Tag Archive | "Baltimore"

Ravens reportedly re-sign defensive tackle Bilukidi

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Ravens reportedly re-sign defensive tackle Bilukidi

Posted on 28 February 2015 by Luke Jones

On the same day veteran defensive end Chris Canty was released, the Ravens reportedly re-signed defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi to a two-year contract.

According to The Sun, Baltimore will retain the restricted free agent, who appeared in four games for the Ravens after being claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Bengals in September. Bilukidi finished the season on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury in mid-October.

The 25-year-old was originally a sixth-round pick by the Oakland Raiders in the 2012 draft. At 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, the Georgia State product played in 13 games in 2012 and appeared in seven contests in 2013 while splitting time between the Raiders and the Bengals.

Bilukidi has collected 16 tackles, one sack, and one pass breakup in 24 career games in four NFL seasons.

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Recovering Wieters focused on 2015 season despite looming free agency

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Recovering Wieters focused on 2015 season despite looming free agency

Posted on 28 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — Watching Orioles catcher Matt Wieters during the first few days of full-squad workouts, you could almost forget he’s less than nine months removed from having Tommy John surgery.

He may not yet be cleared to fire bullets down to second or third base to gun down a runner trying to steal, but there have been no signs of apprehension to this point as he’s participated in other fielding drills and caught bullpen sessions. The Orioles hope it stays that way as Wieters will catch in the club’s first intrasquad game on Sunday, which won’t include any throwing for him beyond tosses back to the pitcher.

“He’s doing everything [else],” manager Buck Showalter said. “I saw him throw a ball [the other day] and I had to catch myself because it looked like normal and I thought to myself, ‘Jeez.’ There wasn’t that recoil or decel at the end that you see with a lot of guys that are [recovering from arm injuries].”

It’s so far, so good for Wieters, who is part of a small group of major league catchers to have undergone the elbow ligament reconstruction surgery more commonly associated with pitchers. The track record of catchers coming back from the surgical procedure isn’t encouraging, but most in the group were fringe major league catchers to begin with and lacked Wieters’ ability behind the dish and in the batter’s box.

Defense has been Wieters’ biggest strength throughout his major league career as he’s thrown out 33 percent of runners trying to steal. Until the 28-year-old is fully cleared to throw behind the plate, however, uncertainty remains about what kind of catcher he’ll be in his seventh season and beyond.

The three-time All-Star selection and two-time Gold Glove winner may not have to worry about throwing breaking balls or preparing for 100-pitch outings like a hurler coming back from Tommy John surgery, but making a high volume of throws from different angles behind the plate does make projecting an exact timetable for recovery tricky compared to the expected 10 to 14 months for most pitchers or the six to eight months for other position players not throwing as often as catchers.

“The rehab is going as well as we could have expected, which is a blessing in itself,” Wieters said. “To be able to get out there and just do partial throwing and be able to just be with the guys is great. I’m going through the throwing program, and it feels good throwing. I haven’t gotten into actual positional throwing yet, so that will be the next step of getting into a squat and making throws as a catcher. I’ll do that for a little bit before actually getting behind the plate in a game.”

The Orioles are currently targeting March 17 for Wieters’ first game behind the plate in Grapefruit League action. In the meantime, he’ll receive at-bats as a designated hitter and catch in minor-league spring games — once again with no runners trying to steal — at the organization’s Twin Lakes facility. Showalter plans to have Wieters’ legs fully in shape to allow him to catch five to seven innings when he makes his Grapefruit League debut behind the plate.

The organization and Wieters remain hopeful that he’ll be ready for Opening Day on April 6, but returning to the lineup for good is the 2007 first-round pick’s ultimate goal in not wanting to experience a setback or to need to baby the surgically-repaired elbow over the course of a 162-game season.

“I think about what’s going to be best for the team and what’s going to be best health-wise going forward,” Wieters said. “It’s something where missing all that time last year was tough. I think the biggest thing is you’ve got to make the decision, ‘What’s the best way for you to be on the field as much as possible?’ This game is what I love playing, and we’re going to do whatever is going to give me the best chance to be on the field the most this year.”

There’s also the reality of looming free agency to consider as Wieters is scheduled to hit the open market next winter. The catcher insists his singular focus is on getting ready for the season, but he and agent Scott Boras have to be thinking about his health and showing the Orioles and potential suitors that his elbow problem will be completely behind him.

It isn’t an easy position for a soon-to-be 29-year-old catcher to be in after he’s already logged 5,533 innings behind the plate in his major league career. In that way, the injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the rest of his body in 2014 as he was only able to contribute from a mental standpoint, which even included some advanced scouting of the Detroit Tigers ahead of the American League Division Series.

Showalter has frequently pointed to Wieters as a potential manager one day and credited his work with catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley as a major reason why the pitching staff thrived in his absence.

“It just verified what we thought. That doesn’t surprise anybody,” Showalter said. “He was in the film room with those guys every day. His words carry a lot of weight. He projects a real self-confidence when you’re willing to help other people like that.”

Wieters is confident that his familiarity with the club’s pitching staff — which lost only lefty reliever Andrew Miller in the offseason — will allow for a smooth return behind the plate.

Having not played in a game since May 10 of last year, Wieters is itching to return to action, whether it’s as soon as Opening Day or a more conservative track. He gained perspective from watching Showalter in the dugout and believes the mental side of his game has improved over the last year, but watching his teammates play in the 2014 postseason wasn’t easy.

“It was tough and great at the same time to be able to watch those guys have the success they had last year,” Wieters said. “I felt a part of it but not as much a part of it as I would have liked to be. When the season ended last year, I was probably the only guy in that clubhouse that was already thinking about spring training. Those guys deserved their time off, but I was ready to come down here and get going as soon as possible.”

Wieters can see the light at the end of the tunnel in the rehabilitation process, but the last few hurdles remain. Meanwhile, the Orioles know the clock is ticking before the catcher hits free agency, with few expecting him to sign an extension to stay with the organization that drafted him.

Those realities present an interesting juxtaposition as Wieters must understandably focus on the big picture while the Orioles would like to maximize their return in their final season of control before free agency. Unclear of his future beyond 2015, Wieters is hoping to take advantage of a healthy season while trying to help the Orioles defend their 2014 AL East title.

“I love Baltimore and Baltimore’s a great town,” Wieters said. “Right now, I’m really thinking about getting back on the field, which could be a blessing. [Free agency is] something that always looms for players, but for me, it’s really just about getting back out there and enjoying it.”

Listen to my exclusive interview with Wieters from Sarasota HERE.

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Canty calls Ravens fans “inspirational” in his time with Baltimore

Posted on 27 February 2015 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Baltimore Ravens have terminated the contract of DE Chris Canty, general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome announced Friday morning.

Canty, 32, spent two seasons (2013-14) with the Ravens, seeing action in 26 games (24 starts). The 10-year NFL veteran recorded 63 tackles (33 solo), 2.5 sacks, six passes defensed and three forced fumbles while playing in Baltimore.

“I had a conversation with Chris this morning and thanked him for his contributions both on and off the field,” Newsome stated. “He represents the best of what a Ravens’ player is: committed on the field and a shining leader in the community. We thank him for everything he did for us the last two seasons. I know that Chris still wants to explore playing again, and he’s preparing to do that. We certainly would not close the door to Chris coming back to us.”

This past season, Canty played in 11 games (all starts), producing 33 tackles, a half-sack, two passes defensed and one forced fumble. He added two solo tackles in Baltimore’s two playoff games, one of which he started.

“We are a better franchise for having Chris Canty with us the last two years,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He added maturity and leadership. Chris played well and played a lot of snaps for us, especially last season. He was an outstanding contributor to our playoff season in 2014.

“When we were handling serious off-the-field issues last season, Chris stood out internally with our team and represented us externally in the only way you expect from Chris – with intelligence and in a first-class manner.”

Below is a statement from Canty:

“First thing I want to do is thank Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie and coach ‘Harbs’ for bringing me to Baltimore and allowing me to wear the purple and black,” Canty stated. “I am very proud to be a Raven. They are a great franchise, and I was privileged to be a contributor to that outstanding tradition of defense that is part of the team’s lore.

“I love the coaching staff there, including the defensive staff. Dean [Pees], my line coach Clarence Brooks, Ted [Monachino] – really, all of them. What can I say about my teammates on that side of the ball? [They are] special players and good people, like ‘Sizzle’ [Terrell Suggs] and Haloti [Ngata]. Thank you. They helped me re-discover and continue my passion for football, a game I respect and love.

“I also want to thank Ravens fans. They embraced me immediately, and I embraced them back. They were inspirational.

“I am going to continue to prepare to play again and will explore other possibilities to play the game I love.”

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Ravens release Canty to clear $2.66 million in cap space

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Ravens release Canty to clear $2.66 million in cap space

Posted on 27 February 2015 by Luke Jones

Defensive end Chris Canty became the second veteran player to be released by the Ravens this week.

The 32-year-old had his contract terminated on Friday morning, a move that saves the Ravens $2.66 million on their 2015 salary cap. Canty was entering the final season of a three-year, $8 million contract and had been pondering retirement this winter, but many predicted he would be a roster victim due to the Ravens’ tight salary-cap situation.

Return specialist Jacoby Jones had his contract terminated earlier this week.

“I am very proud to be a Raven,” Canty said in a statement released by the organization. “They are a great franchise, and I was privileged to be a contributor to that outstanding tradition of defense that is part of the team’s lore.

“I am going to continue to prepare to play again and will explore other possibilities to play the game I love.”

In 26 games over two seasons with Baltimore, Canty didn’t make a big impact on the field, but he was one of the most respected veterans in the locker room, a detail that shouldn’t be overlooked after the turbulent nature of last year with the Ray Rice saga and four other player arrests. However, with the Ravens selecting defensive end Brent Urban in the fourth round of the 2014 draft — he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in last year’s training camp — and also having younger options on the roster such as DeAngelo Tyson and Kapron Lewis-Moore, Canty was viewed as expendable.

The Ravens could also re-sign veteran Lawrence Guy, who played effectively at the 5-technique in the defensive line rotation after being picked up from the San Diego Chargers in early October. General manager Ozzie Newsome did not rule out the possibility of bringing back Canty at a reduced rate, but the Ravens will likely be content in going with younger, cheaper options at defensive end.

“We are a better franchise for having Chris Canty with us the last two years,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. “He added maturity and leadership. Chris played well and played a lot of snaps for us, especially last season. He was an outstanding contributor to our playoff season in 2014.”

Canty missed five games during the 2014 campaign while dealing with a staph infection in his wrist in October and an ankle injury at the end of the regular season. He finished the year with 33 tackles, two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a half-sack.

In his 10-year career, Canty has also played for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, earning a Super Bowl XLVI championship ring.

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Jones defends Markakis’ strong words about Orioles departure

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Jones defends Markakis’ strong words about Orioles departure

Posted on 26 February 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 12:00 p.m.)

SARASOTA, Fla. — The biggest headline stemming from Thursday’s workout in Sarasota involved a player who’s no longer with the Orioles.

More than two months after signing a four-year, $44 million with the Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis fired a shot at the way the Orioles and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette handled negotiations. The 31-year-old underwent neck surgery Dec. 17 for a herniated disc he’s dealt with for two years, and the Orioles were concerned with the latest magnetic resonance imaging exam, prompting them to lower their initial offer of four years to three.

“Don’t believe a word they say,” Markakis said to USA TODAY on Wednesday. “It was all because of my neck. They can say what they want to make them look good. It’s all B.S.”

Center fielder Adam Jones was asked about his former teammate’s comments and expressed satisfaction that the normally-quiet Markakis spoke his mind.

Told Duquette had confirmed that the neck was a concern from the Orioles’ perspective, Jones still took exception to the timing of the comments after Markakis had already departed. The center fielder credited Markakis for playing through the neck issues over the last couple years, citing that nearly every player in baseball deals with various ailments over the course of a season.

“Now you want to say it two months later,” said Jones of Duquette. “Let’s say it when everybody is wanting to know right then and now. But it always comes out later. That’s just how this game is.”

Truthfully, Duquette acknowledged in early December that the Orioles had “concern that made the terms an issue” as it was reported at the time that the neck was a clear holdup. Markakis may have legitimate gripes about the way negotiations were handled behind closed doors, but Duquette going public about the health issues could have easily hurt the right fielder’s value in free agency with any team vying for his services.

In that regard, the Orioles might have actually been doing Markakis a favor.

It’s also worth noting that the Braves sold off a number of players this offseason after signing Markakis, making it likely he’ll be playing for a club with little chance of winning in 2015. Maybe some underlying frustration exists after he took Atlanta’s offer? Markakis hopes to be ready for Opening Day, but that isn’t a certainty, according to reports from Braves camp.

Meanwhile, the Orioles will try to turn to page without Markakis or 2014 home run king Nelson Cruz, who signed with Seattle in the offseason. Jones admits he’ll have to get used to someone different manning right field after spending the last seven years with the same guy.

“It’s going to be different looking to my left not having Markakis there just like it’s going to be different for Orioles fans knowing that 21′s not in right,” Jones said. “He’s been there for nine years, but it’s baseball. Cal [Ripken] retired, and somebody had to fill in. The game is going to continue. 2015 Opening Day’s not going to be halted because we don’t have Markakis. It’s just an adjustment we’re going to have to make. I think we’re going to be fine.”

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Seven takeaways from “State of the Ravens” press conference

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Seven takeaways from “State of the Ravens” press conference

Posted on 25 February 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ brass met with reporters Tuesday to review the 2014 season and look ahead at the offseason priorities for 2015.

Below are seven takeaways from what was discussed:

1. The Ravens made it clear they’re more than willing to walk away from wide receiver Torrey Smith.

You got the sense from general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti that the organization is not willing to break the bank for the 2011 second-round pick as the latter even mentioned how much the Miami Dolphins regretted paying speedy receiver Mike Wallace a couple years ago. You wonder if the Ravens were trying to show Smith some “tough love” negotiating tactics as he’s a couple weeks away from hitting the open market but has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay in Baltimore.

2. Running back Justin Forsett might be a higher priority than we thought.

Forsett will be 30 next season and many have wondered how much of his success was a product of an improved offensive line, but Newsome mentioning what kind of mentor the running back has been in his career was interesting with questions about how he’d be valued on the open market. The Ravens will look to add another young running back for the future, but it wouldn’t make sense for Newsome to offer such a compliment if he were trying to low-ball the veteran, who was such a great story in 2014.

3. We’re still waiting to hear about the future of defensive end Chris Canty.

Head coach John Harbaugh said he hasn’t spoken to the veteran defensive lineman since the end of the season when he told reporters he was contemplating retirement. You’d have to think the Ravens are trying to be respectful to the 32-year-old, who may be a salary-cap casualty if he decides to continue his career. Baltimore was in a similar position with veteran center Matt Birk a couple years ago and likely would have cut him had he not decided to retire in the offseason following Super Bowl XLVII.

4. If there were any lingering doubts, rush specialist Pernell McPhee won’t be returning to Baltimore.

Newsome couldn’t have been more clear unless he said, “We wish Pernell good luck in his future endeavors.” The 2011 fifth-round pick had a terrific season as a situation player this past season and is expected to cash in with a number of teams vying for his services. It will be interesting to see how McPhee handles a full-time role elsewhere as his cranky knees were an issue at a few different points during his run in Baltimore.

5. Safety Terrence Brooks is likely to start the 2015 season on the physically unable to perform list.

After suffering a serious knee injury in December, Brooks figured to be a question mark to begin the 2015 campaign and Newsome confirmed that on Tuesday. The 2014 third-round pick showed a few flashes while also making plenty of mistakes as a rookie, but it will be hard to count on him contributing more in his second year as he works his way back from injury. Much attention has been paid to the cornerback position, but it’s clear the Ravens need to add an impact safety this offseason.

6. Bisciotti experienced his worst year as the owner of the franchise.

It wasn’t surprising to hear the owner share the sentiment, but the conviction with which he spoke let you know just how bothered he was by the Ray Rice saga and four other player arrests. Bisciotti quipped that he was off “suicide watch” and would have considered selling the team to Steve Ballmer last year, but he didn’t come across well in disputing the notion that the NFL had an image problem before team president Dick Cass saved him by pointing to the league’s concerns with domestic violence.

7. Newsome’s discussion about the Ravens secondary was disappointing.

Newsome is an excellent executive, but his thoughts on the secondary lacked accountability as he leaned on the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith from injury. There’s no disputing that injuries played a role in last year’s woes, but many opined that the Ravens didn’t do enough last offseason to augment the unit after the free-agent loss of cornerback Corey Graham and long before the rash of injuries. Either way, actions will speak louder than words in how the Ravens address the defensive backfield.

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Cabrera offers different skill set to second base mix

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Cabrera offers different skill set to second base mix

Posted on 25 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — After several days of anticipation as he finally resolved a lingering legal issue, infielder Everth Cabrera has officially joined the Orioles.

What the organization gets from the former San Diego Padres shortstop is anyone’s guess as the 28-year-old went from being an All-Star selection in 2013 to being suspended 50 games for the Biogenesis later that year and followed that disappointment with an injury-riddled campaign in which he was limited to 90 games in 2014. Cabrera hit only .232 with a .572 on-base plug slugging percentage last season, but his 99 stolen bases over the last three years provide some appeal for a club that ranked last in the majors in that department a season ago.

Signing the Nicaraguan infielder to a one-year, $2.4 million contract, the Orioles like his upside that is accompanied by a remaining minor-league option.

“He’s young, he’s hungry, he made the All Star team in 2013,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “He can play a premium, skilled defensive position. He’s a switch hitter. He’s an outstanding baserunner and a premium base stealer. He’s got a lot of assets that can help the ball club and I’m sure we will find some good spots for him to help us win some ballgames.”

How Cabrera will fit into the picture remains to be seen. Starting second baseman Jonathan Schoop and utility infielder Ryan Flaherty appeared to be virtual locks for roster spots entering spring training, but Cabrera provides an element of speed that the other two don’t possess.

Considered the second baseman of the future by many, the 23-year-old Schoop posted a .598 OPS and walked only 13 times in 481 plate appearances during his rookie season. It’s possible that Cabrera might push Schoop for the starting job, but a more likely outcome would be him winning the utility infielder job from Flaherty.

After accepting a plea deal that included a fine, community service, and probation stemming from a resisting arrest charge last fall, Cabrera will now focus on proving the Orioles were wise to take a chance on him after two tumultuous seasons.

“I always think every spring training that I’ve got to compete,” said Cabrera, who spent much of the winter strengthening his hamstrings after injuries took their toll last year. “I don’t care where they’re going to put me. I’m going to play hard, and I’m going to compete every single day when they give me the opportunity to play.”

Cabrera will be busy this season getting acclimated to multiple infield positions after spending his entire career at shortstop for the Padres. He’s appeared in just 12 games at second base and only one at third base in his six-year major league career.

Manager Buck Showalter will give Cabrera every opportunity to prove himself to be worthy of a roster spot this spring, but he acknowledges not being overly familiar with the National League West in terms of evaluating the division’s talent. His speed on the bases is an obvious asset, but Cabrera will need to prove himself defensively before Showalter strongly considers using him in place of Schoop at second or designates him the primary utility man over Flaherty.

Keeping Schoop, Flaherty, and Cabrera on the 25-man roster appears to be unlikely, making the veteran’s signing an intriguing storyline to monitor this spring.

“He’s been doing a lot of work and had a very diligent offseason. I think the timing’s good with him,” said Showalter, who admitted Cabrera resolving his legal issues was a “prerequisite” to completing a deal. “This guy a lot of people considered one of the better infielders in the National League a couple years ago.

“We’ll see where the need is of the club and see if he can fit the need. He gives us some flexibility.”

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Ravens release veteran return specialist Jacoby Jones

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Ravens release veteran return specialist Jacoby Jones

Posted on 25 February 2015 by Luke Jones

The man who was part of arguably the most exciting play in franchise history is no longer with the Ravens.

Veteran return specialist and wide receiver Jacoby Jones was released on Wednesday to end his three-year run in Baltimore. Though his role as a receiver diminished and his explosiveness and reliability waned in 2014, Jones will forever be remembered for catching the miracle 70-yard touchdown from Joe Flacco to force overtime in the Ravens’ 38-35 overtime win over Denver in the 2012 divisional round.

Jones followed that performance with two touchdowns in Super Bowl XLVII, staking a strong claim for the Most Valuable Player award that ultimately went to Flacco.

“We don’t win Super Bowl XLVII without Jacoby,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a team release. “You immediately think of the touchdown against Denver in the divisional round and then the big plays in that Super Bowl — the long touchdown from Joe and the [108-yard] kickoff to open the second half. He also had a big punt return in that game. Jacoby was an outstanding Raven and a good teammate on and off the field.”

The 30-year-old was scheduled to count for $3.375 million against the 2015 salary cap in the second season of a four-year, $12 million contract signed last winter. Unless the Ravens were to give Jones a post-June 1 designation that would push $1.75 million in dead money to next season, they will save only $750,000 in cap space by terminating his contract. He was scheduled to make a $2.5 million base salary in each of the next three years.

Reunited with former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak last season, Jones disappeared in the new coordinator’s offense, catching just nine passes for 131 yards. He remained a threat as a return specialist this past season — returning a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown in a loss at Pittsburgh — but ball security became a concern as he fumbled four times, losing two of them.

Originally signed by the Ravens in 2012, Jones earned Pro Bowl honors that year and produced a 30.1-yard career kickoff return average in his three-year run, the best mark in franchise history. He scored a total of six touchdowns on returns with the Ravens.

Jones registered 76 catches for 992 yards and three touchdowns in regular-season play over the last three years.

“We thank Jacoby for what he did for us,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. “You think of how many games where his returns or long catches were the difference in winning – at Pittsburgh, Dallas, the 2012 playoff run to the championships and that great Minnesota game in the snow and ice at M&T Bank Stadium come to mind immediately. He was invaluable to our success. Opponents, especially on special teams, schemed to stop him. What a compliment to him.

“Jacoby is one of my most favorite players ever to coach, an absolute joy to be around. He’s a good person with a good heart.”

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Orioles designate Hassan to make room for Cabrera on 40-man roster

Posted on 25 February 2015 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles today announced that they have signed free agent infielder Everth Cabrera to a one-year contract. Cabrera, 28, was a National League All-Star in 2013, becoming the first Nicaraguan-born position player to be named to an All-Star team.

Cabrera batted .232/.272/.300 with three home runs and 20 RBI in 90 games with the Padres in 2014. In 481 career games, he has hit .248/.319/.333 with 12 home runs, 128 RBI, and 136 stolen bases.

In 2013, he set career-highs in batting average (.283), hits (108), and home runs (four), while tying his career-high in RBI (31) before having his season cut short due to a 50-game suspension. He finished ninth in the majors and fifth in the National League with 37 steals, while his .283 batting average ranked third among NL shortstops. He earned his first career All-Star Game selection after collecting 34 steals prior to the break, but did not appear in the game.

He became the first Padre in team history to lead the NL in steals after a career-high 44 stolen bases in 2012, which ranked third in Major League Baseball. Since 2012, Cabrera ranks eighth in MLB with 99 stolen bases.

Originally signed by Colorado as a non-drafted free agent in 2004, Cabrera was selected by San Diego from the Rockies in the first round of the 2008 Rule 5 Draft.

To make room for Cabrera on the 40-man roster, outfielder Alex Hassan has been designated for assignment.

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New Orioles outfielder Snider not concerned with filling Markakis’ shoes

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New Orioles outfielder Snider not concerned with filling Markakis’ shoes

Posted on 24 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — New Orioles outfielder Travis Snider may be the leading candidate to replace veteran Nick Markakis in right field, but he isn’t taking anything for granted this spring.

Playing parts of seven seasons without ever recording as many as 360 plate appearances in a single campaign, the 27-year-old can’t dwell on the opportunity presented to him in Baltimore after the free-agent departures of Markakis and slugger Nelson Cruz. Call it a force of habit for a former first-round pick who’s seen more disappointment than success in his major league career with numerous minor-league demotions and nagging injuries.

“I don’t worry about what happened last year and who you guys say I’m replacing,” Snider said in an interview with WNST.net. “I came here to play when they tell me to play and where they tell me to play. For me, the focus remains on the day to day of getting better and when they put my name in the lineup, I’ll be ready.”

Fair or not, the pressure is on Snider to perform as he represents the Orioles’ most significant addition of the offseason. The beginning of his career doesn’t remotely stack up to Markakis’ nine-year run in Baltimore, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette hopes Snider’s .776 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014 — Markakis’ was .729 — is a sign of a once-heralded prospect finally figuring it out at the major league level.

Snider’s numbers spiked in the second half of 2014 as he hit .288 with nine home runs, 24 runs batted in, and an .880 OPS to help lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a wild-card berth. The numbers reflected the kind of prospect Snider once was in posting a .968 OPS in 835 plate appearances at the Triple-A level.

Even if his offense remains a question as a .246 lifetime hitter according to William Hill Sports, the Orioles already like what they’ve seen from Snider defensively as he will potentially replace a two-time Gold Glove winner in right field. The left-handed thrower was viewed as a good defender in Pittsburgh and was frequently used as a defensive replacement when not in the starting lineup.

“I don’t care who you are, you always have these preconceived ideas and visual and then you actually see it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I watched Travis Snider run two balls down in right field during [batting practice]. You take something out of everything.”

After five disappointing years with Toronto in which he could never live up to his potential as the 14th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Snider was traded to Pittsburgh midway through the 2012 season. His improvement at the plate hardly came overnight — the left-handed hitter batted just .215 in 2013 — but he credits the winning culture in Pittsburgh over the last two years for changing his mindset, which led to his own improvement in 2014.

After being acquired in exchange for minor-league pitchers Stephen Tarpley and Steven Vault, Snider believes playing for a club that has advanced to the postseason in two of the last three years and is coming off its first division title in 17 years is the perfect environment to pick up where he left off in his final year with the Pirates.

“I’ve been able to take some steps forward in my career and the way I approach each day by remaining focused on each day and not worrying about stat lines or box scores and those types of things,” Snider said. “As a young player, I got caught up worrying too much about myself. Being part of a winning culture, it made it easy to buy in and knowing that you’re playing for each other and the pressure is taken off of your personal accolades and put onto the team and what you have to do each night to get the win. It makes baseball a whole lot more fun when you play that way.”

With Snider and the impending signing of infielder Everth Cabrera the only notable position players added to the mix this winter, the Orioles will likely need a breakout performance from an unheralded name similar to what they received from Steve Pearce a year ago to give themselves the best chance to make it back to the postseason. A former Pirate himself, Pearce rose from anonymity at age 31 last year to hit 21 home runs and post a .930 OPS and is now being counted on to fill a regular role this season.

It’s the perfect example to which a player like Snider can aspire after years of failing to live up to expectations as one of the best prospects in the game.

“Steve Pearce was one of the best stories in baseball last year, and that was one of the first things that I told him,” Snider said. “Understanding that this game and this business doesn’t always go the way that we plan, the guys that are able to overcome that adversity and make the most of those opportunities [succeed]. It was a lot of fun for me to watch him do what he did last year.

“We all get humbled at some point in this game. Opportunities come and opportunities go, but understanding where that focus remains and to see guys go out there and do what he did last year, that’s pretty cool.”

The opportunity will be there for Snider this season, but it will be up to him to take advantage.

 

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