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Cruz reportedly signs with Seattle

BALTIMORE— Nelson Cruz is off the market, signing a four-year, $58 million deal with Seattle according to a Dominican Republic-based newspaper El Caribe on Monday morning.

The deal –reportedly pending a physical– means the Orioles will get a draft pick as compensation for losing Cruz, who declined the club’s qualifying free agent offer last month.

Cruz, who had a career year with Baltimore in 2014, had said he wanted to return to the Orioles but ultimately it looks as if the length of the Mariners’ deal won out. The O’s made a three-year offer to keep Cruz, who they knew would likely seek a four or five-year pact, earlier this winter and were aware he had a four-year, $58-million deal on the table elsewhere.

The 34-year-old Cruz was seen as one of the premier bats on the market as he hit a career-high 40 homers with 108 RBIs in 159 games last season.

Cruz was named “Most Valuable Oriole” by members of the local media and he also had a strong postseason, hitting two home runs in three games during the American League Division Series against the Tigers. He had a double and two RBIs in the O’s four-game sweep loss to the Royals in the AL Championship Series.

The Mariners reportedly had a deal with Cruz last offseason before ownership blocked it and Baltimore ultimately signed the slugger to a one-year, $8 million bargain deal in one of the best moves made around baseball. The departure of Cruz places a lot of pressure on Baltimore to add another bat and could help them ramp up negotiations to retain longtime right fielder Nick Markakis. Baltimore was also rumored to have interested in Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp on Sunday night.

Presley reassigned for personal reasons

BALTIMORE—Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley will not return to his role in 2015 with personal reasons prompting his reassignment within the organization, a source confirmed to

Presley, signed through next season, will have a less time consuming role though it’s unknown what exactly he will do for Baltimore. Presley, who turned 53 last month, has been with the Orioles since 2011 and his reassignment was first reported by the Baltimore Sun.

The Orioles have already begun exploring replacements for Presley, with manager Buck Showalter again in the position of hiring a new coach. Last winter, Showalter hired David Wallace and Dom Chiti to replace pitching coach Rick Adair and bullpen coach Bill Castro.

Presley was Showalter’s first and only hitting coach hire since his first full season in 2011 and the O’s —while criticized for a low on-base percentage and hitting approach —- have been one of the most lethal lineups in the American League the past two seasons. In 2014, the Orioles —missing Manny Machado and Matt Wieters for most of the season— hit a Major League-leading 211 homers and finished sixth in the League in runs scored. Their OBP ranked 11th.

Presley served as the Marlins hitting coach for 4 1/2 seasons prior to coming to Baltimore and played eight seasons in the Major Leagues, primarily for the Mariners. He was an All-Star in Seattle in 1986.

Orioles sign three to Minor League deals

BALTIMORE—The Orioles signed a trio of players to Minor League deals on Friday in infielder Paul Janish, outfielder Quincy Latimore and right-handed pitcher Terry Doyle.

Janish, 32, is an excellent defender and has played shortstop, second base and third base in parts of six season in the Majors for Cincinnati and Atlanta. He signed a Minor League deal with the Rockies in February but opted out of his deal mid-season and signed with the Royals organization, where he played for Triple-A Omaha.

He is a career .214 hitter in the big leagues with seven home runs and 81 RBIs and has committed only 22 errors in 344 games played. HIs signing includes an invite to Major League Spring Training.

Latimore, 25, spent last season with Double-A Harrisburg as part of the Nationals organization. He was a fourth-round pick by Pittsburgh in the 2007 Draft and owns a career .251/.314/.412 line in eight seasons in the Minors.

Doyle, 29, spent last season in the White Sox and Braves organizations. He went 4-4 with a 5.93 ERA in eight starts at Double-A Birmingham (Chicago), 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA in five relief appearances at Double-A Mississippi (Atlanta) and 4-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 23 games (seven starts) for the Braves Triple-A Gwinnett team.

Os claim Hassan

BALTIMORE— Looking to add outfield help, the Orioles claimed Alex Hassan off waivers on Thursday from the Oakland A’s. It continues a whirlwind week for the 26-year-old, who was claimed by Oakland from the Red Sox several days ago.

Baltimore jumped at the chance to acquire Hassan this time, as the A’s tried to push him through waivers, and the 26-year-old was added to the team’s 40-man roster. Hassan, who still have Minor League options remaining, made made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox in 2014 after spending parts of six seasons in the Minors.

He appeared in three games for Boston and has shown to be a considerable on-base threat —something Orioles’ EVP Dan Duquette has long sought out— sporting a .282/.387/.411 career line at Triple-A.

A Massachusetts native, Hassan was Boston’s 20th-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

Os protect Wilson and Wright

BALTIMORE— The Orioles protected pitchers Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright from the Rule 5 Draft, adding both right-handers to the 40-man roster before Thursday’s midnight deadline.

The moves, coupled with the waiver claim of outfielder Alex Hassan earlier in the day, puts the O’s 40-man roster at 37 and leaves several notable prospects —including catcher Brian Ward and pitchers Parker Bridwell and Mychal Givens unprotected.

What makes them eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter? Any player not on a team’s 40-man roster who was signed at age-19 or older and has been in the organization for four-plus years, or was signed at age-18 or younger and has been in the organization for five-plus years is eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft. If selected in the Major League portion of the Draft, that player must remain on the 25-man roster of his new team for the whole season or be offered back to the original club.

Wilson and Wright were like locks to be added to the 40-man roster, with both generating outside interest from other clubs and believed to be Major League-caliber arms. Wilson had a breakout season of sorts, going 14-8 with a 3.67 combined ERA at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. A former 10th-round selection, he’s a scrappy pitcher who scouts describe as smart on the mound, and he earned the Orioles’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.

Wright had a less successful campaign, but Baltimore believes the potential is still there, despite an 5-11 record with a 4.61 ERA at Norfolk. A part of big league Spring Training each of the past two years, it was hard to envision the Orioles not protecting him.

Bridwell and Givens each have upside, and they have steadily climbed the ranks in the O’s organization. Bridwell went 7-10 with a 4.45 ERA at Class A Advanced Frederick, but he has shown flashes of dominance, and he has a fastball that hits the mid-90s. Givens is a converted infielder who had a solid showing (3.09 ERA) as a reliever in this year’s Arizona Fall League.

Ward has progressed considerably on the defensive end, and he’s well thought of in the organization for his abilities to control the opponents’ running game. But the Orioles have four catchers on their current 40-man roster — Matt Wieters, Caleb Joseph, Steve Clevenger and Michael Ohlman — which made it tough to justify adding Ward.

Orioles sign nine to Minor League deals

The Orioles announced Wednesday that they have signed nine players to Minor League deals, including the re-signing of infielder Michael Almanzar and left-handed pitcher Chris Jones.

Almanzar was Baltimore’s Rule 5 Draft pick last year, from the Red Sox organization, and he came to Spring Training expecting to compete for a third base spot with Manny Machado’s injury. However, Almanzar was placed on the disabled list with tendinitis in his knee, later transferred to the 60-day DL, and when the O’s were unable to add him to the active roster after his rehab stint he was offered back to Boston. The Orioles acquired Almanzar again, along with Boston infielder Kelly Johnson, Jemile Weeks and Iván DeJesús, Jr. on August 30.

The O’s designated Jones in Spring Training to create a 40-man roster spot for Nelson Cruz and he was released from the organization several days later. They re-signed him to a Triple-A contract in March.

The Orioles also signed pitchers Frank Gailey, Tim Gustafson, Kenn Kasparek, Mikey O’Brien, and Ronan Pacheco, infielder/outfielder Derrik Gibson and made official the signing reported earlier this week of shortstop Ozzie Martinez.

Os add depth in Martinez

BALTIMORE— The Orioles have signed infielder Osvaldo (Ozzie) Martinez to a Minor League contract, a move that should help the organization’s depth, particularly at shortstop.

Martinez, 26, spent most of last year with Triple-A Gwinnett (Atlanta Braves) and he hit .288/.340/.350. He was acquired in a May trade from the Dodgers organization, where he played 33 games at Double-A to start the 2014 season.

Martinez has played in the Majors in parts of two seasons for the Marlins, in 2010 and 2011, and was originally drafted by Florida in the 11th round of the 2006 amateur draft. He will most likely slot in at the Orioles Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk with the organization wanting to upgrade at shortstop in the offseason.

Martinez has the most experience in his pro career at shortstop, although he has played second and third base as well as the outfield. He owns a career .258/.300/.348 line in 34 games in the big leagues.

Martinez’s signing was first reported by Baseball America.

Os, Markakis continue to negotiate

BALTIMORE— It would be tough to imagine Nick Markakis not in an Orioles uniform next season. And after Thursday’s latest batch of rumors, it’s looking more and more like that’s a scenario the O’s won’t have to worry about.

Markakis, a free agent for the first time in his career, has made it no secret he wants to remain in Baltimore and talks between his agent Jamie Murphy and the Orioles have picked back up according to multiple outlets. The Orioles immediately started negotiations with Markakis following their season, which ended in the American League Championship Series, and it appeared both sides were on the same page in working towards a new long-term deal. But the negotiations have taken longer than expected in working toward a four-year deal that would keep the veteran an Oriole through 2018.

On Thursday, reported that the two sides rekindled on Wednesday and it looks like a deal could be reached fairly soon.

The 31-year-old Markakis is coming off a Gold Glove winning season and is a quiet leader in the Orioles clubhouse, taking over leadoff duties and priding himself on his durability in right field. Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said that re-signing Markakis wouldn’t automatically take the club out of the running on one of their other major free agents, Nelson Cruz, as Baltimore is preparing to increase its payroll from this past season.

Showalter wins AL Manager of the Year

BALTIMORE— Orioles manager Buck Showalter was named the American League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA on Tuesday night, putting Baltimore’s skipper in a special category following a spectacular 2014 season.

Showalter, who beat out finalists Mike Scioscia and Ned Yost, is the sixth manager to win the award three or more times and just the second —also Tony La Russa— to do it with three different organizations. He won with the Yankees in 1994 and the Rangers in 2004 and quipped he would definitely not be around in 2024 to see if the trend continues.

“I’m pretty speechless,” said Showalter on MLB Network, where the award was unveiled live. “It’s such a great reflection on our organization, our ownership that has been so rock solid.”

Despite missing three All-Stars in Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Chris Davis, Showalter’s club exceeded expectations in going 96-66 and winning its first AL East title since 1997. He deflected praise to the players, saying they held themselves to a higher standard of preparation and play, mentioning several times that he was just lucky to get a good seat.

“It’s fun to watch,” Showalter said. “I am so thankful to get the opportunity every day. It’s something I never have taken for granted.”

Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones, who took to his Twitter account to post: “Bmore couldn’t be prouder of u Showalter,” also pointed out that this year’s award was a Beltway sweep with Nationals Manager Matt Williams winning in the NL.

Williams called Showalter the most prepared manager he’s ever been around in his acceptance interview and the O’s skipper, who had Williams as a player, said he was glad Washington gave him the chance.

Showalter, who took over in Baltimore in August of 2010, has posted winning seasons in each of the past three years and finished runner up to Bob Melvin for the Manager of the Year award in 2012.

Showalter’s managerial skills were best illustrated in his bullpen, which helped carry the O’s through offensive lulls, much like 2012. Together with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette —who was honored Monday night as the Sporting News Executive of the Year— Showalter manipulated the roster, sending starting pitchers down prior to the All-Star break just to add an extra position player for a game or two.

Showalter has 1,259 career victories in 16 seasons as a major league manager, the third-most wins among active managers. He is 377-328 in Baltimore and the third O’s manager to be named Manager of the Year, joining Davey Johnson (1997) and Frank Robinson (1989).

A few notes

*Buck Showalter is a strong candidate for American League Manager of the Year, which will be announced tonight live on MLB Network. I stated the case for Showalter, who is going up against Ned Yost and Mike Scioscia, here.

*Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was named The Sporting News “Executive of the Year” for 2014 and you can read more on that here.

*And finally, wishing the best of luck to Orioles public relations guy, Jeff Lantz, who is leaving the organization for a position with Minor League Baseball. Lantz, along with the rest of the O’s PR staff, stepped up admirably this year with the passing of PR director Monica Barlow and he will be missed.


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