Over the last few months at Camden Depot, we've had plenty of discussions about free agents Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. We've been preparing for the eventual departure of Cruz, since the Orioles seemed reluctant to offer him a four-year contract, which he desperately wanted. And yesterday, the Mariners agreed to a four-year, $57 million deal with Cruz (pending a physical, of course).
It's not surprising that Cruz took the best offer available. And while it doesn't seem like the Mariners signed Cruz to a terrible contract, it is certainly risky enough and is a deal the Orioles didn't feel comfortable offering. It's also odd that the Mariners ownership apparently torpedoed a reasonable deal for Cruz last offseason, but now they are all on board with a four-year deal because Cruz had a monster 2014?
The Orioles were very good last season, and Cruz was a big part of that. But their stance all along had been a maximum length of three years for Cruz; they stuck with it. That type of logical restraint, which seemingly removed the emotional high of last year's playoff run from the equation, is something many fans have wanted from the Orioles' front office for a long time. It's never fun to lose a popular, talented player, but it's even less fun to cheer for a losing team that is anchored down by an expensive, aging ballplayer. The key is to explore every avenue, which Dan Duquette appears to be doing. And again, they did want Cruz back, but they were willing to keep that desire in check.
Nelson Cruz will be 34 next year. In 2014, just three 34-year-olds were worth at least 1.5 bWAR (Pujols, Holliday, LaRoche).The O's were unwilling to offer Nate McLouth a two-year deal last year, so they let him walk. They weren't willing to pay a closer, Jim Johnson, $10 million in his last year of arbitration. They've been fortunate with many of these moves, though the Ubaldo Jimenez contract certainly sticks out right now as one they wish they could have back. But they have been able to establish guidelines about the amount of risk they are able to shoulder. That stance is not always popular with fans who become attached to certain players.
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) December 1, 2014
That strategy is going to be tested with Markakis. Like with Cruz, we've provided lots of analysis lately on if the O's should re-sign Markakis and what they should do if he departs, but I doubt most fans actually believe he would leave Baltimore. But after the latest report from The Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly, Markakis leaving finally seems like a real possibility. According to Connolly:
Although the specific holdup is not known, there has been some talk within the Orioles organization that the club is no longer comfortable with a four-year deal for Markakis. If that’s the case it would explain why the negotiations have halted, since it is believed the sides had agreed to the length of the contract early on in discussions.A four-year contract again seems to be a sticking point, though that's more surprising considering Markakis recently turned 31, while Cruz is 34. But it's not unreasonable thinking, either, with some analysts like Keith Law recently wondering how good Markakis really is.
I'll admit that it would hurt a bit to see Markakis in a Blue Jays or Yankees uniform. It was strange to see Brian Roberts donning the pinstripes last season. But he wasn't all that good; then he was gone. It would be hard to get used to Markakis wearing another team's jersey, but it would be even tougher if he manages to play well for a few years. That's the gamble, and it's what makes the allure of free agency hard to resist.
Still, this approach to free agency is not about being cheap, which some can't help but bring up any time the Orioles and money are discussed. It's amusing to go back and read Peter Schmuck's column last year on how Peter Angelos and his minions were behind the Johnson-to-Oakland trade last year, as if that was some gross injustice instead of a smart baseball decision. If anything, Angelos, who apparently loves Markakis, would want to bring him back at nearly any price. That Markakis's exit seems possible should strengthen O's fans' trust that Duquette is running the show and focused on building a consistent winner. Duquette is far from a perfect general manager, if one even exists, but he does seem to have an overall game plan every offseason, and it's hard to argue against the team's success these past few years.
If you're looking for more on what the O's should do without Cruz and potentially Markakis, here's some Depot coverage from the last month-plus:
On Nick Markakis and Why the Orioles Should Pick Up His Option
Why Alejandro De Aza Will Be More Valuable Than Nelson Cruz in 2015
Why the Orioles Don't Need Nick Markakis
Davis Could Provide Cruz-like Production in 2015
Is Nick Markakis an Everyday Player?
Orioles Trade Target: Michael Saunders
The 2015 Orioles Outfield Will Be Fine Without Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis
Should Melky Cabrera Be the O's 'Fallback Option'?
Are the Orioles a Fit for Matt Kemp?
Photo via Keith Allison