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Quick hits on Upton, Breslow, free agents and other WM talk

I’ll have a full story up later, but here are some of the quick hits from the media session with Orioles EVP Dan Duquette…

*The Orioles have not talked to Atlanta Braves about outfielder Justin Upton, thought it has been widely speculated as a match. In fact, Duquette said it’s more likely that the club signs a free agent than makes a trade right now. The O’s had 4-5 conversations today with free agents with plans for several more before the day is through.

*Despite a lot of interest, Duquette said he would “be reluctant” to trade any of the team’s starters. Given that you typically need more than five starters during the season, it seems like he’d like to hang on to that pitching depth.

*The Orioles would like to add relief help and there’s clearly some interest in left-hander Craig Breslow. Duquette grinned when his name came up and mentioned that Breslow went to Yale and is, in his opinion, capable of several more good years.

*Duquette plans to meet with Delmon Young’s agent this week as the O’s still have interest in bringing him back. They’d also like to bring back catcher Nick Hundley, but the sense is he’d like to wait and see if there’s a full-time job available for him. The O’s need a contingency plan in case Matt Wieters, who had Tommy John surgery, isn’t ready to start the season. Wieters is on track as of right now, however.

*Asked about yesterday’s rumors that he has interest in going to Toronto should the CEO/president spot open up, Duquette reiterated his focus this week is to prepare the 2015 Orioles for the season.

*The Orioles have also extended agreements with all of their affiliates and will be dining with them tonight.

Orioles lose Barnes on waivers

The Orioles announced Monday that left-handed pitcher Scott Barnes has been claimed on waivers by the Texas Rangers.

Barnes was acquired for cash considerations from the Indians on November 26 and his departure puts the O’s 40-man roster at 39.

Barnes, 27, went 3-2 with a 3.69 ERA (13 ER/31.2 IP) over 25 games/one start with Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland organization in 2014. The left-hander was designated for assignment by Cleveland on November 23 and was traded to Baltimore in exchange for cash considerations on November 26. In 2014, Barnes held opponents to a .193 (22-114), including .191 (9-47) with just 2 extra-base hits by left-handed batters.

He made his major league debut with the Indians in 2012 and was 0-1 with a 5.20 ERA (16 ER/27.2 IP) in 22 relief appearances with Cleveland in 2012-13. Barnes was originally selected by San Francisco in the 2008 MLB First Year Player Draft and was traded to Cleveland in July 2009.

Duquette on MLB Network Radio

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette isn’t scheduled to meet with the media until Monday, but he did address a few things on MLB Network Radio regarding the rumors that he’s a top candidate of Toronto’s for the rumored president/CEO vacancy.

“I’m with the Orioles. I’m here to represent the Orioles at the meetings. Other than that, I have nothing to add,” Duquette said. “I do have a contract and I’ve always honored my contract.”

Asked if he was unhappy in Baltimore Duquette said: “We have a good thing going in Baltimore. I enjoy working with Buck [Showalter].”

Addressing the report, owner Peter Angelos told reporters that he fully expects Duquette to stay with the O’s, telling MASN: “We’re not relinquishing him, period.”

Duquette reportedly a “top candidate” in Blue Jays’ president search

Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who has won two Executive of the Year Awards this winter, is a candidate to become the Blue Jays next CEO and team president according to a report from ESPN.com Sunday morning.

FOXSports.com followed the report and noted that Duquette is “a strong candidate” for the vacancy.

Duquette, who helped engineer the Orioles run to the American League Championship Series this year, was hired by Baltimore in November 2011 and has done a fantastic job. Under his time, the O’s have posted three consecutive winning seasons and both he and manager Buck Showalter signed extensions to keep them in Baltimore through the 2018 season.

Duquette, who started his baseball ops career as a scout for Milwaukee, got his first big gig with the Montreal Expos, serving as player development director. He was later named general manager from 1991-’93 before leaving for the Red Sox GM job the following season, a post he help until 2002.

The Blue Jays vacancy, as FoxSports.com noted, would be considered a promotion for Duquette and it will be interesting to see how this plays out as Toronto tries to replace longtime team president and CEO Paul Beeston.

Markakis on leaving the Orioles, his neck, and his new team

As expected, Nick Markakis had his physical in Atlanta today and his four-year deal with the Braves should be made official at some point this weekend. He held court with reporters in Atlanta in the clubhouse afterward and will wear No. 22 for the Braves.

Markakis is expected to undergo surgery to repair a herniated disc in his cervical spine, with a recovery time of 8-12 weeks that would keep him in line to start the season.

“Everything, I hear about it, it’s not going to be an issue,” Markakis said of his neck, which is what caused the Orioles to become wary of offering him a four-year deal. I don’t have anything now. It’s just a precautionary thing. We’ll get it taken care of and it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Of leaving a Baltimore organization where he spent his entire career, including the last nine big league seasons, Markakis told reporters: “[The Orioles] gave me an opportunity early in life. I can’t take that away from them. That is where I started learning and establishing a foundation for this occupation. They were great to me. I have a lot of great memories there and a lot of great friends. That’s something that will never be taken away from me in my career.

Teammates are taken away from you. But your friendship that you develop with other players over the years is something that won’t be forgotten. Everything I did over there is in my past now. I don’t hold any grudge. I don’t think there is anything I could have done different. In this job, things like happen.”

Markakis went to high school in Georgia, about 30 miles outside of Atlanta and didn’t think he’d end up having a hometown reunion.

“It’s not something I was really looking at, it’s just something that kind of happened,” he said. “The way I look at it is this is a business, anything can happen at any given moment. Things just didn’t work out. I couldn’t be happier being here than anywhere else.”

Markakis reportedly leaning toward neck surgery

Nick Markakis got his physical from the Braves on Friday, with the signing to become official after that, and he is learning toward having surgery to repair a herniated disc in his cervical spine according to multiple outlets.

FOXSports.com first reported the news that Markakis was leaning toward surgery and the Braves newest outfielder told reporters in Atlanta that he is considering it so he can start the season healthy. The latest development helps explain why the Orioles became hesitant to go a fourth year on Markakis, though Atlanta had Markakis evaluated by an independent specialist and had no issue with giving Markakis a four-year contract.

I’ll have more Markakis quotes from Atlanta to pass along shortly.

More on the Orioles losing Markakis to the Braves

BALTIMORE— The Orioles lost a key cornerstone of their organization on Wednesday night, as Nick Markakis —who had been the longest-tenured active Oriole— agreed to a four-year, $44 million deal with the Atlanta Braves.

Markakis, who had spent the past nine years with the O’s, was a quiet team leader who had made his year-round home in nearby Monkton, Md. Together with wife Christina, the Markakis’ were a huge part of the Baltimore community and the departure of the popular 31-year-old —who was the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2003— leaves quite a hole in right field.

“U don’t want my opinion!!!!!!!!,” Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones, a close friend of Markakis, said minutes after the news broke on Twitter.

“Say it ain’t so,” echoed closer Zach Britton.

But indeed it is, as Markakis —slated for a physical on Friday— is returning home to Georgia and playing for a Braves club located roughly 30 miles from his hometown. He will be reunited with longtime Oriole Jim Johnson, who signed with Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon, and for the first time suit up against Baltimore at Camden Yards in July.

The Markakis news comes on the heels of the Orioles losing outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz earlier this week, as Cruz signed a four-year pact with Seattle. Unlike Cruz, however, the O’s appeared to be on the same page with Markakis’ camp early and the two sides reaching a deal seemed to be nearly a foregone conclusion. But talks stalled over the length of the deal, with Baltimore growing wary of offering four years, and other teams expressing interest in the right fielder.

Still, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette refuted that the O’s were out of the Markakis race as recently as Tuesday, saying, “Rumors of our demise are largely exaggerated.”

Perhaps not. Atlanta reportedly made a strong push on Wednesday in adding Markakis, after several members of the organization had dinner with Markakis in Monkton on Tuesday night. In Markakis, the Braves get a steady fixture on the field and in the clubhouse as Atlanta continues its winter overhaul. Markakis batted .276 this season with a .342 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage in 155 games, winning his second career Gold Glove Award in the process.

For the Orioles, his departure only intensifies the need to add outfield help. To borrow a popular phrase from manager Buck Showalter Markakis “spoiled” the Orioles with his level of play in right field and —coupled with Cruz— his absence puts the O’s outfield in a precarious state. Alejandro de Aza slots in right now in a corner spot beside Jones with the O’s also returning David Lough, but Duquette had already planned on adding outfield help even before losing Markakis.

Markakis agrees to four-year deal with Braves

ATLANTA — The Braves got the outfielder they have been pursuing on Wednesday, when Nick Markakis chose to spend the next few years playing in front of friends and family members who watched him grow up in the Atlanta area.

Major League sources confirmed early Wednesday evening that Atlanta has reached an agreement with the free-agent outfielder for four years and $44 million, though the club has not confirmed the terms of the deal.
In addition to gaining the chance to return to the area where he attended high school and college, Markakis will be reunited with his close friend and former Orioles teammate Jim Johnson, who signed a one-year deal with the Braves on Wednesday afternoon.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant general manager John Coppolella flew to Baltimore on Monday to have dinner with Markakis and his agent, Jamie Murphy. The meeting seemed to give Gonzalez and Coppolella confirmation that Markakis could prove to be an asset both on the field and in the clubhouse.

This past season, Markakis batted .276 with a .342 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage in 155 games for the Orioles, and his defense in right field earned him his second career Gold Glove Award.

Since having a portion of the hamate bone in his right wrist removed during the middle of the 2012 campaign, Markakis has not regained the power that he displayed as he compiled a .455 slugging percentage and averaged 17 homers through the first seven seasons of his career.
When he returned from the surgery later in 2012, he recorded a .489 slugging percentage over the 54 games he played before his season ended because of a fractured right thumb, an injury caused by a CC Sabathia pitch.

Markakis batted .271 with a career-low .356 slugging percentage in 160 games during the 2013 season, but he showed some progress on 2014, hitting four additional homers and producing a slugging percentage that was 30 points higher than the previous season’s mark.

Duquette on the Markakis rumors

BALTIMORE— The Orioles watched Nelson Cruz sign a four-year pact with Seattle and fans anxiously started to wonder if Nick Markakis would be the next free agent to go elsewhere. And while that’s still a possibility, and will remain one until Markakis is off the market, the O’s aren’t counting out a return for the longtime Oriole outfielder just yet.

“Rumors of our demise are largely exaggerated,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of a report Monday that claimed the odds were “less than 50-50.’ of Markakis returning. “We are still working on a number of different ways to staff our outfield. I am confident we will be able to find some good options.”

Markakis is one that looked to be done earlier this offseason, with the two sides on the verge of a new contract shortly after the postseason ended. But it never got done, prompting Markakis’ camp to look elsewhere and talks to stall last month. There is rumored interest in Markakis from other clubs, with CBSSports.com citing the Braves, Blue Jays and Giants among them, but Baltimore hasn’t given up on landing the 31-year-old Markakis. A Monkton, Md. resident who is active in the community and a favorite of owner Peter Angelos, Markakis’ status with the O’s doesn’t really change with the Cruz signing as the two have different skill sets.

“Nelson is more of power hitter, Nick’s strength is his ability to get on base,” said Duquette, who stated earlier this offseason that the club had enough resources to try to sign both players. “Nelson did a great job for us and he got a good contract. So, we have to be cognizant of replacing his presence in our lineup.”

Orioles expect to tender all 11 arbitration-eligibles

BALTIMORE— The Orioles are expected to tender contracts to all 11 arbitration-eligible players in advance of Tuesday’s midnight ET deadline, a group that includes first baseman Chris Davis and outfielder Alejandro De Aza.

The other nine arbitration-eligibles are Matt Wieters, Steve Pearce, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Ryan Flaherty and Zach Britton. The group is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make nearly $57 million in combined salary, a sizable chunk that will account for several prominent raises.

De Aza, while speculated to be a non-tender candidate, will be tendered before the deadline as the outfielder’s value to the Orioles has only gone up since Nelson Cruz’s signing with Seattle on Monday. If the season started now, De Aza would be part of Baltimore’s starting outfield and he’s projected to make $5.9 million next season by MLBTR.

The Orioles seem confident Davis, who will serve the last of his 25-game suspension on Opening Day, will have a bounce back season. An All-Star who lead the Majors in home runs in 2013, Davis is projected to make the most of the bunch at $11.8 million, up from $10.3 this past season.

All in all, it should be a relatively quiet evening for the Orioles, who created a firestorm at last year’s deadline when they dealt closer Jim Johnson to Oakland to shed salary. The O’s, particularly after missing out on Cruz, have the resources to add payroll —which EVP Dan Duquette has publicly stated several times— and will also look closely at the non-tenders around baseball for a potential fit.

Players become arbitration-eligible with three years of Major League service time. “Super Two” players also qualify for arbitration and reach that status by being in the top 22 percent of those players with two to three years of service time.

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