lower than his career average and his strikeout rate dipped, so there’s reason to believe he could bump his batting average a bit going forward.  Cruz ranked seventh in MLB and first among this offseason’s free agent with a .254 ISO in 2014.

His 2014 may have been a pleasant surprise, but it didn’t come out of the blue.  Cruz has a solid track record of quality offensive performance, dating back to his breakout 2009 season with the Rangers.  In those six years, Cruz owns a .271/.332/.514 batting line with about 29 homers per season and an OPS+ of 123, showing that he was still well above average even when factoring in the hitter-friendly confines of Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Cruz has proven to be an elite hitter against left-handers with a career .314/.407/.569 while his .258/.310/.513 slash line against righties is nothing to sneeze at either.

Teams will also find his October body of work attractive, and with good reason.  With his two home runs in the ALDS, Cruz leapfrogged some legendary names to climb up the all-time postseason home run ladder.  With homers 15 and 16 against the Tigers, Cruz tied Carlos Beltran for ninth all-time.  As Mark Saxon of ESPN.com noted, that vaulted him ahead of Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, Mark McGwire, and, yes, Babe Ruth.  Cruz got there in just 37 career postseason games, less than all of the other players listed.

Weaknesses/Cons  

Unsurprisingly, the Orioles made a qualifying offer to Cruz, meaning that there will be draft pick compensation attached to signing him.  In his last trip through free agency, the QO hurt his market (though his asking price was probably more to blame), leading to his discounted deal with Baltimore.  Of course, the circumstances were different.  For starters, Cruz was reportedly seeking as much as $75MM at the outset of free agency, unrealistic numbers that led to him settling in January.  His value was also hurt by the tarnish of the Biogenesis scandal and the resulting 50-game suspension he served in 2013.

For all of his positives at the plate, there isn’t much that can be said for his agility or base running at this stage of his career.  In 2014, Cruz put up a career-worst BsR of -3.3, putting him somewhere between “below average” and “poor” on the basepaths.

While Cruz graded well in a small sample this year (he had a UZR/150 of 3.8 with 3 defensive runs saved), he’s certainly not valued for his glove.  He spent more of his time in the DH role, which he might be better suited for going forward.  A team signing Cruz will be getting him for his mid-to-late 30s (he’ll start next year at 34 and turn 35 on July 1) and his agility in the field doesn’t figure to improve from here, to say the least.

Cruz’s WAR of 3.9 from this past season was his highest in years, a showing that was only bested by his 2010 season with the Rangers.  In his last three seasons, his value has been teetering on that of a good player, but not necessarily a great one (although his suspension in 2013 did deflate that number).

On the whole, his age figures to dampen his value.  While teams are usually looking to pay for prime years at the top of the market, Cruz’s remaining years could be a drop off from what we’ve seen over the last few.

Personal  

As Steve Adams noted in his profile of Cruz last winter, he’s an accomplished two-sport athlete who played for the Dominican Republic Junior National Team in his younger days.  His father also played professional baseball in the DR, so that sort of thing runs in the family.  Cruz and his wife have two children.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette had great things to say about Cruz as a locker room presence earlier this month.  “You can tell just by watching him, he’s the leader of the ballclub,” said Duquette, according to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun.  Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun wrote that Cruz created a comfort zone for the club’s younger latino players, like second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Adam Jones spoke glowingly about Cruz’s impact on the team.

Cruz changed agents in early October, joining Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports.

Market  

As mentioned Encina’s piece, Duquette is realistic about his chances of keeping Cruz beyond this season.  “He came here to have a platform year to get himself re-established to get him a long-term deal and that’s something we will have to consider,” Duquette said.

The Mariners probably regret passing on Cruz last offseason and they could try and make up for that mistake this time.  They’re in need of a quality DH and are expected to chase the likes of Cruz and Victor Martinez.  A reunion with the Rangers could be a possibility, but they previously balked at the idea of a three-year deal and it may not be any more palatable to them now.   Cruz has been linked to the Yankees, though there isn’t a clear fit at this time with Beltran expected to return to right field.  Giving Cruz DH time could be tough as well with Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira likely needing at-bats there.  The Tigers, Royals, and Twins are also among the AL teams with potential interest.  National League teams can and will certainly show interest, but it remains to be seen how far they will go given the concerns about his defense.

Expected Contract

Last season, Curtis Granderson signed a four-year, $60MM deal with the Mets, despite coming off of a season in which he missed 100 games.  Cruz, meanwhile, played 159 games and belted 40 homers in his walk year.  While there are many differences between the two players, including age (Granderson was 32 last winter, Cruz is 34), Cruz’s reps probably believe that they can match the years and top the total value of Granderson’s contract.

Complicating matters, of course, will be the qualifying offer and the same PED suspension that depressed his market value last winter.  As Steve Adams wrote earlier this month about Melky Cabrera, no player with those two factors working against them has ever been able to cash in big in free agency.

Steve projected that Cabrera would land a five-year, $66.25MM and rightly noted that Cabrera is four years younger and has more defensive value.  Still, Cruz has power on his side and that is at a major premium around the game.  His age will preclude him from the same length on the contract but he can still get a very healthy payday for himself on a slightly shorter deal.  I predict that Cruz will ultimately best Granderson’s deal from last winter with a four-year, $70MM deal.

Photo courtesy USA Today Sports Images.


Orioles Make Qualifying Offer To Nelson Cruz

The Orioles announced that they have made a one-year, $15.3MM qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz and also re-instated Manny Machado and Matt Wieters from the 60-day disabled list, bringing the team’s 40-man roster to 33. At this point, it appears that Nick Markakis will not be the recipient of a QO, which should help his stock on the free agent market. Of course, he’s also said to be discussing a four-year deal to remain in Baltimore.

Cruz signed a one-year, $8MM contract with the Orioles last winter after seeking as much as $75MM+ despite battling the negative impact of both a QO and a season-ending PED suspension. His 2014 performance indicated that teams needn’t be overly concerned with his power production following the suspension, however, as he hit .271/.333/.525 with  Major League leading 40 home runs (plus two more in the postseason).

Cruz is expected to turn down the offer, of course, on the heels of that excellent season in hopes of finding the multi-year deal he wasn’t able to secure last winter. If he signs elsewhere, the O’s will get a comp pick at the end of next year’s first round, and the signing club will forfeit its top unprotected draft pick.

MLBTR’s Free Agent Tracker can be used to monitor all players who received a qualifying offer over the next week until the deadline for them to make their decisions, which will be 5pm ET next Monday.


AL East Notes: Robertson, Headley, Happ, Tomas

In a text message to George A. King III of the New York Post, David Robertson says things are “quiet on the front” in terms of a multiyear contract with the Yankees or receiving a qualifying offer from the team.  The Yankees are expected to extend the QO to Robertson and the closer is very likely to reject it given the interest in his services.  At least six clubs are interested in Robertson this winter, a league source tells Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

Here’s more from around the AL East…

  • The Yankees have begun talks with Chase Headley, CBSSports.com’ Jon Heyman reports.  New York has exclusive negotiating rights with Headley until 11pm CT tonight, though it would be quite surprising to see a deal reached before Headley has had a chance to test the thin free agent market.
  • Blue Jays southpaw J.A. Happ is “generating lots of interest” in trades, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi reports.  Happ enjoyed a solid 2014 season and had his $6.7MM option for 2015 exercised by the Jays on Friday.  With the newly-acquired Marco Estrada now in the rotation mix, Happ could be expendable.
  • Earlier today, Sportsnet.ca’s Jeff Blair reported that the Blue Jays have had internal discussions about Russell Martin.  In that same item, Blair notes that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos might look to act quickly this offseason rather than wait for deals to develop.  The latter strategy left the Jays largely empty-handed last winter.  Toronto has already dealt Adam Lind to Milwaukee, a trade that Blair feels doesn’t make much sense for the Jays unless a follow-up move is forthcoming.
  • The Orioles don’t seem to have interest in trading or non-tendering Chris Davis, MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski reports, though the first baseman will have much to atone for in Baltimore following his disappointing 2014 season.
  • Though the Orioles currently have six legitimate rotation candidates on the roster, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko expects the club to add pitching depth by signing at least one veteran to a minor league deal.
  • Jay Alou, Yasmany Tomas‘ agent, tweeted that his client worked out at the Red Sox academy in the Dominican Republic over the weekend.  While the Sox have had some interest in Tomas in the past, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford hears that the workout was arranged “partly out of convenience, with Tomas needing a place in the area to continue his preparation.”  It would be a surprise to see Boston sign Tomas given that the Sox already have an outfield surplus.
  • The Red Sox are in need of a top left-hander for the bullpen, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes.  Bringing back Andrew Miller would be the best option, though he’ll be heavily courted by several teams and the Sox may not be able to win a bidding war.
  • Silverman thinks the Red Sox and Burke Badenhop could quickly come to terms on a new contract.  The righty reliever posted a 2.29 ERA in 70 2/3 IP with Boston in 2014.

Offseason Outlook: Baltimore Orioles

With the Orioles’ first AL East title and first ALCS appearance since 1997, it was a season to remember in Baltimore.  Before following up, however, the O’s will have to take care of quite a bit of in-house business.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

Free Agents

The Orioles answered one of their biggest offseason questions before the ALCS even began, as the club inked J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40MM extension.  In keeping Hardy in the fold, the Orioles not only ensure their own stability at shortstop, but they also keep a very sought-after player away from potential rivals; the Yankees, for one, were rumored to be interested in Hardy’s services.

With over two-thirds of the roster due for arbitration raises or facing contract options, it’s no surprise that Orioles plan to increase their payroll for 2015.  What remains to be seen is if that spending increase leaves room for new players, or simply reflects the fact that key contributors like Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Zach Britton are no longer making minimum salaries.

I’d guess that Tillman will be approached about contract extensions this winter, as Dan Duquette will look to achieve some cost-certainty in future years by locking up a pitcher who looks like a key part of Baltimore’s future.  The O’s had a similarly large arbitration class last winter, and they responded by trading the biggest projected contract (Jim Johnson) to free up payroll space and discussing extensions with the two players (Chris Davis, Matt Wieters) who projected as long-term pieces.  In hindsight, the team benefited by not finalizing those extensions given how Wieters missed most of the season with injury and Davis took a big step back after his mammoth 2013 campaign.  I’d expect one-year deals for both players in their third and final arb-eligible seasons, putting Wieters and Davis on pace for free agency in the 2015-16 offseason.

Now that Evan Meek has been outrighted off the Orioles’ 40-man roster, that leaves Baltimore with 11 players arbitration-eligible players this offseason.  The only possible non-tender candidate could be Alejandro De Aza, and even he may be retained given the unsettled nature of Baltimore’s 2015 outfield.  Matt Swartz projects the O’s will spend $56.9MM on these 11 players; add that to the roughly $43MM owed to six players on multiyear contracts and the $9MM total required for Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day‘s options and the Orioles are now in the $109MM range for 19 players.  That’s already more than the $107.46MM the club spent on payroll in 2014, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

The Orioles have already addressed their four outstanding club options.  Chen and O’Day, as expected, saw their options exercised while Nick Hundley‘s $5MM option was declined (Caleb Joseph is the cheaper backup catcher option for Wieters next season).  The O’s also declined their half of Nick Markakis‘ $17.5MM option, and as MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently noted in his Markakis’ Free Agent Profile, declining the option makes it unlikely that the team will extend Markakis a qualifying offer.

In short, the long-time Oriole will be one of the most sought-after outfield bats on the free agent market.  If Markakis indeed doesn’t have a qualifying offer tied to him, Adams projects him to receive a four-year, $48MM deal.  By contrast, the O’s will make a qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz, which should diminish the slugger’s market a bit, though not to the same level as last winter, when Baltimore was able to sign Cruz to a one-year, $8MM deal that turned into a major bargain.  It wouldn’t be a surprise if Cruz finds at least double that amount on his next contract, netting him in the $16MM average annual value range.

Baltimore seems to have made some solid progress in talks with Markakis and at least touched base with Cruz earlier this season, so the club is fully exploring the possibility of re-signing both players.  If they feel they have a legitimate shot at bringing both back next year, another payroll-cutting move (such as non-tendering De Aza) would likely be forthcoming.

If both outfielders sign elsewhere, then the O’s have at least one ready corner outfield replacement ready in Steve Pearce.  His big 2014 breakout ensures he’ll find an everyday role somewhere on the diamond and he has experience in both LF and RF.  Delmon Young is also hitting free agency and could be brought back at a modest price; he could form a righty-lefty platoon with De Aza or David Lough in left field.  Lough and De Aza would also expect to see playing time in the outfield even if Cruz or Markakis returns, as either veteran (Cruz especially) would see time at the DH spot.

Pearce’s positional flexibility and the lack of a full-time DH gives the Orioles some options if Cruz and Markakis indeed leave.  This is just my speculation, but Adam LaRoche or Michael Cuddyer would be fits as solid veteran bats who can likely be had on short-term contracts.  Both players would fill everyday roles, which would allow Buck Showalter to employ more platoon depth elsewhere should Pearce come back down to earth.  If the Orioles wanted to go the full-time DH route, they could try to sign Victor Martinez, though his desired four-year contract might be lengthier than the O’s are willing to commit to a 35-year-old.

Around the infield, the O’s seem set with Manny Machado at 3B, Hardy at SS, Jonathan Schoop at 2B and Davis at 1B, though Hardy is the only one who doesn’t have some uncertainty hanging over him headed into next year.  Machado has shown he’s one of the game’s top young stars when healthy, though he has undergone two significant knee surgeries in as many years.  Schoop flashed some nice defense in his first full big league season, though he’ll be expected to show more at the plate than last year’s .598 OPS in 481 plate appearances.

As for Davis, he went from a 53-homer performance in 2013 to a below-average 94 wRC+ in 2014 and also missed the end of the season after being suspended 25 games for Adderall usage.  Davis might be Baltimore’s biggest x-factor for 2015; if he returns to form, the slugger would more than make up for the possible loss of Cruz or Markakis.  Then again, for the Orioles to re-sign those two, Davis could become a trade chip in order to free up payroll space.  They’d be selling low on Davis, though the first baseman’s 2013 campaign is still fresh enough in everyone’s mind that he’ll draw interest.

The Orioles boasted one of the league’s top bullpens last season, and most of the principals are set to return with Britton closing and O’Day and Tommy Hunter as setup men.  The team paid a heavy price (left-handed prospect Eduardo Rodriguez) to obtain Andrew Miller from the Red Sox at the All-Star break, and while Miller pitched very well down the stretch, the high price he’ll command in free agency will likely bring his stint in Baltimore to an end.  It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the O’s pursue a veteran reliever for depth purposes.

Starting pitching could be the biggest area of surplus for Baltimore since the club has six rotation options (Tillman, Gonzalez, Chen, Bud Norris, Ubaldo Jimenez and Kevin Gausman), top prospect Dylan Bundy on his way back from Tommy John surgery and prospects Mike Wright and Tim Berry knocking on the Major League door for depth purposes.  Tillman is the nominal ace, Jimenez is probably unmovable due to his big contract and poor performance last year, and Gausman and Bundy are untouchable as the future of the staff.

This leaves Gonzalez, Chen and Norris as possible trade chips — all solid, unspectacular pitchers with team control (Chen and Norris one year, Gonzalez three years) remaining.  Norris is the most expensive, projected to earn $8.7MM in his final arbitration-eligible year.  While that’s a reasonable salary for an innings-eater, it might also make him the most expendable for a team that’s looking to free up payroll space.

To speculate about a few possible trade partners looking for pitching, the Rockies and Pirates have a number of young outfielders to offer if the O’s were looking for external solutions to replace Cruz or Markakis.  If a bigger-name solution was explored, the Braves could have Justin Upton and Jason Heyward on the market this offseason, though both players are only contracted through 2015 and Atlanta would require more in return than just one of the Gonzalez/Chen/Norris trio.  Such teams as the Cubs, Twins, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Rangers and Angels are among the teams who could also be looking to trade for pitching this winter.

It seems contradictory to predict a surprise, yet given Duquette’s track record in Baltimore, expect him to make one under-the-radar acquisition (a la Chen, Gonzalez, Pearce, Young, Jason Hammel or Nate McLouth) that ends up paying big dividends for the Orioles.  Making the most of unheralded acquisitions and raising the roster’s talent floor have been big reasons why the O’s are 274-212 with a pair of playoff appearances during Duquette’s regime.  Much of the Orioles’ offseason will be shaped by what Cruz and Markakis do, but the club is still in position to contend in 2015.


Orioles Discussing Four-Year Deal With Nick Markakis

The Orioles and Nick Markakis have been discussing a new contract in the range of four years for the free agent outfielder, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports.  “The two sides have been talking for weeks” about a new deal, and Kubatko believes the two sides will reach an agreement to keep Markakis in Baltimore.  Kubatko thinks a deal will come “in the not-too-distant future,” though the Orioles’ exclusive negotiating window with Markakis and all their free agents ends at 11pm CT on Monday night.

After signing J.J. Hardy to an extension before the start of the ALCS, it would be quite a coup for the O’s if they were able to lock up another of their major in-house free agents before letting him hit the open market.  MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently predicted that Markakis (as long as the O’s didn’t tag him with a qualifying offer) would find a four-year, $48MM deal this winter, so the reported deal length would seem to be a fit, provided that the two sides can agree on the finances.

Baltimore has already declined its half of Markakis’ $17.5MM mutual option for 2015, which was something of a surprising move since it cost the team a $2MM buyout; the O’s could’ve simply exercised their side of the option since Markakis was clearly going to decline his side in order to hit the open market.  Declining the option could make more sense, however, if the Orioles thought they were close to a new contract anyways, making that $2MM almost a kind of makeshift signing bonus.