Though months remain until the Orioles report for spring training in Sarasota, this week has brought unrest and concern when it comes to the club’s outfield situation for 2015.
The free-agent departure of slugger Nelson Cruz might have been expected, but his 40 home runs and 108 runs batted in must be replaced as the Orioles try to repeat as American League East champions. The potential exit of Nick Markakis hits closer to home, however, for fans who’ve watched the right fielder play for the better part of a decade.
The sides appeared close to a long-term extension less than a month ago, but talks have cooled since with the Orioles reportedly thinking twice about committing to the 31-year-old for four years. Meanwhile, Atlanta, Toronto, and San Francisco have shown interest in his services with the Braves being of particular interest because of his roots in the state of Georgia where he also owns a home in addition to his residence in Monkton.
Multiple reports have stated that Markakis met with members of the Braves organization in Baltimore on Monday.
His critics will point to his declining numbers over the last few years and a failure for Markakis to live up to the terms of his just-expired contract, but the Orioles would be challenged in finding a replacement at the top of the order and in right field. Losing both Cruz and Markakis would understandably create unrest for Orioles fans with Christmas just a few weeks away and limited alternatives on the open market.
Veteran outfielder Torii Hunter had been linked to the Orioles as a short-term option, but the 39-year-old agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million with the Minnesota Twins Tuesday night. It was an opportunity for Hunter to return to the place where he started his career, and there were no indications that any discussions with Baltimore had progressed beyond a preliminary stage.
According to USA Today, the Orioles have shown “strong interest” in outfielder Michael Morse, who spent the conclusion of the 2013 season in Baltimore. Morse played with the San Francisco Giants this past year, hitting .279 with 16 homers and 61 RBIs in 131 games. The 32-year-old also hit a home run in the National League Championship Series and drove in four runs in the World Series.
Baltimore traded outfielder Xavier Avery to Seattle two years ago to pick up Morse, but he went only 3-for-29 while dealing with a wrist injury.