Orioles hot stove: Young re-signs, Hundley goes back to West coast

One of the key players in Baltimore’s run to the ALCS last year will be back for the 2015 season, while another piece will be going back out West.

The Orioles announced on Jan. 9 that reserve outfielder Delmon Young passed his physical after he and the team agreed in principle to a one-year, $2.25 million contract. The value of the contract could reach as much as $3 million if Young hits all the incentives in the contract. Last year, Young appeared in 83 games and hit .302 with seven home runs and 30 runs batted in. His biggest hit of the season was a pinch-hit three- run double that gave the Orioles the lead in the eighth inning of Game 2 in the Division Series against Detroit and sent a standing-room-only crowd at Oriole Park into a frenzy. Young was the only free agent that the Orioles were able to keep this offseason. Nelson Cruz signed with Seattle; left-handed reliever Andrew Miller signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the New York Yankees, and longtime right fielder Nick Markakis signed with Atlanta as a free agent.

Joining Cruz, Miller, and Markakis in the exodus from the Orioles was catcher Nick Hundley, who signed a two-year, $6.25 million contract with the Colorado Rockies. Hundley came to Baltimore in a trade in May that sent reliever Troy Patton to San Diego. The move was made to give the Orioles depth at catcher after Matt Wieters was lost for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. During his time with Baltimore, Hundley hit .233 with five homers and 19 RBIs.

The Orioles have made some additions so far during this offseason. They signed catcher J.P. Arencibia to a minor league contract, and have invited him to Spring Training, which will begin when pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Florida on Feb. 19. Arencibia hit .177 in 62 games with the Texas Rangers last season, and hit .279 in 48 games with Triple-A Round Rock. Arencibia previously played with Toronto. The Orioles are uncertain if Wieters will be ready for Opening Day. Baltimore also claimed former Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway off waivers from the Chicago Cubs, and signed former Cubs reliever Wesley Wright to a one-year contract. The Orioles are continuing to look for a replacement for Markakis in right field.

In other news, Baltimore named Scott Coolbaugh as its new hitting coach on Dec. 19. Coolbaugh was Texas’ minor league hitting coordinator last year. Prior to that, he was the Rangers’ hitting coach in 2012, when the team led Major League Baseball in runs scored with 808, and was second with a .272 team batting average. Coolbaugh replaces Jim Pressley, who’s been assigned another role within the Orioles organization.

The Orioles have announced details for their annual Fan Fest. The festival will be sponsored by “Visit Sarasota County,” and will be held on Jan. 31 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Baltimore Convention Center. Tickets will be $12 for adults and $6 for senior citizens and children ages 14 and under. The day will feature Q&A forums moderated by MASN announcers with players, GM Dan Duquette, and manager Buck Showalter. Fans can also get autographs from players, bid on team merchandise in a silent auction, and go on tours of the Orioles’ clubhouse. Younger fans can take part in baseball clinics, and even ask questions of players in a kids’ press conference.

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.

Orioles to Face Hot Royals in ALCS

The Baltimore Orioles lost five out of six games to the Detroit Tigers during the regular season, including being swept in a three-game series at Camden Yards May 12-14. However, the Orioles have become a different team since the first two months of the season, and it showed against the A.L. Central champions.

Detroit didn’t wrap up their division title until the last day of the regular season on Sept. 28. Four days later, they found themselves facing a raucous standing-room-only crowd of nearly 48,000. It didn’t take long for perhaps the Tigers’ biggest nemesis to land another body blow against them in October.

In the bottom of the first inning of Game 1, right fielder Nick Markakis led off as he did so often during the season: with a single. Left fielder Alejandro De Aza was hit by a pitch, and center fielder Adam Jones hit into a fielder’s choice, getting Markakis to third with one out. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz came up, and drilled a first-pitch fastball over the grounds crew’s shed to give Baltimore a 2-0 lead and launch the crowd into a frenzy. Cruz hit .364 with six home runs and 22 runs batted in during the 2011 American League Championship Series to lead the Texas Rangers to a 4-2 series win and their second straight World Series appearance. Detroit answered in the top of the second with back-to-back homers by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. However, the Orioles came right back and retook the lead in the bottom of the inning.

Third baseman Ryan Flaherty drew a walk with one out, and went to third on a two-out single by Jonathan Schoop. That turned the lineup over for Markakis, who singled to right to drive in Flaherty and give the Orioles a 3-2 lead. That score held through the middle innings, which saw starter Chris Tillman leave after throwing 105 pitches in five innings thanks to a lot of pitches that were fouled off. Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler alone fouled off 16 of the 30 pitches he saw from Tillman. In the bottom of the seventh, the crowd roared to life again when shortstop J.J. Hardy drove a 1-1 change-up into the left-center field bleachers to give Baltimore a 4-2 lead. That home run, along with a line drive double play the Orioles turned in the eighth, would loom large after two-time A.L. Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera hit a solo homer to right center to cut the Orioles’ lead to 4-3. That led to a bottom of the eighth that would turn the tide for the rest of the series.

The Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate, and scored eight runs to turn a close game into a blowout. Schoop hit a two-run double, and De Aza capped the outburst by also hitting a two-run double, his second two-bagger of the inning, to make it 12-3.

In Game 2, Markakis opened the scoring with a two-run homer off the top of the grounds crew shed in the third inning. The homer off Justin Verlander was upheld after a Detroit challenge. The Tigers responded by scoring five runs in the fourth to knock Wei-Yin Chen out of the game. J.D. Martinez had the big blow with a three-run homer, and Nick Castellanos followed with a home run of his own. Hardy hit an RBI single in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-3.

In the top of the eighth, Victor Martinez hit an RBI double to make it 6-3 Tigers, but Cabrera was thrown out at the plate. In the bottom of the eighth, Adam Jones was hit by a pitch, and Cruz singled. Jones scored on Steve Pearce’s single. Hardy walked to load the bases, and on the first pitch he saw from Tigers reliever Joakim Soria, pinch-hitter Delmon Young hit a bases-clearing double to the left-field wall, scoring all three runners to give the Orioles a 7-6 lead and sending another standing-room-only crowd into delirium. Zach Britton retired the side in order in the ninth to pick up the save and send the Orioles off to Detroit with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

In Game 3, Cruz once again made his presence felt, hitting a two-run homer off David Price to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning and send a subdued Detroit crowd into dead silence. In his postseason career, Cruz now has a .353 average with 8 homers and 22 RBI against Detroit. The Tigers didn’t score until the bottom of the ninth, when Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez started the inning with back-to-back doubles. Castellanos was intentionally walked, and then pinch-hitter Hernan Perez hit into a double play to end the game and the series, sending the Orioles into the ALCS for the first time since 1997.

The Orioles will be facing a Royals team that they went 3-4 against during the season. The Royals walked off with a 9-8 win over Oakland in 12 innings on Sept. 30, and then defeated the Angels twice in 11 innings in Anaheim on the way to a three-game sweep. Game 1 of the ALCS will be at 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 10, followed by Game 2 at 4:07 p.m. the next day. The series will shift to Kansas City for Games 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. on Oct. 13 and 14. Game 5, if necessary, will be at 4 p.m. Games 6 and 7 will be at 8 p.m. on Oct. 17 and 18 in Baltimore.

Orioles Lose Davis to Drug Suspension

2014 has been a subpar year for Chris Davis by everyone’s standards, including his own. Now, his disappointing season has come to a sudden halt.

Just hours before the Orioles were to begin a day-night doubleheader against the New York Yankees to kick off their final homestand of the regular season at Camden Yards, Major League Baseball announced that Davis would be suspended 25 games for a second positive test for amphetamines, which are banned under baseball’s substance abuse policy. Davis said in a statement through the MLB Player’s Association that he’d tested positive for Adderall (a drug prescribed to treat ADHD). He said he’s gotten a therapeutic-use exemption to take the drug in the past, but didn’t have it this time. After learning on Sept. 11 that he’d be suspended, Davis called manager Buck Showalter to personally break the news to him, as well as to reach out to some of his teammates.

“I apologize to my teammates, coaches, the Orioles organization, and especially the fans,” Davis said in the statement. “I accept my punishment, and will begin serving it immediately.” The suspension will cost Davis the rest of the regular season (17 games as of September 12) as well as the beginning of the playoffs. MLB has ruled that the Orioles can still put Davis on the roster for the American League Championship Series, which would allow him to return to the lineup in the middle of the series after serving his suspension. If Baltimore doesn’t play at least eight games in the playoffs, Davis would have to serve the remainder of the suspension at the start of the 2015 regular season. As Showalter pointed out in his press pregame conference before the doubleheader against the Yankees, Davis made a mistake, and it was his own doing.

“You’ve got to learn to deal with the problems and the challenges along the way,” Showalter said, “And if they’re self-inflicted, there’s no ‘woe-is-me.’ And this is self-inflicted.” Several other teammates, including reliever Darren O’Day, echoed similar sentiments about Davis’ mistake being a self-inflicted one. However, Showalter told reporters that Davis is going to take on this suspension head-on, just like he goes about playing baseball.

Prior to the suspension, Davis was hitting just .196, and had struck out a Major League-leading 173 times this season. He went through several lengthy slumps that at times led to him being benched. However, he did hit 26 home runs, drive in 72 runs, and had even showed he could play third base after shifting over to the hot corner to fill in for Manny Machado, whose season was cut short by a serious knee injury that required surgery for the second straight year.

Orioles Geared up For Playoff Push

The Baltimore Orioles continue to play great baseball heading into the final month of the season, and have grown their lead in the American League East to nearly double digits. Now, their roster is set for the push to October.

Baltimore made a pair of trades prior to the September 1 waiver trade deadline to set their roster for the playoffs. The Orioles acquired outfielder Alejandro De Aza from the Chicago White Sox on August 30 for minor league pitchers Miguel Chalas and Mark Blackmar. De Aza hit .243 with five home runs and drove in 31 runs in 122 games this season for the White Sox, who find themselves in last place in the A.L. Central. Blackmar went 10-1 with a 3.18 earned-run average in 26 games (18 starts) this season for the Frederick Keys, Baltimore’s high-A affiliate. In his last 10 starts with Frederick, he was 6-0 with a 2.09 ERA. Chalas, meanwhile, is being viewed as a relief pitching prospect.

Also on August 30, the Orioles acquired infielder Kelly Johnson from the last-place Boston Red Sox. The move came exactly a month after Johnson, who was on the disabled list at the time, was traded to the Red Sox from the Yankees.

The countdown of the magic number to clinch the division has begun for the Orioles. Their magic number, the combination of wins and losses by New York, was at 15 heading into the start of a six-game road trip to Tampa Bay and Boston.

Orioles Make Trade to Add Depth at Catcher

By Andrew R. Koch

The Baltimore Orioles have traded one of their top relief pitchers in a move to add depth at catcher with one of their All Stars on the disabled list for the foreseeable future.

The Orioles traded left-hander Troy Patton to the San Diego Padres for catcher Nick Hundley on May 24. Hundley is expected to be added to the 25-man roster in time for Sunday’s series finale against the Cleveland Indians. Caleb Joseph, who’d been called up from Triple-A Norfolk to serve as the backup catcher, appears likely to be heading back to Norfolk. Prior to trading Patton for Hundley, the Orioles had called up infielder Steve Lombardozzi from Norfolk.

Since coming off the restricted list on May 1 after serving a 25-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, Patton was 0-1 with an 8.10 earned-run average in nine games. His playing time was limited because the Orioles have three other lefties in their bullpen. In 40 games over the last five seasons with Baltimore, Patton was 5-2 with a 3.26 ERA.

In 33 games with San Diego this season, Hundley has hit .271 with a home run and driven in three runs. Hundley is in the final year of his contract. He’s scheduled to make $4 million this year, and he has a club option for $5 million with no buyout clause for next season.

In another roster move, right-hander Preston Guilmet is expected to be recalled from Norfolk with first baseman Chris Davis going on the paternity list. Davis will be by his wife Jill’s side as they welcome their first child into the world. In addition to the series finale against Cleveland, Davis might also miss the start of the Orioles’ three-game series in Milwaukee, which will begin on Memorial Day.