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.

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 MLB.com.

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.

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