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Orioles' deal with J.J. Hardy clears some of the fog

The Orioles still have a lot of work to do to hold the nucleus of the team together for 2015 and beyond, but the swift signing of shortstop J.J. Hardy goes a long way toward diminishing the uncertainty about their ability to remain competitive for the foreseeable future.

Now, all they have to do is get Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis under contract and there will be no doubt.

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Soon after Hardy's extension became public knowledge, speculation ramped up on Twitter about Cruz and Markakis. Nothing solid yet, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise if another contractual domino or two falls over the course of this postseason.

I don't know exactly why this is happening right now, but here's a guess. Orioles ownership is as sky high as the fans are on this team and baseball operations chief Dan Duquette couldn't be in a better position to make a case for some pre-emptive offseason spending.

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Of course, it takes two to tango, and Cruz would have to forego what promises to be a free-agent market that should treat him a lot better than it did last year. He has had an Most Valuable Player-caliber season and should command a very rich multiyear contract.

Markakis' situation is a little more complicated, since he and the team hold mutual options on 2015. He has made it pretty clear that he wants to play his whole career here, and he is a favorite of owner Peter Angelos, so it seems likely that the two sides will find a way to keep him here.

No matter what happens, the signing of Hardy clears some of the mist, since the team now knows that its infield will be intact next season. Manny Machado apparently will remain at third base and Jonathan Schoop appears to be set at second base.

If there's a question, it is what the club will do with Chris Davis, who will be entering his final year before he becomes eligible for free agency.

There was always the possibility that the team would decide it couldn't afford to re-sign him long term and attempt to trade him sooner rather than later, but his statistical decline in 2014 and his Adderall suspension figure to make him a less valuable commodity this winter.

It seems more likely that he'll return next season and -- if he bounces back at the plate -- the team can make an in-season attempt to extend him before deciding whether to trade him in July.

If that's the case, the 2015 Orioles will look a lot like this year's model, only healthier.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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