Orioles looking to fill holes in outfield

The Orioles have added depth in their middle infield and bullpen, but will have a pair of large holes to fill in their outfield this season.

After nine seasons, right fielder Nick Markakis left via free agency and signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. The Braves offered Markakis the contract even though he had surgery on his neck during this offseason. Left fielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz also left via free agency after leading Major League Baseball with 40 home runs last season. He signed a four-year, $57 million contract with the Seattle Mariners in December. The Orioles also lost a key arm in their bullpen after left-hander Andrew Miller signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the New York Yankees,the largest contract ever fora reliever. The Orioles acquired Miller from Boston at the trade deadline last summer, and was a valuable weapon coming out of the bullpen during Baltimore’s postseason run. Baltimore did re-sign closer Zach Britton and left-hander Brian Matusz to avoid salary arbitration.

Travis Snider has previously played for both Toronto & Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Flickr user James G. under a Creative Commons license.
Travis Snider has previously played for both Toronto & Pittsburgh.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user James G. under a Creative Commons license.

Baltimore still has a waiver-wire pickup from last season in Alejandra de Aza, and the Orioles also re- signed outfielder/DH Delmon Young to a one-year, $2.25 million contract.

Young could also earn an additional $750,000 in incentives. The Orioles traded Class A pitcher Stephen Tarpley to Pittsburgh for right fielder Travis Snider. Snider hit .264 with 14 homers and a career-high 38 RBIs.

The Orioles will have an abundance of catchers heading into Opening Day. Matt Wieters continues to recover from Tommy John surgery last season, and his status for the start of the season is still uncertain. If Wieters isn’t ready for Opening Day, Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger will be the Orioles’ catchers, and a roster move will have to be made once Wieters returns.

Baltimore continues to add depth to its middle infield. The Orioles signed infielder Everth Cabrera to a one-year contract. Cabrera hit .232 with 18 stolen bases for San Diego last year. Cabrera has played for the Padres since 2008, and has 136 steals in his career, including a Major League- high 99 over the last three seasons. However, Cabrera has struggled defensively in Spring Training has he looks to join last season’s platoon of Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop. As for the corner infield spots, Manny Machado will be back at third base after recovering from knee surgery that abruptly ended his 2014 season. Chris Davis has received a therapeutic use exemption from Major League Baseball, allowing him to use Adderall, but he’ll still have to sit out Opening Day to serve the final game of his 25-game drug suspension.

The Orioles’ depth in their starting rotation is also helping them cushion the blow from the struggles of right- hander Ubaldo Jiminez this spring. This follows his demotion to mop-up duty out of the bullpen after signing a four-year, $50 million contract at the start of Spring Training last year, and then posting a record of 6-9 with a 4.81 earned-run average. Wei-Yin Chen had 16 wins to lead four starters who had double-digit wins last season.

Baltimore will open the season with three games at Tampa Bay April 6-8. The Orioles will open their home schedule on April 10 with the first of three games against Toronto, followed by three more against the Yankees and Boston Red Socks. The Chicago White Sox will also come to Baltimore for three-game series during April.

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Orioles Hot Stove: Markakis, Cruz leave on free agent market

A key player on this year’s Orioles team, and a long-time outfielder who helped the team return from the doldrums to relevance in Major League Baseball have both left Baltimore via the free agent market.

Left fielder and designated hitter Nelson Cruz has returned to the American League West after signing a four-year, $57 million contract with the Seattle Mariners on Dec. 1. Cruz was named the team’s MVP after hitting .271 with 40 home runs and 108 runs batted in. He added two home runs and five RBI during the Orioles’ playoff run. He rejected Baltimore’s $15.3 million, one-year qualifying offer before signing with the Mariners. As a result, the Orioles will receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of the MLB Entry Draft next June.

Long-time right fielder Nick Markakis has also left Baltimore. Markakis, who debuted with the Orioles in 2006 after coming up through their minor league system, signed a four-year contract valued at $44-45 million with the Atlanta Braves on Dec. 3. Just days earlier, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant general manager John Coppolella flew up to Maryland to meet with Markakis and his agent for dinner. Atlanta was in the market for a right fielder after trading Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals back in November. Markakis hit .276 with 14 home runs, 50 RBI and a .344 on-base percentage, and also won the American League Gold Glove in right field. He played in college at Young Harris Junior College before being drafted by the Orioles in 2003. Baltimore declined its half of a mutual option on Markakis at the end of October. In his nine seasons with the Orioles, he hit .290 with 141 homers.

Meanwhile, the Orioles have made contract offers to 11 players who are eligible for salary arbitration, including first baseman Chris Davis, catcher Matt Wieters, utility players Ryan Flaherty and Steve Pearce, starting pitchers Chris Tillman, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez, and relievers Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and closer Zach Britton.

In addition to Markakis, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones were announces as American League Gold Glove winners on Nov. 4. Hardy edged out Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox and Alcides Escobar of the A..L. champion Kansas City Royals to win the award at shortstop for the third straight year. Jones also won his third straight Gold Glove in center.

Manager Buck Showalter was named A..L. Manager of the Year for a third time. He also won the award in 1994 with the New York Yankees and in 2004 with the Texas Rangers. General Manager Dan Duquette was the consensus A.L. Executive of the Year, receiving honors from both The Sporting News and Baseball America. However, Duquette has his work cut out for him this offseason, as he now has to fill out a 40-man roster that currently stands at 32 players. According to MLB.com Orioles reporter Brittany Ghiroli, the Orioles’ top priorities will be adding depth to its outfield and bullpen during the upcoming Winter Meetings in Phoenix.