Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Monday he wouldn't be engaging in contract extension talks with any players during the season -- meaning the future of pending free agents J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis will be on hold until after this season ends.
“We’re not going to be exploring any extensions during the season. We are focused on the club during the season,” Duquette said. “Once the season starts, I think it benefits the team and the players and the fans to keep the focus on the field and the players on the field.”
In May 2012, Duquette reached a six-year contract extension with center fielder Adam Jones. But Duquette said that was a different scenario because negotiations with Jones had begun earlier and continued into the season.
“We started that discussion during the winter, and it extended into the season,” said Duquette, who added he is not in the midst of any talks with this group.
And there are plenty key members of the Orioles whose futures are uncertain.
Hardy, the club's two-time Gold Glove shortstop, and Cruz, the left fielder who signed a one-year deal before this season, are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. First baseman Chris Davis and catcher Matt Wieters are free agents after the 2015 season.
Markakis is in a unique situation, but one that almost assuredly will make him a free agent at the end of this year.
When the right fielder signed his six-year, $66.1 million deal before the 2009 season, the two sides -- which included then-president Andy MacPhail -- agreed to a mutual option for 2015 worth $17.5 million. It included a $2 million buyout that Markakis would get if the club declined the option; he wouldn’t receive the $2 million if he declined the option.
Previously, the option had been reported as team-only. The distinction is significant, however, because mutual options are rarely triggered. Duquette said he “generally” would not offer a mutual option because the perceived values between a player and a team often vary greatly. He prefers team options.
In Markakis’ situation, if he has a tremendous 2014 season, he’d most certainly decline the option, declare for free agency and seek a longer-term deal while he has momentum.
If he has a less-than-stellar 2014, the club would decline the option, pay the $2 million buyout and at least allow him to test free agency.
The Orioles also would have the option to make him a qualifying offer, which likely would exceed $15 million for 2015, and if that’s not accepted, they’d get draft-pick compensation if Markakis signed elsewhere.
Markakis, the club’s longest tenured player, said he is aware of the mutual-option situation and understands there have been no contract-extension talks. He said he’s not considering that at all.
“I have other obligations than thinking about myself. I’ve got a team to worry about and what we are trying to accomplish here,” Markakis said. “There are certain things during a baseball career that you have to put off. There are other, higher priorities. Right now, I have one priority and that is to help the team win this year and get to where we want to go.”
All things being equal, Markakis said he wants to stay in Baltimore.
“As far as what my future holds, anything is possible. It’s the game of baseball. People come and go real quickly. If I go out there and contribute and do what I need to do, everything else will play itself out,” he said. “This is where I came up, where I have been for the past nine seasons, and I love everything about this organization and this city.”
Duquette said because of the potential of qualifying offers to Cruz and Hardy, as well as Markakis’ option, he believes the Orioles have the ability to retain their pending free agents without negotiating now.
“There are provisions in the contracts of the immediate free agents. There is an option in Nick’s contract, and the club would have the option to extend a qualifying offer to the other two players,” Duquette said. “So the time to talk about contracts is really in the offseason. It’s time to play during the season, and if you are a player and you play well, you’ll have a lot more to talk about.”
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