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What you need to know about how free agency affects the Orioles

With the end of the World Series tonight, free agency begins Thursday. What does it mean for the Orioles?

The San Francisco Giants won their third World Series in five years Wednesday night when they defeated the Kansas City Royals, 3-2, in Game 7. But the important thing here is that the end of the series means the start of free agency.

Players with no contractual obligations for 2015 officially become free agents starting at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday. What that means is that as many as 11 Orioles from the 2014 American League East championship squad could be looking for employment elsewhere very soon -- but not all of them by Thursday morning.

Here’s a primer on how free agency affects the Orioles.

The club’s initial free-agent list includes 2014 Most Valuable Oriole Nelson Cruz, impressive left-handed reliever Andrew Miller and AL Division Series hero Delmon Young, as well as infielders Kelly Johnson and Alexi Casilla and left-handers Joe Saunders and Johan Santana. They immediately come off the 40-man roster at 9 a.m. Thursday (Santana was actually on the 60-day disabled list, so he didn’t count against the 40-man roster anyway).

Within the next few days, the club’s longest tenured player, outfielder Nick Markakis, and dependable catcher Nick Hundley, are also expected to hit free agency after their options are not picked up. Markakis has a $17.5 million mutual option with a $2 million buyout, and Hundley has a $5 million team option with no buyout.

Two more Orioles pitchers can become free agents if their options aren’t exercised by the team, but left-hander Wei-Yin Chen ($4.75 million with a $372,000 buyout) and side-arming reliever Darren O’Day ($4.25 million with a $400,000 buyout) both are priced reasonably given the market. It would be a major surprise if either option wasn’t selected.

Based on the collective bargaining agreement, final decisions on options must be rendered within five days after the World Series. Individual contracts may require that a decision comes earlier, though. According to the basic agreement, a team option must be exercised within three days. As for a mutual option, like Markakis’, it must be exercised by the team within two days and the player within four days of the end of the World Series.

It’s a little confusing, but the bottom line is we should know how many overall free agents the Orioles have by this weekend, but it most likely will be nine. The Orioles would like to retain Markakis, Cruz and Miller. The club will continue to have discussions with that trio’s respective representation.

The Orioles have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents for a five-day period, basically until 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday. Other teams can let a player know they have interest, but can’t talk about money until after the “quiet period” ends.

The club also must inform its eligible players whether it will be making a qualifying offer by Monday before the “quiet period” ends. The player then has seven days to decide whether to accept or reject it. If the one-year offer -- which is worth $15.3 million for 2015 -- is rejected by the player, the team then receives a draft pick the following June if that player signs elsewhere.

The Orioles are expected to make such an offer to Cruz, who led the major leagues with 40 home runs. They also could make a qualifying offer to Markakis. Miller, who was traded during the season, is not eligible for one.

In addition to the pending free agents, the Orioles also have 11 players eligible for arbitration -- meaning they’ll be getting raises for 2015 if the Orioles offer them a contract.

Those players are Zach Britton, Chris Davis, Alejandro De Aza, Ryan Flaherty, Miguel Gonzalez, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Bud Norris, Steve Pearce, Chris Tillman and Matt Wieters.

Those decisions don’t have to be made until early December, though. That’s a primer for another day.  

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