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Exploring Orioles' chances of re-signing free agents

The Orioles have nine players set to become free agents. Whom can they keep?

The Orioles have nine players who chose free agency and soon can be signed by any club.

Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O'Day will not become free agents because the club exercised 2015 options, but Nick Markakis' and Nick Hundley's options for next season were not exercised.

The Orioles have an exclusive negotiating period with all their free agents until Monday at 11:59 p.m. After that, the players are free to sign elsewhere.

Here's a look at the Orioles' free agents and the club's chances of re-signing them.

OF-DH Nelson Cruz

After he led the major leagues with 40 home runs, there should be plenty of suitors for Cruz, certainly more than last offseason when he had to settle for a one-year, $8 million deal in February.

But there still are some negatives hanging around Cruz's free-agency bid. He'll again be saddled with a qualifying offer, meaning any team that signs him must forfeit a draft pick (either a first- or second-round selection, depending on the team). And that was a detriment for him last year.

As good as Cruz was in 2014, he is 34 and would be best served playing a chunk of games at designated hitter to keep him healthy. That could limit his suitors to the American League. Plus, there might be some teams still scared off by his 2013 suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.

The real question is how long a contract Cruz receives. The Orioles would love to keep him for two years. A club that needs power and a positive-thinking, solid clubhouse guy surely will go to three. If someone goes to four, the Orioles are definitely out.

Best guess: Cruz goes elsewhere. Given the lack of power hitters available, he might get four years.

RF Nick Markakis

Markakis will be only 31 in November, and he is the model of consistency. He has played 147 or more games in eight of his nine seasons. He has hit 10 or more home runs and batted .271 or better each season. And he's up for a Gold Glove in right field again this year.

The lack of 20-homer power hurts his value some, so he won't break the bank. A four-year deal in the $50 million range likely is attainable. He wants to stay in Baltimore, and the Orioles want him back.

Given the fact that he posted a .342 on-base percentage this season, and that that's an area the Orioles as a team need to bolster and not subtract from, you'd think a reasonable offer for Markakis will be on the table. If it is, he'll be back.

Best guess: Markakis returns.

LHP Andrew Miller

An argument can be made that no one was better down the stretch and into the playoffs than the 29-year-old left-hander. He allowed one hit, one walk and struck out eight in 71/3 scoreless innings in five playoff games.

The Orioles obviously want him back. Who wouldn't? But there are two things at play here.

One, he is a very active member of the players union. Although he is a bright guy and will make his own decision, you'd think he'd at least test the open market as a courtesy to those who fought for the establishment of free agency.

Two, when he does look to discover his value, he's going to find several teams that are willing to pay him to be a closer. That means more money and an opportunity he won't get in Baltimore.

The Orioles will make an attempt, but it's difficult to compete with more money and a better opportunity.

Best guess: Miller is closing somewhere next year. The Detroit Tigers are a possibility. The Boston Red Sox are, too, even though they just re-signed right-hander Koji Uehara to a two-year extension.

OF-DH Delmon Young

Orioles manager Buck Showalter mentions repeatedly that Young is only 29.

It seems like he has been around forever — he debuted in 2006 at age 20. He was limited to a minor league deal this offseason and made good on it. He hit .302 in 242 at-bats and was splendid as a pinch hitter (10-for-20 even before his heroics in Game 2 of the AL Division Series).

Young has earned a major league deal and an expanded role. Plus, he's a playoff magnet. He has made the postseason in six consecutive years with four teams.

If Cruz leaves, Young becomes a more attractive option for the Orioles. But the club might just look for next year's version of Young on the scrap heap and let this one sign a major league deal elsewhere.

Best guess: I can't see the Orioles getting into a bidding war for Young, but a fair one-year deal isn't out of the question.

C Nick Hundley

Hundley did a solid job behind the plate in his 50 games after the club acquired him from the San Diego Padres. He basically became Chris Tillman's primary catcher. And he's only 31.

The Orioles could have had him in 2015 for $5 million, but that's a salty price for a part-time catcher. They'd like to have him back at a cheaper rate.

But, similar to Miller, they can't offer him as much of an opportunity as other teams. Starter Matt Wieters will be back, and Caleb Joseph looks like he can be a solid backup.

Hundley wouldn't be guaranteed a spot ahead of Joseph, and Hundley has earned a major league role.

Best guess: Hundley will go somewhere else to get more guaranteed playing time.

IF-OF Kelly Johnson

Johnson was a serviceable infield insurance policy when the Orioles acquired him at the end of August. He made both postseason rosters but had just one at-bat in each series.

Johnson, 32, will find a job somewhere, but the Orioles won't need him with Manny Machado and Chris Davis expected back on the 2015 roster.

Best guess: It likely won't be with the Orioles, but he's versatile enough to find another major league job.

IF Alexi Casilla

Casilla played just one game in the major leagues for the Orioles in September, but the club has a sweet spot for the 30-year-old veteran. He can play all over the infield, is a solid guy and can steal a base, if needed.

If Casilla can't find a deal with a major league spring training invitation elsewhere, the Orioles probably would consider him for Triple-A Norfolk again.

Best guess: If Casilla is searching for a minor league deal in February, he could come back to the organization.

LHP Joe Saunders

The experiment to make Saunders a reliever didn't go well in September, and the 33-year-old left-hander probably will be in search of a minor league landing spot that could lead to a major league rotation opening.

That won't be in Baltimore to begin 2015.

Best guess: He'll be in spring training with another organization.

LHP Johan Santana

Santana never pitched a game for the Orioles in 2014. He nearly made it back from shoulder surgery but then blew out his Achilles tendon in June.

Best guess: If Santana still wants to pitch — and physically can handle it — he'll get a minor league deal and spring training invitation somewhere. The Orioles don't have an obvious rotation opening, though, so count them out, at least initially.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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