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Orioles agree to terms with free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz on one-year deal

BaseballMajor League BaseballBaltimore OriolesNelson CruzUbaldo JimenezNick Markakis

SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles' sudden spring training spending spree continued Saturday as the club agreed to terms on a one-year deal with free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, according to industry sources.

The deal, which is pending a physical and was first reported by ESPN Deportes, is worth $8 million with $750,000 in incentives, according to a source.

After spending much of the offseason in a holding pattern, the Orioles' acquisition of Cruz would be their third free-agent acquisition in a little more than a week, raising their projected Opening Day payroll to approximately $105 million — the highest in franchise history — and addressing two of their biggest offseason needs.

Over the past week, the Orioles bolstered their starting rotation by signing right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, one of the top free-agent arms on the market, to a four-year, $50 million deal, giving them a much-needed front-line starter with a history of durability.

With Cruz, the Orioles now have a big middle-of-the order bat to complement a lineup that led the majors with 212 homers last season.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette would not confirm that a deal has been reached with Cruz, saying only that that there's still “some work to be done” before the Orioles succeed in their winter-long bid for an established hitter.

Manager Buck Showalter also wouldn't comment on any pending deal with Cruz, who has averaged just more than 26 homers a season over the past five years.

“There's some things we're talking about and there are some bridges to cross, but like always, things are at a certain stage, some ahead of others,” Showalter said. “Let's see where it takes us. … It will be an interesting 24 to 48 hours from here on. The last 24 have been pretty interesting.”

Actually, the past week has been a frenzy of activity, especially after a sleepy offseason in which the Orioles largely avoided testing the free-agent waters, traded closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics for salary relief and endured a public relations disaster when their two-year, $15 million deal with closer Grant Balfour fell through following concerns over his physical.

But with the additions of Cruz, Jimenez and South Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon, who signed a three-year, $5.575 million deal, all of that seems far in the past.

“It doesn't surprise me the way it plays out,” Showalter said. “Sometimes there's the ability to read where things might end up. As painful as it was to lose Jimmy [Johnson], it also allowed us to do some of the things we're doing now. That was hopefully going to be the endgame.”

Cruz was slated to arrive in Sarasota on Saturday night from the Dominican Republic to take his club physical either today or Monday morning, a source said.

In signing Cruz, the Orioles would lose their second-round draft pick this season, No. 55 overall, through the qualifying-offer compensation process. They already forfeited their first-round pick, No. 17 overall, in signing Jimenez last week.

The Orioles' pursuit of big-ticket free agents tied to draft pick compensation has landed them two players below market value. Both Jimenez and Cruz both declined one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers.

“I think it was Dan or Buck or one of them who commented that sometimes the longer you wait, the better deals you get,” right fielder Nick Markakis said. “That's the case now. Sometimes, you wait on those guys, and in the long run, it's a good team deal.”

It is believed that Cruz turned down better offers elsewhere to sign with the Orioles. In November, Cruz reportedly was seeking a four-year, $75 million deal, but he chose the Orioles over returning to the Texas Rangers or signing with the Seattle Mariners.

Cruz, 33, is coming off a season in which he served a 50-game suspension for violation of baseball's drug policy for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. He hit .266/.327/.506 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs last season in 109 games for the Rangers.

“He ain't on [performance-enhancing drugs] anymore, I don't think,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “The past is the past. This is America. We learn to forgive and forget, or forgive — never forget — but we forgive. If he can come here and impact our team, vamanos [Spanish for “Let's go”].”

The Orioles have two players who have been especially vocal about PED use. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis had to fight off PED rumors during his 53-homer season last year and said he believed the true home run record belonged to Roger Maris, who hit 61 in 1961. Markakis came out last year in support of tougher penalties for PED users, who he said were “stealing money.”

“I heard,” Markakis said of Cruz's reported deal. “I'm well aware of what's going on and what's been going on in baseball. But my opinion doesn't change toward anything. He's part of this team now and he's going to be in this clubhouse and we're going to welcome him just like anybody else.”

Showalter, who managed Cruz in 2006 in his final season as Rangers manager, said the Orioles would do their due diligence on Cruz, as they would for any acquisition.

“I know him and I've had him as a manager so he's had a lot of teammates out there,” Showalter said. “He's not the only guy we've done a lot of homework on.”

Not speaking specifically about Cruz, Duquette indicated Saturday morning that the PED past of a player is something that is taken into consideration when signing a player.

"That's always a concern,'' he said. "I think it's a concern for the industry, but Major League Baseball has addressed that with the Joint Drug Agreement with the Players Association and that seems to be working."

The Orioles were also in talks last week with designated hitter Kendrys Morales and right-hander Ervin Santana, two other free agents tied to draft pick compensation.

Cruz had been the Rangers' primary starting right fielder over the past five seasons, but also has played left field. He likely would see most of his at-bats as a designated hitter but also could split time in left field with incumbent starter Nolan Reimold and David Lough.

His arrival likely will take at-bats away from Reimold, Steve Pearce and nonroster invite Delmon Young, all of whom are right-handed options at designated hitter and in the outfield.

“There’s a lot that can happen between now and the end of March,” Showalter said. “They control what happens over here the next five weeks.”

eencina@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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BaseballMajor League BaseballBaltimore OriolesNelson CruzUbaldo JimenezNick Markakis
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