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.