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With three key players to replace, Orioles have work to do at Winter Meetings

Orioles manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette must replace three key members of the 2014 playoff team.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette must replace three key members of the 2014 playoff team. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The Orioles will have much more work to do at next week's Winter Meetings in San Diego than they did at the beginning of this week, one that saw the club lose three key pieces of its 2014 playoff team.

The latest was the loss of left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, who agreed to terms Friday with the division rival New York Yankees on a four-year deal worth a reported $36 million, capping a week that also saw outfielders Nelson Cruz (Seattle Mariners) and Nick Markakis (Atlanta Braves) sign elsewhere.

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In Atlanta, Markakis was introduced to the local media Friday and the sight of Markakis — who spent his entire nine-year big league career with the Orioles — wearing a Braves cap, home jersey and full beard was surreal.

Each of the three now-former Orioles received four-year deals elsewhere. Other teams committed a combined $138 million on the three players, and the Orioles' brain trust has its reasons for not increasing the team's payroll with those kind of long-term deals.

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Realizing the market on Miller was rich, the Orioles were never a major suitor for the 29-year-old reliever, who played a large role in the Orioles' success down the stretch in the regular season and postseason after he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Thursday night that 22 other teams were also pursuing Miller. The Orioles weren't willing to dive into a sweepstakes that was going to pay a record $9 million average annual salary for a non-closer reliever, especially over a four-year term.

The Orioles never made an offer to Miller, according to a source.

"There's only one Andrew Miller out there," Duquette said Thursday. "He's only going to sign with one club. And I'm not sure we [could] support paying him that kind of money in that job and make sense for our ballclub. I'm not sure a relief pitcher has that kind of economic value for this ball club in this market."

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It still stings that the Orioles lost Miller to a division rival who they will have to face 19 times every year. His addition bolstered at Yankees a bullpen that already has stellar right-handed set-up man Dellin Betances. Miller posted a 1.35 ERA in 20 relief innings with the Orioles, striking out 34 batters and walking four. He also tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason, striking out eight, walking none and allowing just one hit.

His four-year, $44 million deal with Atlanta freshly inked, Markakis told reporters in Atlanta he had no regrets about his decision to join the Braves. He spoke fondly of his time in Baltimore and the friendships he formed there, but began looking forward to a new chapter in his career.

"They gave me an opportunity early in life," Markakis told reporters about the Orioles. "I can't take that away from anything. That's where I started my career. … They've been great to me. I have great memories there, lots of friends. I feel like that's something that's never going to be taken away from you in this business. Teammates are taken away from you but your friendships and what you build with them over the years won't be forgotten and won't be taken away.

"Everything I did over there, I did and it's in my past now. I don't hold any grudge or [think] that I could have done [anything] differently. In this job, things like that happen. I'm grateful for the opportunity they gave me and it's time to turn the page."

The Orioles, who appeared close to a four-year deal with Markakis shortly after the season ended, became increasingly hesitant to give the 31-year-old outfielder a fourth year because of concerns about a bulging disk in his neck, according to sources. Since being diagnosed with a herniated disk before the 2013 season, Markakis played in 315 of a possible 324 regular season games the past two seasons.

Both the Braves and Orioles knew about the condition and a third-party evaluation didn't deter Atlanta.

His deal with the Braves complete, Markakis is leaning toward undergoing offseason neck surgery for the bulging disk, according to an industry source. He is still expected to be ready for Opening Day.

"Everything I hear about it, it's not going to be an issue," Markakis told reporters. "I don't have anything now. It's just a precautionary thing. We'll get it taken care of and it shouldn't be a problem."

The Orioles knew about Markakis potentially undergoing the procedure, but their concern was more about his long-term health.

Markakis, who went to high school in nearby Woodstock, Ga., and attended college in Georgia, said the Braves made him feel comfortable about a change of scenery.

"Besides a place I grew up and watched for many years, they made me feel like I was home," Markakis told reporters. "I think that was really important to me and my family. They took good care of us and they're good people over here. That played a big part in my decision."

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