Photo: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
This season has been a wonderful journey for Orioles fans as the Orioles dominated the American League East in the regular season, and then advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 1997. However, for those who follow the Orioles closely there has been a lingering fear in the back of their head. Although the recent success has been exciting, with all of the players nearing free-agency, could the Orioles’ window be rather small.
Orioles fans were given a glimmer of hope this afternoon when it was announced that the Orioles were nearing an extension with their star shortstop J.J. Hardy. According to multiple reports, the deal is worth 40 million dollars for the next three seasons. Although Hardy is coming off a relatively down season, the deal seems a bargain for a former all-star, silver-slugger winner and gold-glover, given what he could potentially get on the open market.
Now with J.J. Hardy reportedly locked up, their next priority will be homerun champion Nelson Cruz. While Hardy came as a relative bargain, Cruz seemingly will not. Cruz blasted a career high 40 homers this season, and has done nothing to diminish his value in the post season, hitting .500 so far with two homeruns.
Cruz does come with some question marks. He will be 35 next season and his admitted past PED use has somewhat sullied his reputation. However, in 2012 a 32 year-old Josh Hamilton, who himself had plenty of question marks, signed an astounding five-year/133 million dollar contract with the Angels. Although the two aren’t 100 percent comparable, and the Angels obviously over-paid, don’t think that Cruz’s agents aren’t looking at that contract as something they could aim for.
Next on the list would definitely be right-fielder Nick Markakis. As many fans know, the Orioles have a 17.5 million dollar option on Markakis but are unlikely to pick that up. Although Markakis has been a solid player over the last few seasons, hitting .278 with 14 homeruns this season isn’t worth that kind of money.
However, once Markakis hits the open market, the Orioles will have plenty of teams to outbid. Markakis will be 31 next season. By comparison, Shin-Soo Choo, who was also 31, coming off a year where he hit 21 homeruns and batted .285 signed a seven-year/130 million dollar contract with the Rangers. Again, slightly different situation and player, and again amazingly overpaid. However, if a comparable contract is out there agents will try to use it.
Although the Orioles would love to lock up these players long term, management is going to be some tough decisions this off season. Making things even more difficult is the fact that Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Alejandro De Aza and Steve Pearce can all become free agents following the 2015 season. Also, it’s safe to say the Orioles will make an attempt to resign newly-acquired, bullpen-ace Andrew Miller. Dan Duquette has done a marvelous job so far, but his most difficult off-seasons will be coming up soon.