According to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, the Baltimore Orioles yesterday declined to pick up the option on catcher Nick Hundley‘s contract. This move was expected, and as a result Hundley is now officially a free agent. Hundley of course came to the Orioles this past season via trade, when they sent reliever Troy Patton to San Diego. The Birds paid Hundley $4 million in 2014. With Matt Wieters returning next year from Tommy John surgery, it appears that the Birds will be content using Caleb Joseph as his backup, although they wouldn’t be opposed to bringing Hundley back at less money.
More prominently, the O’s also officially declined the $17.5 million option on Nick Markakis‘ contract, making him a free agent as well.
Nick Markakis (Photo by Rick Vattimo)
Let’s be frank; Markakis isn’t going anywhere. You know it, I know it, and both the Orioles and Markakis know it. Of course none of us can truly say that definitively until his name is on a new deal in ink, but I wouldn’t fret about this one folks. Even through all of their dark years, the O’s were generally fairly loyal to guys that were thought of as their own. A career Oriole, Markakis definitely falls into that category.
It’s unclear what it will take for the Orioles to sign either one of these guys, although of the two of them Markakis is definitely the priority. According to MLB Trade Rumors, several other teams could be interested in Markakis, including AL East rival Toronto. I would have to think that it would be a tough pill for Orioles fans to swallow if such an integral part of this franchise’s history wound up there. However I would remind folks once again that Markakis is a career Oriole. Speaking for myself I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the slow smile spreading on his face when Camden Yards PA Announcer Ryan Wagner “introduced” the O’s as the 2014 AL East Champions. It came across as a guy who had known so much defeat in his career, and at that moment had climbed the mountain to the top.
Markakis is a rare breed in the sense that he put down roots in Baltimore, got married, and started a family here. (Adam Jones is also in that boat.) Many players keep their winter homes wherever they’re from and perhaps just live in a small appartment during the season wherever the play. Markakis is the type of guy that wants a less fluid living situation than that, and his family is squarely a Baltimore-based one. So the incentives for him to remain with the Orioles are big, and that’s certainly part of why he doesn’t want to go anywhere else.
As for Hundley, he was part of a great trade that really helped the Orioles in 2014. As I said, there might be some interest in keeping him in the organization if a team-friendly deal can be reached. I could see him being the type of guy that signs a minor league deal at some point, be it with the Orioles or elsewhere. I mentioned MLB Trade Rumors above; they also list the Orioles as the most likely landing spot for Nelson Cruz. That surprised me a bit, although I know Orioles fans would love to have him back. He might have been the most important free agent signing league-wide in 2014.
I think the Cruz situation will take a bit more time to develop, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a deal get done with Markakis sometime before Thanksgiving. The O’s aren’t even making Markakis a qualifying offer, which sends a message that they know they won’t lose him. I would however expect them to make a qualifying offer to Cruz sometime this week, gauranteeing that the Orioles would get a first round draft pick back from any other team that signs Cruz this winter. That’s another reason why signing him was such a good deal in the first place; they’ll either get him back in 2015, or they’ll presumably have two first round draft picks.