Who’s the Orioles’ most important in-house free agent?


The Baltimore Orioles have a total of nine players from the 2014 roster that are now free agents, including Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz. Make no mistake about the fact that ALL of these players are important. They all participated in some major way during the season, and they would undoubtedly all be welcomed back to Buck Showalter’s clubhouse with open arms. However if we had to pick a first amongst equals in terms of importance, which way would we go?

Tough question on this Saturday morning, huh?! Let me start by saying that for the psyche of the fan base, it’s important for the Orioles to re-sign Nick Markakis. Unfortunately I think there would be a portion of people who would revolt if he signed elsewhere, even if another team vastly overpaid for his services. However Markakis has always been an Oriole, and he’s never hesitated to say that he always wants to be an Oriole. Look no further than that slow, broad smile that formed on his face as the Orioles were “announced” as the AL East Champions. He had the look of a guy who had been through the wringer, but knew he was better for it and at the end had prevailed. Speaking for myself, that was the moment inside of “the moment” for the 2014 season.

But I’m going to surprise some people when I say this. I would submit that the most important in-house free agent if you will is Andrew

Courtesy of H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Miller. Make no mistake about the fact tat Nelson Cruz is of great importance to this franchise as well. Any team that led the league in home runs needs it’s top home run king back next season. However the story underneath the story of the Orioles’ 2014 season was their bullpen. My personal opinion was that the bullpen was solid to begin with. After Showalter got the closer role squared away early in the year, it became obvious that the bullpen was one of the strongest aspects of the team. It only got better once they traded for Miller in July.

Bullpens are much in the tradition of special teams in football, whereby they can make or break you yet they’re often a forgotten aspect of games. That is until a reliever costs you a game. The aquisition of Miller back in July had rental written all over it. Heck, Miller even said that he wouldn’t mind signing back with Boston after the season. But to his credit he became an Oriole almost as soon as he walked through the door. And his performance on the field spoke as loudly as his attitude in the clubhouse.

The Orioles’ bullpen will return the likes of Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, et al, next season, and either way they’ll be good. However finding a way to keep Miller could be the deciding factor between them being good and great. One thing that I feel was lost during the ALCS was just how good the Orioles’ pen was. As Kansas City was busy scoring runs on broken bat bloop hits and fluke plays, one would have thought that they also invented having a shut down back end of the bullpen. Ned Yost himself said that he stops thinking after the sixth inning.

However before KC’s pen was the talk of the land, the Orioles’ pen had brought the Birds to where they were. A big part of that was Andrew Miller. This is not to say that they wouldn’t have won the AL East without Miller, because keep in mind that they won the division running away. But there can be no question that Miller strengthened an already solid unit.

And again, this is not to say that the other free agents aren’t important. However to a certain point I believe that a team can compensate for losing some power if need be. But holes in the bullpen are tough to cover up.