Tag Archive | "Nelson Cruz"

Orioles rumblings from general managers’ meetings

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Orioles rumblings from general managers’ meetings

Posted on 13 November 2014 by Luke Jones

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

No, we’re not talking about the upcoming holiday season, but rather the Orioles’ annual interest in veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett. Yahoo Sports reported Thursday from the general managers’ meetings in Arizona that Baltimore has offered the right-hander a contract, but the sides are not close. Several conflicting reports have since said the Orioles haven’t offered Burnett a deal.

(Editor’s note: The Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a one-year deal with Burnett on Friday afternoon.)

The Monkton resident’s name has regularly come up in recent years, but it’s unclear why the Orioles would still be interested in a soon-to-be 38-year-old pitcher who posted a 4.59 ERA with Philadelphia last season. His performance more closely resembled that of Ubaldo Jimenez than the rest of the Baltimore rotation in 2014 as Burnett’s 4.0 walks per nine innings rate was his worst since 2009. His 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings would have some appeal, but a 1.409 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) wouldn’t figure to improve shifting back to the American League for his 17th major league season.

It makes sense for executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to seek starting pitching depth as it’d be a stretch to project five starters each posting an ERA below 4.00 for the second straight year, but Burnett would be pricey and doesn’t represent a clear upgrade over any starter the Orioles currently have. With the Orioles already having six projected starters including the disappointing Jimenez and his albatross contract, adding Burnett would only make sense if they were packaging someone like Miguel Gonzalez or Bud Norris in a trade for a piece to significantly improve another area of the club.

Burnett declined a $12.75 million option to remain with the Phillies and if he’s looking for anything even approaching that, the Orioles shouldn’t be wasting time considering him, let alone making an offer.

* Speaking of Jimenez, the reports of the Orioles being open to trading the right-hander are a nice thought, but who is willingly inheriting the remaining three years of a $50 million contract to take him off the club’s hands?

I feel confident in predicting Jimenez will improve on his 4.81 ERA and horrendous 5.5 walks per nine innings rate from 2014, but the Orioles aren’t finding a suitor without paying a sizable portion of the roughly $39 million he’s still owed or taking on an equally-terrible contract of another player.

* The Orioles continue working on a contract extension with right fielder Nick Markakis with Yahoo Sports reporting the sides are closing in on a four-year deal worth $10 million to $12 million per season that could be done soon.

I recently examined how far the Orioles should go to keep the longtime right fielder and the reported price per season isn’t shocking, but offering four years is a lot for a player who’s shown marked decline in power and range over the last three to four seasons. Kudos to Duquette and the organization should they finish a deal to keep a lifelong Oriole whose value extends beyond the statistics, but the final year or two on a contract of that nature is likely to be cringe-worthy come 2017 and 2018.

* It will be interesting to see what impact the Victor Martinez extension has on free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz.

The soon-to-be 36-year-old Martinez agreed to a four-year, $68 million to remain with the Tigers while the 34-year-old Cruz reportedly wants a five-year deal from potential free-agent suitors. Martinez had the superior year with a .335 average and a league-leading .974 on-base plus slugging percentage and is a better overall hitter, but his re-signing makes Cruz the most attractive designated hitter remaining on the market.

To this point, the Orioles are unwilling to go beyond three years to keep Cruz, who led the majors with 40 home runs, so his demands will need to come down to remain in Baltimore unless there is a change of heart.

* The Orioles have repeatedly shot down a rumor that they’ve offered free agent Billy Butler a three-year, $30 million contract, which is good news.

Not only is the right-handed DH coming off a poor season in which he posted a .702 OPS, but he cannot play defense, which wouldn’t be appealing as manager Buck Showalter likes flexibility with the DH spot to provide some rest to his veteran position players. You’d gladly live with a potent bat from a guy like Martinez in that permanent role, but Butler’s slugging percentage has dropped from .510 in 2012 to .412 in 2013 to a career-low .379 this season.

On top of the declining numbers, the 28-year-old Butler has a reputation for being a malcontent, which makes him even less appealing to a club like the Orioles with such a positive clubhouse culture.

* Reports indicate left-handed reliever Andrew Miller is seeking a lucrative four-year deal.

“There’s an awful lot of interest in him, I’m hearing, down here,” Duquette said on MLB Network Wednesday. “He likes Baltimore, too. We heard from his family. His wife liked it there. She was very comfortable, so we’re going to try on that one as well.”

It remains highly unlikely that the tall southpaw returns to the Orioles.

 

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Cruz among 12 MLB free agents to reject qualifying offers

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Cruz among 12 MLB free agents to reject qualifying offers

Posted on 10 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline came and went with slugger Nelson Cruz rejecting the Orioles’ $15.3 million qualifying offer as expected.

In fact, all 12 free agents given qualifying offers by their respective 2014 clubs last week declined the one-year, $15.3 million contract. In the three offseasons since the concept was added to the current collective bargaining agreement, none of 34 qualifying offers have been accepted.

Cruz was expected to reject the offer all along as he seeks a multi-year deal after signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles last spring. The 34-year-old is reportedly looking for at least a four-year contract while executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and the Orioles would prefer a shorter deal for Cruz, who is coming off a career season.

Should Cruz sign a contract with another team, the Orioles would receive a compensatory pick at the conclusion of the first round of June’s amateur draft. Any club signing a free agent who received a qualifying offer from his previous team must forfeit its first-round pick unless the team is picking in the top 10. In those cases, a team would then surrender its next-highest pick.

Representatives for Cruz and fellow free-agent outfielder Nick Markakis are expected to hold discussions with other clubs at this week’s Major League Baseball general managers’ meetings in Phoenix. The Orioles and Markakis have been discussing terms for what’s believed to be a four-year extension but have been unable to finalize a deal to this point.

The other free agents to reject qualifying offers were Michael Cuddyer (Colorado), Pablo Sandoval (San Francisco), Max Scherzer (Detroit), Victor Martinez (Detroit), Francisco Liriano (Pittsburgh), Russell Martin (Pittsburgh), Hanley Ramirez (Los Angeles Dodgers), James Shields (Kansas City), David Robertson (New York Yankees), Melky Cabrera (Toronto), and Ervin Santana (Atlanta).

Cuddyer became the first significant free agent to change teams Monday when he agreed to a two-year, $21 million contract with the New York Mets.

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Cruz receives qualifying offer from Orioles as expected

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Cruz receives qualifying offer from Orioles as expected

Posted on 03 November 2014 by Luke Jones

With Monday’s deadline upon them, the Orioles made a qualifying offer to free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz hours before other teams are free to negotiate with the slugger.

The move was expected even though the 34-year-old will decline the $15.3 million offer that now allows the Orioles to receive a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round should Cruz sign with another club. The veteran is reportedly seeking a four- or five-year contract while executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette would prefer signing him to a shorter deal since he’ll turn 35 next season.

Cruz officially has until Nov. 10 to decide whether to accept the qualifying offer.

The Orioles signed Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal last spring after he rejected a $14.1 million qualifying offer to remain with the Texas Rangers last winter. The draft-pick caveat cooled the market for the right-handed hitter considerably, but the Orioles felt inclined to sign him after they had already surrendered their first-round pick to sign free-agent starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.

Cruz viewed the 2014 season as a platform to boost his value, and that’s exactly what he did by hitting 40 home runs to lead the majors while also setting a career high with 108 runs batted in. The Orioles have negotiated with Cruz’s agent, Diego Bentz, but the sides are reportedly far apart in discussions.

Baltimore declined to make a qualifying offer to right fielder Nick Markakis as the sides continue to work on a multi-year extension.

The five-day window clubs had to negotiate with their own free agents concludes at midnight on Tuesday morning. From that point, free agents may negotiate with any of the 30 major league clubs.

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Duquette noncommittal on plans for free agent Cruz

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Duquette noncommittal on plans for free agent Cruz

Posted on 17 October 2014 by Luke Jones

At a quiet Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was asked to not only reflect on the Orioles’ 96-win season that resulted in their first division title in 17 years but also how he planned to attack the offseason in hopes of returning to the playoffs for the third time in four years in 2015.

One of the most prominent items to address will be the pending free agency of slugger Nelson Cruz, who was voted the club’s most valuable player after signing a one-year, $8 million contract last spring. Though several teams are expected to be interesting in his services should he hit the free-agent market, the Orioles are expected to at least make a $15.3 million qualifying offer to Cruz, which would mean they’d receive a draft pick if he’d sign elsewhere.

Asked about his plans for Cruz in the coming weeks, the Orioles executive was noncommittal.

“The important thing for our fans to know is that we’ve increased our payroll over the last couple years,” Duquette said. “I expect we have the foundation for an additional increase, and however we invest that, we’re going to give them the most competitive and compelling and entertaining team we can to support.”

With the sheer number of young players in line to receive raises through arbitration, an increase in payroll was all but guaranteed, but what does that mean for Cruz? After hitting a career-high 40 home runs in his first season with the Orioles, the slugger has expressed several times that he’d like to remain in Baltimore if possible.

The Orioles have engaged in some preliminary contract talks with Cruz’s representation since the All-Star break, but the 34-year-old recently changed agents and is now represented by Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports, according to a FOX Sports report from earlier in the month.

“It’s good to know that Nelson likes it here,” Duquette said. “I can tell just by watching him, he’s the leader of the ball club, and the young players look up to him, especially the young Latin players. He’s an excellent leader, he’s a very good role model, he led the league in home runs, and he had a great year. I really appreciate the veteran leadership that he gave the team.

“Having said that, he came here to have a platform year to get himself reestablished so he could get a long-term deal, and that’s something that we’ll have to consider.”

While Cruz is expected to garner plenty of attention, trying to assess the market for right fielder Nick Markakis will be more complicated as the Orioles are not expected to pick up the $17.5 million mutual option on his contract. The option includes a $2 million buyout should the club not use it.

Markakis has been one of the more productive players in franchise history, but his on-base plus slugging percentage was only .685 in 2013 and only .729 this season, which aren’t eye-popping numbers for a corner outfielder who lacks speed. A cornerstone of the organization for nearly a decade, Markakis is adored by manager Buck Showalter and ownership and has made his home in Maryland, making it likely the sides will eventually agree on a reasonable extension.

Duquette said it was “always a possibility” that the Orioles would negotiate a long-term contract with Markakis, who will turn 31 next month, during the World Series.

The Orioles are less optimistic that they’ll be able to retain the services of left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, who only made himself look more attractive to potential suitors by pitching 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. The 6-foot-7 southpaw is expected to be courted as a closer and receive lucrative money from another team this offseason.

“There’s a lot of interest in Andrew Miller,” Duquette said. “We knew that when we traded for him. He pitched well for us. Good for us that we had him because I think he was the difference in the Tigers series that allowed us to advance. Obviously, we like Andrew and we like to have pitchers of that ilk on our ball club.”

NOTES: Even though Chris Davis has one game remaining on the 25-game suspension he received for amphetamine use, the first baseman will be allowed to be a full participant during spring training and in Grapefruit League games. According to Showalter, the Orioles will benefit from not having to keep Davis on the 40-man roster during the winter, which is an advantage for an organization that manipulates its roster as much as any team in the majors. … Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in Sarasota on Feb. 18 with the first day of workouts the following morning. Position players will participate in their first official workout on Feb. 24. … Asked his thoughts on the remainder of the postseason, Showalter offered a reply that many Orioles fans can appreciate as well as relate to. “Watching it makes me ill. I’m not one of those guys that likes watching other people do what we wanted to do.”

 

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Future’s uncertainty always most painful as Orioles bow out of postseason

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Future’s uncertainty always most painful as Orioles bow out of postseason

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Luke Jones

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A sweep was a bitter way for a season to end after the Orioles won 96 games to secure their first American League East title in 17 years.

Overcoming season-ending injuries to Matt Wieters and Manny Machado as well as enduring the 25-game suspension and poor performance of slugger Chris Davis, the Orioles arguably had their most rewarding year since their last World Series title in 1983. But that magic and mojo finally expired against the Kansas City Royals, who didn’t embarrass Baltimore but was just a little bit better across the board as they won their first AL pennant since 1985.

Even if 2014 ultimately proves to be the Royals’ year — and an 8-0 postseason mark certainly suggests it is — the end still hurts.

“There’s a lot of positive things there. But it’s kind of shallow,” manager Buck Showalter said. “There’s so many things that during the year, it’s just an unspoken word, a look at each other, there’s a real respect for each other. And like I just told them, the game’s not always fair. Someone’s going to be extremely disappointed.”

The Orioles have quite a juxtaposition of half-full and half-empty outlooks as they conclude 2014, but the uncertainty of navigating another offseason and another 162-game marathon to try to get back to this same point next year — with a different outcome, of course — always makes you wonder if they’ll make it back. The AL East doesn’t figure to feature underwhelming versions of both the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox for a second straight year, so that alone forces you to take pregnant pause.

Even as disappointment wanes and fans begin to reflect on the Orioles’ third straight winning season and first division title since 1997, expectations have only soared for executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, Showalter, and the current club. But as is the case with any offseason, some change will be inevitable.

“You know, [2012] was unexpected, in ’13 we had expectations, and here we were doing something that hasn’t been done in a long time,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “I think expectations have risen a little bit in Baltimore and that’s good. I don’t mind expectations being risen, because I’m going to come back to spring training ready to get back to this position. It’s a great position to be in the ALCS.”

With those heightened expectations in mind, how do the Orioles improve for next season? As always, the quest will continue to improve their pitching depth while hoping 23-year-old Kevin Gausman takes another step forward, but do Duquette and Showalter tinker dramatically with an offense that relied too much on the home run?

The addition of some speed would benefit, but the Orioles also expect to have Wieters, Machado, and Davis back in the picture, which should provide significant overall improvement to the offense. But the lineup could look different without Nelson Cruz anchoring the cleanup spot.

After signing a one-year, $8 million deal during spring training to come to Baltimore, Cruz will be seeking a long-term deal for lucrative money, but he is 34 years old and coming off a career season in which he hit 40 homers. As we saw with Davis’ disastrous 2014 campaign a year after he hit a franchise-record 53 home runs, you don’t want to make a snap reaction based on a career season and set your price based on that.

Cruz acknowledged he may have played his last game with the Orioles after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in Kansas City.

“It’s there, but I want to come back,” Cruz said. “We’ll just wait and see what happens. I love the clubhouse. I love all my teammates. The whole organization is great — even the guys you don’t see every day. I appreciate that.”

The Orioles also face difficult decisions with right fielder Nick Markakis and lefty reliever Andrew Miller, who will also become free agents. Miller was the club’s best pitcher in the postseason, but he is expected to receive an enormous amount of attention on the open market and could be paid lucratively to become a closer elsewhere.

Though they were able to re-sign shortstop J.J. Hardy to a contract extension last week, the Orioles know that Wieters and Davis will be free agents after 2015. Duquette was more aggressive this year than he was over his first two offseasons running the club as he signed Cruz and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, so will we see the Orioles once again be bold to set up for another run next season or take a more conservative approach even though they face the loss of two more key players next winter?

It’s tough to say as even the career-long Oriole Markakis doesn’t know for sure if he’ll be back or if the organization will elect to go in a different direction as his power has declined over the last few seasons.

“I don’t know; you never know,” Markakis said. “Baseball is a funny game and anything can happen. Take some time off and see where that ball goes.”

It’s that unknown that makes Wednesday’s loss and the abrupt end of a terrific season that much more frustrating.

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Cruz on Royals: “They’re coming back” to Camden Yards

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Cruz on Royals: “They’re coming back” to Camden Yards

Posted on 13 October 2014 by Luke Jones

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After two days of hearing questions about the inflammatory comments made by Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson, Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz finally bit just a little after downplaying any significance of the bulletin board material.

Dyson said after Game 2 of the American League Championship Series that he didn’t expect to return to Oriole Park at Camden Yards later in the series and that Orioles players didn’t believe they would, either. A day later during the teams’ workout at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, the reserve outfielder — who’s 0-for-2 attempting to steal bases over the first two games of the series — questioned how much fight the Orioles might have left.

Cruz was asked Monday whether he expected the series to return to Baltimore later this week, and the 34-year-old took the opportunity to finally take a veiled shot at Dyson.

“Oh yeah, ” said Cruz as he cracked a smile. “They’re coming back, too.”

To this point, the designated hitter has allowed his bat to do the talking in the playoffs as he’s hit .476 with two home runs and seven runs batted in over 22 plate appearances this October.

In 39 career postseason games, Cruz has hit an incredible 16 home runs and batted .306 with a 1.059 on-base plus slugging percentage. The veteran said the Orioles aren’t concerned with how anyone outside their clubhouse feels about their chances with a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series, and they’re eager to prove it upon getting back on the field after Monday’s Game 3 postponement.

“There’s going to be talk. You can’t help it,” Cruz said. “There’s going to be talk, but you stay in the present and focus on whatever you need to focus on and whatever you can control.”

Most players have taken the high road in responding to Dyson’s confidence, but manager Buck Showalter and a couple others have taken a different approach in agreeing that the Royals have a right to feel good about themselves after winning two games at Camden Yards.

But that doesn’t mean the Orioles haven’t made a mental note as the series is now scheduled to resume on Tuesday night. And you do wonder why a player who’s had such a small role in his club’s success in Game 1 and 2 would find the need to act as the Royals’ spokesman.

“He’s trying to get his team jacked up. It is what it is,” closer Zach Britton said. “They should be confident. They played some good games, but we’re not going to let what he says dictate the way we go out and play, and we understand that.”

Gausman embracing relief role with eye on future

With Monday’s rainout, the Orioles hope to potentially find themselves planning for who might start a deciding Game 7 with the teams now set to potentially play five straight days.

That responsibility could ultimately fall on normal No. 5 starter Kevin Gausman, who’s worked exclusively out of the bullpen to this point in October. In two appearances spanning 5 1/3 innings — one outing each against Detroit and Kansas City — Gausman has allowed only one earned run and four hits while striking out six and walking two.

“I hope that we’re back here next year and the near future, and hopefully, I’m starting one of these games,” Gausman said. “That’s what I would like, obviously, in the future. But anytime you have success in the postseason, it definitely helps not only yourself but your confidence level and it says a lot about your career.”

Gausman has proven to be a valuable piece out of the bullpen after he got his feet wet in that capacity as a rookie last year. In his 15 relief appearances a year ago, the 2012 first-round pick pitched to a 3.52 ERA and struck out 11.3 batters per nine innings.

Showalter hasn’t shied away from using Gausman as more than just a long man out of the bullpen as he was trusted to keep the Orioles close in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, allowing his offense to eventually stage the comeback win. The 23-year-old was then used in Game 1 of the ALCS to keep the Orioles within one run as they tied the score while he was still in the game.

“It’s not so weird for me,” said Gausman about once again having a relief role after starting all season. “I feel like if we put any other starter down in the bullpen, it might take him a little while to get used to it. When I was told I was going out there, I wasn’t mad or upset. I just kind of took it as a challenge, and I think it’s really fun coming out of the bullpen. That’s when you have your best stuff, and you get to kind of showcase [it].”

Duquette wheeling and meal-ing

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette expressed confidence Monday that his club would be ready to play whenever the weather would allow the series to resume.

But he may have offered the line of the day when a reporter asked if he planned on signing anyone else to a contract extension to provide some material for media on a slow news day after Monday’s postponement.

“I’m going to sign the room service [bill] at the hotel,” he said.

Duquette signed shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million extension with a vested option last Thursday.

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Fingerprints of Duquette all over Orioles’ Game 3 clincher

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Fingerprints of Duquette all over Orioles’ Game 3 clincher

Posted on 05 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter would be the first to tell you much of the foundation of the Orioles’ run to their first American League Championship Series since 1997 was in place before they arrived in Baltimore several years ago.

Others may have been responsible for bringing the likes of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, J.J. Hardy, and Zach Britton to Baltimore years ago, but it was Duquette’s fingerprints all over the Orioles’ 2-1 victory to complete the three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. In fact, a trio of acquisitions made over the last 15 months — winning pitcher Bud Norris, slugger Nelson Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller — played a critical part in Baltimore sweeping its first postseason series since 1971 and sending the big-name Tigers home for the offseason.

Acquired in exchange for unspectacular outfield prospect L.J. Hoes, 19-year-old pitching prospect Josh Hader, and a draft pick in late July of last season, Norris may not have made the difference in 2013 as the Orioles fell short of the postseason, but the reasonable asking price as well as two extra years of club control made the former Houston Astros pitcher more attractive to Duquette than other seasoned pitchers with expensive or expiring contracts on the trade market.

Making his postseason debut after Miguel Gonzalez was initially slated to pitch in Game 3, Norris pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings while striking out six and allowing two hits to shut down a formidable Detroit lineup that had given him plenty of trouble in two starts earlier this season. Commanding his four-seam fastball and keeping the Tigers scoreless as the Orioles faced 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, Norris offered a gutsy performance to build on a strong campaign that included a 15-8 record with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts this season.

It was Cruz who provided Norris with just enough run support as he homered inside the right-field foul pole in the top of the sixth to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. It was the 34-year-old’s second homer of the series and 16th career postseason homer to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time list, which came after a 40-homer season that resulted in him being named the club’s most valuable player in late September.

No, Cruz wasn’t a diamond in the rough despite no club being willing to invest a long-contract in a player tainted and suspended due to last year’s Biogenesis scandal, but Duquette saw the opportunity to add a slugger on the cheap for a lineup that needed another middle-of-the-order bat. A one-year, $8 million investment made during spring training has never worked out better for the Orioles as Cruz responded with the best season of his 10-year career.

After carrying the Orioles through the first 2 1/2 months of the season and heating up once again over the final few weeks of September, Cruz once again was the offensive hero as the Orioles faced a third straight Cy Young Award winner on Sunday at Comerica Park. His flick of the bat on a high and outside pitch from Price put the Orioles ahead and further depressed what was already a subdued crowd watching their Tigers try to climb out of an 0-2 hole.

The heroics of Norris and Cruz paved the way for Miller, the acquisition that most of baseball ignored while Oakland acquired Jon Lester and the Tigers traded for Price. Those high-profile trades for aces were viewed by many experts as the moves that would automatically send the Athletics and Detroit to a meeting in the ALCS

Miller retired all five hitters he faced in Game 3, including the top three hitters in the Tigers lineup in the bottom of the eighth inning. While many criticized — or at least questioned — the Orioles’ inability to land a top-of-the-rotation starter at the trade deadline, Duquette dealt pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox for the tall left-hander, who’s dominance has transformed the Orioles bullpen from good to great over the last two months.

Pitching to a 1.35 ERA and averaging 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 23 regular-season appearances for Baltimore, Miller’s 32-pitch performance in Game 1 matched his highest total of the year and he allowed only one runner in 3 1/3 innings in the ALDS.

No, it wasn’t the sexy move and it’s not as though Lester or Price pitched poorly in their new homes, but Duquette and Showalter have constantly preached the desire to acquire players that are the right fit for their club — not necessarily the biggest or most expensive names. Miller certainly fit the bill as a reliever with great strikeout ability and excellent numbers against hitters from both sides of the plate.

And it’s a move that’s been an integral part of the Orioles continuing to play in October while the Tigers and Athletics have already been eliminated.

The Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations has often been teased by outsiders for his decade-long absence from the majors as well as his off-the-wall moves that many have even labeled dumpster diving. Not every move has turned to gold — he did sign high-priced free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, after all — but you couldn’t help but tip your cap to Duquette in watching Sunday’s game play out with the Orioles earning the series win.

A one-year contract and two deadline trades that appeared solid but unspectacular couldn’t have paid off any better in Game 3. And while Duquette may not have built the entire core of the current club from the ground up, the pieces he’s added in recent months have helped put the Orioles four wins away from an American League pennant.

 

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Cruz receives 2014 Most Valuable Oriole award

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Cruz receives 2014 Most Valuable Oriole award

Posted on 21 September 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles announced Sunday that NELSON CRUZ has been voted winner of the 2014 Louis M. Hatter Most Valuable Oriole Award by members of the local media who cover the team on a regular basis. He was recognized for his accomplishments in an on-field ceremony prior to Sunday’s regular season home finale against the Boston Red Sox.

Cruz enters play today leading the major leagues with 39 home runs, and he has surpassed the 100-RBI mark for the first time in his career in 2014. His 39 homers are the second-most by a first-year Oriole in club history, trailing only FRANK ROBINSON’s 49 in 1966. Cruz also became the sixth different Oriole to record a season of 35 or more home runs and 30 or more doubles, joining CHRIS DAVIS (2013), ALBERT BELLE (1999), RAFAEL PALMEIRO (1995, ’96 and ’98), BRADY ANDERSON (1996) and Robinson (1966).

Cruz made the American League All-Star Team for the third time in his career, earning his first fan-elected start as the Designated Hitter with over three million votes. Coming into play today, he has already set single-season career-highs in plate appearances (649), hits (157), home runs (39), RBI (105), walks (55), extra-base hits (72), and total bases (308). Cruz was also recognized with two American League Player of the Week Award honors: September 7 and June 2.

The Most Valuable Oriole Award is named in honor of the late LOU HATTER, a former sportswriter for the Baltimore Sun who covered the Orioles for 27 years. Balloting for the Most Valuable Oriole Award is conducted with voting on a 5-3-1 basis. ADAM JONES also received first place votes and finished second. ZACH BRITTON finished third and WEI-YIN CHEN, J.J. HARDY, NICK MARKAKIS, DARREN O’DAY, STEVE PEARCE, and CHRIS TILLMAN also received votes.

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Cruz: “There’s no doubt that I’d like to stay” with Orioles

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Cruz: “There’s no doubt that I’d like to stay” with Orioles

Posted on 29 August 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Few players have made as much of an impact in their first season in Baltimore as Nelson Cruz, and he and the Orioles are interested in continuing their relationship beyond 2014.

The 34-year-old outfielder confirmed to reporters prior to Friday’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins that his agent, Adam Katz, and the Orioles have had discussions regarding a contract extension since the All-Star break. However, those talks have been “nothing serious” beyond a preliminary basis.

“I like the clubhouse and I like the guys,” Cruz said. “But at the same time, I’ve been through this before, and this is a business. It’s the owner and the [general manager's] decision. But there’s no doubt that I’d like to stay.”

Entering Friday night, Cruz led the major leagues with 34 homers and was hitting .256 with a club-leading 88 runs batted in. In a season in which the Orioles have lost catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado to season-ending injuries and slugging first baseman Chris Davis is hitting an anemic .188, Cruz is a major reason why the Orioles own a comfortable lead in the American League East entering Labor Day weekend.

Through June 4, Cruz looked like a favorite to be the AL Most Valuable Player when he was hitting .319 with 21 homers, 55 RBIs, and a 1.064 on-base plus slugging percentage in 242 plate appearances. However, in 311 plate appearances since then, the veteran slugger has batted only .208 with 13 home runs, 33 RBIs, and a .658 OPS.

Cruz has been a welcome addition in the Orioles clubhouse as he’s been popular with teammates and had a previous relationship with manager Buck Showalter going back to their days with the Texas Rangers.

“Obviously, Nelson’s had a good year. I’ve known him for quite a while,” Showalter said. “He’s been a good teammate. Right now, we’re focused on these next 30-odd games, and we’ll see [after that]. The people that are responsible for that and do that for a living, I’ll let them handle it. I’m concentrating on managing and trying to stay out of the way and keep things going in a good direction.

“Nelson’s one of the reason why we have this opportunity. Certainly, we’d like to have that continue. They ask me what I think about how things fit baseball-wise, but I don’t get into the financial part of it. The further we play and the more we do, the better chance [he stays], I guess.”

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will face a number of critical decisions this offseason as Cruz isn’t the only impact player scheduled to become a free agent. J.J. Hardy will also see his three-year contract expire and figures to be in high demand with shortstop production at such a premium around the major leagues. The Orioles must also exercise a $17.5 million option to prevent longtime right fielder Nick Markakis from potentially becoming a free agent.

Wieters and Davis are also scheduled to become free agents following the 2015 season and could command lucrative contracts to remain in Baltimore.

Given the difficulty Cruz faced finding a new home following his 50-game suspension due to the Biogenesis scandal before signing a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles in spring training, he may feel a tad more loyalty than most players would after only signing a one-year contract. On the flip side, the Orioles must be careful not to overpay for a player who is 34 years old and not having a particularly strong second half of the season.

“I’m not in a rush right now. I just want to stay focused on what we have right now,” Cruz said. “Hopefully, we go where we’re supposed to go and get it done. We’d like it to be done before, but my main goal is to go to the playoffs.”

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Aiming high only way to go if Orioles want to add starting pitching

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Aiming high only way to go if Orioles want to add starting pitching

Posted on 16 July 2014 by Luke Jones

You can never have too much starting pitching, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has repeated that sentiment despite the Orioles enjoying a four-game lead in the American League East at the All-Star break.

The Orioles rank fifth in the American League in pitching and 11th in starting pitching, but unlike the last couple seasons in which they were often desperately looking for just a warm body or two to add to the mix, the starting rotation appears to be moving in the right direction. Even with the season-long struggles of the injured Ubaldo Jimenez, the starting pitching has posted a 3.18 ERA over the last 33 games spanning 198 innings, lowering the starting pitching ERA from 4.61 to 4.09 since June 9.

No one will mistake this rotation for the 1971 Orioles, but Duquette should be picky in any quest to add starting pitching between now and the trade deadline at the end of the month. Wondering whether the club has the quality to compete with the front end of other playoff rotations in October is fair, but the upside of Kevin Gausman and even the second-half track record of Jimenez — who has been dominant for stretches of his career when his mechanics are in order — will be worth monitoring down the stretch with an eye toward the postseason.

Even if the Orioles still lack top-half quality, they have more stability in their rotation than they’ve enjoyed in a long time.

Manager Buck Showalter has used just seven starting pitchers all year with one of them — lefty reliever T.J. McFarland — receiving only one start. In 2013, 14 different pitchers made starts and 10 made at least four starts. The year before that, 12 different hurlers made starts with 10 making at least four starts.

Stability — with relatively decent health — has afforded Duquette the luxury of not needing to look for the likes of Scott Feldman, Joe Saunders, Jair Jurrjens, and Freddy Garcia on this year’s market. That’s what made the recent news of the Orioles scouting Colorado lefty Jorge De La Rosa that much more perplexing as he doesn’t represent an apparent upgrade over anyone — including Jimenez — in the current rotation with his 4.56 ERA in 2014 and 4.69 career mark.

The Orioles have also been linked to San Diego’s Ian Kennedy, who has posted a 3.47 ERA in 20 starts, but he’s a career 3.94 ERA pitcher who’s spent most of his career in the National League. The Padres will likely be asking for a lot for the right-hander, and Duquette shouldn’t part ways with the precious few top prospects he has unless he’s positive he’s gaining a substantial upgrade. Kennedy may provide that, but his talent level should only be the baseline at which the Orioles are looking at this point.

More so than even in 2013 or 2012, the Orioles have plenty of quality when it comes to filling out the back of the rotation. They have an abundance of No. 4 and No. 5 starters.

An injury or two could obviously change that tune quickly, but Duquette must aim high if the Orioles are to add starting pitching between now and the end of the July. Jeff Samardzija has already been dealt to Oakland and David Price may not be traded at all — and they probably don’t have the freight to acquire the AL East pitcher, anyway — but those are the types of arms to be examining.

Anything less is just a waste of time and resources.

Standing pat at catcher

Many have asked about the possibility of the Orioles adding another catcher to the mix as Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley have handled the workload since Matt Wieters underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery, but Duquette has said on several occasions that they’re unlikely to make another move in that department.

Boston officially released A.J. Pierzynski on Wednesday, but the Orioles don’t view him as a significant upgrade offensively — the 37-year-old posted just a .633 on-base plus slugging percentage with the Red Sox — to compromise the rapport Joseph and Hundley have built with the pitching staff and the defensive work they’ve displayed over the better part of two months. And that’s not even mentioning Pierzynski’s outspoken personality that could potentially compromise a strong clubhouse.

Hundley has come on lately with the bat, raising his average to a respectable .250, while Joseph has posted a .690 OPS since the beginning of June and had a solid offensive track record in the minor leagues despite his current .187 average. Neither will fool you as quality offensive catchers, but trying to add an impact backstop while bringing him up to speed with the pitching staff will be extremely difficult.

If the Orioles are looking for an offensive boost, they could take another extended look at Steve Clevenger, but Showalter is going to value defensive work behind the plate and the current duo — particularly Joseph — has done an admirable job in that department.

Left-handed bat still needed

The emergence of Steve Pearce has been one of the great stories of the 2014 season, but the Orioles shouldn’t assume the 31-year-old will continue to perform at a rate that warrants everyday playing time with no questions asked.

His .316 average, 11 home runs, and 31 runs batted in are a major reason why Baltimore currently sits in first place, but it’s still a stretch to expect his current .300 average and .846 OPS against right-handed pitching to continue. For his career, Pearce is hitting just .237 with a .667 OPS against right-handers and that’s including his amazing numbers this season.

In other words, a left-handed hitting outfielder that feasts against right-handed pitching should be a priority to add for the stretch as the only left-handed bats to make real contributions this season are Nick Markakis and the struggling Chris Davis. The speedy Lough has been a major disappointment at the plate, and the Orioles must anticipate the possibility of needing to platoon Pearce if he reverts to his career form.

Even if Pearce continues to thrive as an everyday player, the Orioles would benefit from a left-handed version of Delmon Young to come off the bench in the late innings as Lough and utility player Ryan Flaherty just don’t provide formidable options at the plate. The Orioles had looked into the services of Padres outfielder Seth Smith, who feasts against right-handed pitching, before he signed a two-year extension with San Diego earlier this month.

A player of that ilk would make perfect sense for the roster.

Pondering futures of Cruz and Davis

It’s incredible to think how much can change in a year as Orioles fans were clamoring for the organization to sign Davis to a long-term contract as he entered the All-Star break with 37 home runs last year and would go on to hit a franchise record 53 in 2013. Meanwhile, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz was a couple weeks away from beginning a 50-game suspension stemming from his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.

A year later, Davis sits with a lowly .199 average at the break while Cruz has parlayed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles into what looks like a pending lucrative payday as he’s second in the majors with 28 home runs and has often carried the Baltimore offense this year while Davis and others have struggled.

It’s interesting to see so many fans crushing Davis for his poor first half — that’s not to say criticism hasn’t been warranted — while screaming for the Orioles to sign the 34-year-old Cruz to a long-term contract when many of those same fans wanted to give Davis the keys to the city last offseason.

The Orioles will certainly make Cruz a qualifying offer after the season to at least recover a draft pick and should see if he’s willing to sign a short-term extension at a higher annual cost per year, but giving him more than two or three years at the most would be a mistake for an aging player coming off what looks to be his career year.

Davis’ future will be more interesting to figure out as he tries to rebound from a miserable first half and remains under team control through next season.

 

 

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