Despite Friday’s announcement that the club declined right fielder Nick Markakis’ option for next season, discussions to keep the team’s longest-tenured player in an Orioles uniform are progressing.
The sides have yet to agree to terms, and it’s unclear whether they will come to an agreement before Markakis hits the open market Monday at midnight, but it is believed the Orioles and Markakis are currently working on the framework of a deal.
Markakis’ return became a topic during Saturday morning’s KidsPeace Trick-Or-Trot 5K, an event Orioles manager Buck Showalter and his wife, Angela, have hosted the past three years.
Buck Showalter told a crowd of participants he was confident that Markakis would remain in Baltimore.
“I think we’re going to keep working on it until we get something done,” Showalter said. “Usually those things have a way of working themselves out.”
As expected, the Orioles announced they declined their portion of a mutual $17.5 million option on Markakis for the 2015 season, instead opting to pay a $2 million buyout to complete a six-year, $66.1 million extension Markakis signed before the 2009 season.
Markakis is a free agent, but the Orioles can negotiate with him exclusively until Monday at 11:59 p.m. After that, Markakis can negotiate with the other 29 clubs.
The Orioles also have until Monday night to tender Markakis a one-year qualifying offer for $15.3 million. With Markakis’ buyout, that would be just $200,000 less than what the Orioles would have paid Markakis if they had picked up his option.
So the Orioles likely only would make that offer if they’re confident Markakis is determined to find a multiyear deal elsewhere so they can at least receive the compensatory draft pick tied to free agents who receive the qualifying offer.
The Orioles declined veteran catcher Nick Hundley’s $5 million 2015 club option on Saturday, but they are interested in re-signing him to a lesser deal to be Matt Wieters’ backup next season. Hundley was acquiired in a trade with the San Diego Padres in May.
Including Markakis and Hundley, the Orioles have nine free agents. The others are: outfielder Nelson Cruz, left-hander Andrew Miller, outfielder Delmon Young, utility infielders Kelly Johnson and Alexi Casilla and left-handers Joe Saunders and Johan Santana.
The Orioles’ priorities lay with retaining Markakis, Cruz and Miller, but they realize the challenge in keeping all three. Markakis -- a homegrown Orioles player who has been the face of the franchise since he joined the club in 2006 as a 22-year-old rookie -- appears to be the most likely of the three to re-sign, especially because both Cruz and Miller could receive extremely lucrative deals on the free-agent market.
In their first impact move to retain a core player, the Orioles signed shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year extension in October. This week, they picked up club-friendly options on left-handed starter Wei-Yin Chen and right-handed reliever Darren O’Day. Showalter said he’s confident that the team will continue its efforts to retain key players.
“In August, I didn’t have J.J. Hardy [beyond 2014],” Showalter said. “I didn’t have Darren O’Day for sure, I didn’t have Chen for sure. I feel confident that we’ll work something out with some of these guys.”
Saturday’s race, which began outside Camden Yards and finished inside on the center-field warning track, raised more than $100,000 for KidsPeace, a organization that provides support for foster children and their families. Despite cold and rain, more than 1,000 people participated in the event.
“A lot of people came out and supported this for the right reasons, whether the Orioles lost every game or didn’t,” Showalter said. “It just seems like every time … nobody talks about the weather, nobody talks about cold. They just look at it as, ‘Here’s a chance to wake up early and impact a lot of people’s lives.’ And they [say], ‘I’m in.’ It’s kind of like the [baseball] team. We can do this as a team.”