Tag Archive | "Nelson Cruz"

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Cruz on return to Camden Yards: “You have to move on”

Posted on 19 May 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — A year ago at this time, former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz was just a couple weeks away from making his return visit to Arlington where he’d spent the previous eight seasons with the Texas Rangers.

His return to Baltimore may not be accompanied by as many memories, but the current Seattle Mariners outfielder hit 40 home runs last year to help the Orioles win the American League East title for the first time since 1997. The 34-year-old has picked up in Seattle where he left off last year, leading the major leagues with 15 homers in 157 plate appearances after signing a four-year, $57 million contract with the Mariners in early December.

What kind of reaction was he expecting from Orioles fans?

“Love, hopefully, until I do something to piss them off,” said Cruz, flashing a big smile while talking to reporters in the visitor dugout at Camden Yards. “But hopefully love.”

Cruz holds no ill will toward the Orioles, who were unwilling to offer the veteran free agent a fourth year for a player who will turn 38 midway through the 2018 season. Though still possessing plenty of power in ranking sixth in the majors with 44 homers, the Orioles have missed Cruz’s bat in the heart of the order as they have used a collection of corner outfielders with very little success through the first 35 games of the season.

Meanwhile, the Mariners haven’t taken advantage of Cruz’s .340 average, 15 homers, and 30 RBIs thus far, stumbling to a 17-20 record with few others producing in their lineup and their pitching not performing at its 2014 level.

Asked if he thinks he and Nick Markakis would be making a difference for the 16-19 Orioles, Cruz kept his former team’s struggles in perspective, recalling that last year’s club didn’t take off until the summer months.

“Last year around this time, we kind of struggled as a team and we found a way to get it done,” Cruz said. “It’s early, and they still have a pretty good team this year. [Matt] Wieters is probably the only piece they need right now besides [not having] Nick and myself. They still have a pretty good team.”

In his first game against the Rangers last year, Cruz hit a three-run homer to help the Orioles to an 8-3 win over Texas on June 3. Baltimore can only hope that the slugger cools off this week after punishing pitchers through the first six weeks of 2015.

Attending Manny Machado’s charity bowling event since both teams had Monday off, Cruz had an early start getting reacquainted with former teammates, but he planned to use his experience returning to Texas last year to help deal with any emotions he might feel being back in Charm City.

“It was weird like it’s going to be [here],” Cruz said. “Maybe the first at-bat is going to be different, but after that, it’s part of another game. You have to move on.”

NOTES: Starting pitcher Bud Norris (bronchitis) will make a rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk on Friday and is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on May 26. Manager Buck Showalter said the plan is for Norris to return to the Orioles rotation if “all things are equal when he’s ready to come back.” … Wieters (right elbow) will join the Orioles in Miami for their weekend series against the Marlins and is expected to finally begin his minor-league rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie next Tuesday. The three-time All-Star catcher is eligible to be activated from the 60-day DL as early as June 4. … Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman (right shoulder) threw 25 times from 60 feet on Tuesday and will throw from 90 feet on Thursday. He is currently scheduled to throw living batting practice in Miami on Saturday. … Infielder Everth Cabrera (left foot) is continuing his rehab assignment with Norfolk and is eligible to be activated from the 15-day DL on Friday. He is out of minor-league options.

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Showalter makes Orioles best bet in question-filled AL East

Posted on 06 April 2015 by Luke Jones

I’ll admit I don’t love this Orioles roster going into the 2015 season.

While fighting the thought that they may have missed their last best chance to go to the World Series last October, the Orioles lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller this offseason while making no sure-fire additions to replace their production. Yes, the payroll rose to just under $120 million to account for a laundry list of players receiving raises in arbitration, but that still doesn’t erase the feeling of it being an underwhelming winter.

Those factors alone make it easy to pick against the Orioles this year before you take a step back to examine the remaining roster.

Will the Orioles miss Cruz and Markakis? Absolutely, but will they miss them more than they might have yearned to have the injured Matt Wieters and Manny Machado last season while still managing to win 96 games? Will they ache for Cruz quite as badly if Chris Davis rebounds from a horrific campaign to look more like the slugger he was in 2012 or, better yet, 2013?

And while Miller found a lucrative contract in Yankee pinstripes, the rest of a pitching staff that finished third in the American League in ERA last season remains intact. So does a defense that’s been the best in baseball over the last three years and might be the biggest reason for the Orioles’ success.

If you’re not yet convinced, a look around the rest of the AL East might do it.

Boston? That’s one hell of a scary lineup, but four of their five starting pitchers posted an ERA above 4.00 last year and the bullpen headlined by ailing closer Koji Uehara is shaky at best.

Toronto will again hit the baseball with the additions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, but the bullpen is a major weakness and the loss of Marcus Stroman puts too much stress on veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle and three starters below the age of 25.

The Yankees? That roster would have scared you five years ago, but age and injuries will be their undoing as it was a year ago.

Tampa Bay will have a strong starting rotation if early-season injuries are overcome, but the Rays will struggle to score runs all year and the magic maneuvering of former manager Joe Maddon is now gone.

No, the Orioles won’t run away with the division, but there’s vulnerability anywhere you look. And that’s where the potential tiebreaker comes into play that will push Baltimore over the top.

Taking nothing away from Boston’s John Farrell and New York’s Joe Girardi for having won World Series rings with their respective clubs, but I’ll count on Buck Showalter to get the absolute most from his roster while hiding deficiencies better than any manager in the AL East.

For the last three years, the Orioles have thrived on overcoming adversity while relishing opportunities to prove their doubters wrong. Showalter and his players were already talking about many naysayers picking them to finish in last place weeks ago, even if those slights are more fabrication than reality.

The knee-jerk reaction in assessing the Orioles after an underwhelming offseason is to drop them substantially in the standings, but then you remember they clinched the division in mid-September and won the AL East by a whopping 12 games. That’s a lot of ground that the others in the division needed to make up.

The Red Sox appear to have emerged as the media favorite to win the AL East, but that didn’t stop 30 of ESPN’s experts from picking Baltimore to take the division compared to 36 forecasting Boston. A number of other national outlets are giving the Orioles plenty of respect as well, and even their bigger critics are generally picking them no worse than second or third.

After watching the Orioles average 91 wins per year while outperforming projections over the last three seasons, we should know better at this point. The questions that exist elsewhere in the AL East should only confirm the truth.

You don’t bet against Buck.

And even if I may not like the Orioles as much as last year, they will still be the best that the AL East has to offer in 2015.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what can’t go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2015 after we looked at what factors must go right on Thursday. In an effort to avoid being redundant in the wake of the first piece, I avoided the polar opposites of the factors already discussed.

1. The worm turns on the health of the pitching

In addition to recapturing the success from last season, Orioles pitching would desperately like to extend its run of good fortune in the health department as only four pitchers — Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez –visited the 15-day disabled list in 2014. Of those four, only Jimenez spent more than 18 days on the DL and there was plenty of external debate over the severity of his ankle injury as he was in the midst of a disappointing season.

Injuries are a part of the game and it’d be difficult for the Orioles to expect that same level of health, but you can only hope the baseball gods don’t decide to exact revenge in 2015. Baltimore was one of only 10 teams in the majors last year to have four pitchers make 25 or more starts while only two clubs — Kansas City and Washington — had five pitchers make 25 or more.

The odds are not in the Orioles’ favor to repeat last year’s injury-light run as any given club has a 65 percent likelihood of having two starters ailing at the same time at some point in a season, according to FanGraphs. That reality makes it clear why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was so hesitant to part with any of the club’s top six starters this winter.

While many focused on the misfortune of the injuries suffered by Wieters and Machado last season, the rotation and the bullpen were as healthy as you could have hoped for on the way to 96 wins.

2. Corner outfield spots become a wasteland

It’s been impossible to escape the lamenting over the departure of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason as the Orioles weren’t willing to invest the combined $101 million that the pair received elsewhere in free agency. The veterans accounted for a total of 207 starts at the corner outfield spots that others will need to assume in 2015.

No two individuals will be expected to fill their roles exclusively as some combination of Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Travis Snider, David Lough, and possibly Nolan Reimold will receive early opportunities. Even if you thought Cruz and Markakis were overpaid, the Orioles still need to account for the 116 extra-base hits the two produced last year.

Of course, the club can reasonably expect better offensive returns from the likes of Davis, Machado, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy at their respective positions, but there’s a lot of unknown that Showalter will be facing in trying to pull the right strings with a cast of unproven or flawed characters flanking center fielder Adam Jones.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need the overwhelming success of platoons resembling the best days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but poor production from the corner outfield spots is a recipe for a lineup likely struggling to score runs.

3. Matt Wieters is a shell of his old self defensively

There was a reason why I didn’t include Wieters having a bounce-back year as one of the things that must happen for the Orioles. The truth is they proved they could win without him last season.

Make no mistake, the Orioles would benefit from a better offensive catcher than Caleb Joseph, but a more uncomfortable proposition might be a Wieters behind the plate who is a shell of what he used to be defensively. If Wieters is fully cleared, Showalter will immediately reinstall him as the starter, but that doesn’t guarantee his defense will warrant him being the overwhelming regular, potentially creating an awkward situation.

Last season, Joseph produced 1.5 defensive wins above replacement — a better mark than Wieters in either of his last two full seasons — and the Orioles allowed the eighth-lowest total of stolen bases in the majors. For a club that prides itself in controlling the opponent’s running game, Wieters’ defense is more important than his offense.

Yes, it’s important to have Wieters back, but him returning as a defensive liability while also remembering that his on-base plus slugging percentage steadily declined from 2011 through 2013 would be worrisome. With a small number of catchers having undergone Tommy John surgery at the major league level over the years, it’s impossible to truly know what to expect.

4. Injuries continue to zap J.J. Hardy of his power

A back injury that lingered for much of the 2014 season limited the three-time Gold Glove shortstop to just nine home runs and a .372 slugging percentage, which is what made the news of a shoulder injury last week disheartening for the 32-year-old.

Hardy isn’t expected to miss much time, but the Orioles are counting on him to be part of the equation to fill the power void left behind by Cruz. Before Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract last fall, the organization had to be expecting a return to power numbers similar to what he posted in his first three years in Baltimore.

Back and shoulder issues for a shortstop on the wrong side of 30 are worrisome, especially when you’re counting on Hardy to hit a few more out of the ballpark this season. His defense is his best asset, but the Orioles need more than that while paying him an average of just over $13 million per season over the next three years.

5. The underwhelming offseason and the reality of 11 pending free agents create a tight clubhouse

Several players made no secret about their disappointment in this past offseason in watching the departures of Markakis, Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller while seeing minimal additions for the 2015 season. Duquette has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but it’s human nature for veterans to be disappointed to see a longtime Oriole like Markakis depart.

On top of this, the club has 11 players currently slated to become free agents next offseason including position players such as Davis, Wieters, Pearce, De Aza, and Young and starting pitchers Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why many are viewing 2015 as the Orioles’ last chance to seriously contend for at least a couple years.

Showalter is as good as any manager in baseball in cultivating a loose clubhouse and strong player leadership remains despite Markakis’ departure, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if players might be too tight this season, especially if the club were to get off to a slow start.

And the memory of a disappointing four-game sweep in last year’s American League Championship Series could creep back into players’ psyche in the process.

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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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Hardy thankful for health, long-term stability going into 2015

Posted on 02 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With the departures of Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and Andrew Miller, it’s easy to forget the one who didn’t get away from the Orioles this winter.

On the eve of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, shortstop J.J. Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract extension to remain in Baltimore where he’s won three Gold Gloves and been one of the best offensive players at his position in the majors. The 32-year-old acknowledged Saturday that he was relieved not having to go through what his former teammates experienced this offseason before signing elsewhere.

“It’s nice to know that I’m going to be here for a few more years,” said Hardy, whose three-year, $21 million signed in 2011 expired at the end of the 2014 campaign. “It’s just nice having it over with. It really wasn’t a great or fun process to do it, but once it was done, I’m happy it’s over with.”

The biggest question for Hardy will now be how well he bounces back from a down year offensively in which he hit only nine home runs — his lowest total since 2010 — and posted a .372 slugging percentage. Much of Hardy’s lack of power has been attributed to a lingering back injury that initially surfaced during the first week of the regular season.

The 2013 All-Star selection missed a week of action in early April and managed the injury for much of the season before it again flared up in September. Magnetic resonance imaging exams revealed no structural damage at either point, but Hardy received a cortisone shot to help with the pain as the Orioles narrowed in on the American League East title in mid-September.

Back issues are always concerning — especially for a middle infielder on the wrong side of 30 — but Hardy took advantage of the offseason to rest and put in the necessary work in hopes of avoiding problems this coming season. After posting a .436 OPS with no homers in the month of September, the veteran batted .240 with one home run and three runs batted in in 25 postseason at-bats.

“It happened so early last year that it was just a constant battle to get my core strong enough to where I didn’t feel it,” Hardy said. “I felt like maybe two months out of the year I actually felt normal. The rest of the time was a grind. I’ve been able to strengthen my core pretty good this offseason with my workouts. Hopefully, that holds up.”

The Orioles will certainly hope for more from Hardy offensively than a year ago, but his biggest value lies with his defense as he’s collected three consecutive Gold Glove awards, becoming the second shortstop in club history to win three in a row. The late Mark Belanger won six straight from 1973 through 1978.

 

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Outfield situation remains uncertain for Orioles

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Luke Jones

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.

 

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Nelson Cruz agrees to four-year deal with Seattle

Posted on 01 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz will not be returning to Baltimore after agreeing to a four-year deal with the Seattle Mariners on Monday.

As first reported by the Dominican newspaper El Caribe, the 34-year-old will receive a total of $57 million after spending a season with the Orioles that was described as a “platform” year by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. Baltimore had hoped to retain Cruz’s services after he led the majors in home runs, but the organization was unwilling to offer more than a three-year deal as Cruz was initially seeking a five-year commitment.

The good news is that the Orioles will receive a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round after making Cruz a $15.3 million qualifying offer last month, but they will need to replace production that resulted in the veteran receiving the Most Valuable Oriole award last season. The organization signed Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract last spring after interest in the outfielder was lukewarm because of his connection to the Biogenesis scandal and subsequent 50-game suspension.

The Orioles may prove wise not making a lucrative commitment to a player who will turn 35 next July and is coming off a career year, but finding a productive bat to replace his work at the designated hitter spot and in left field won’t be easy. They’ve reportedly shown interest in outfielder Torii Hunter, but it’s believed the 39-year-old would have to accept a one-year deal.

Another option that’s reportedly been discussed is Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who has battled injuries in recent years and is still owed more than $107 million over the remaining five years of an eight-year, $160 million contract inked before the 2012 season. Of course, the Orioles would demand that the Dodgers take right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and his bloated contract off their hands in any potential trade, but it’s difficult envisioning the organization assuming such a deal without further financial assistance accompanying the 30-year-old outfielder.

Kemp hit .287 with 25 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and an .852 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014, the first season in which he played more than 106 games since 2011.

Perhaps the easiest way for the Orioles to make up for Cruz’s production in 2015 would be a bounce-back season from first baseman Chris Davis as well as the respective returns of Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, but counting on Davis isn’t easy after he hit just .196 and saw his home run total drop from 53 in 2013 to just 26 in a nightmare 2014 that ended with him being suspended 25 games for amphetamine use.

In 678 plate appearances for the Orioles in 2014, Cruz hit .271 with 40 home runs, 108 RBIs, and an .859 OPS.

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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

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

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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