The Orioles haven't given up on re-signing right fielder Nick Markakis, or as executive vice president Dan Duquette puts it: "We're still working on it. It's in process for the Orioles."
But there's no question now that the competition is on. A contingent representing the Atlanta Braves met with Markakis for dinner in Maryland on Monday night.
And we know the Orioles have been making inquiries into other outfielders in case they don't bring Markakis back (and since they've already lost Nelson Cruz). One target officially came off the board Tuesday with news that veteran Torii Hunter signed a one-year deal reportedly worth $10.5 million to return to his original club, the Minnesota Twins.
Another report surfaced from USA Today on Tuesday night that the Orioles are "showing strong interest" in outfielder Mike Morse, who was with the San Francisco Giants last year. Anything is possible, but it seems like a strange fit. The Orioles traded for Morse in August 2013, and he had three hits in first two games before not picking up another hit in his final 10 games, finishing 0-for-22 in that span.
Morse eventually needed surgery on his left wrist in the offseason, and the Orioles privately felt like he didn't reveal the injury to them quickly enough down the stretch run. Morse is a really nice guy, but the sense after that month was that he wouldn't play for the Orioles again.
The club didn't try for a reunion last year, but Morse rebounded, hitting .279 with 16 home runs in 131 games for the World Series champion Giants. Still, at 32, I'd be surprised if the Orioles truly revisit this one.
But they can't close doors if Markakis doesn't return. And Markakis is exploring his options. Here's a quick primer on potential fits for him if he doesn't stay in Baltimore.
Atlanta Braves -- This is the most likely landing spot if he doesn't return to the Orioles. He went to high school north of Atlanta, went to junior college in Georgia. He still has family there. And the Braves just traded their Gold Glove right fielder, Jason Heyward, to the St. Louis Cardinals. There are some in the Orioles' organization who believe Markakis will end up in Baltimore or Atlanta; one or the other, but nowhere else.
San Francisco Giants -- They could use another outfielder, and they are world champions. Markakis just experienced his first playoff run (he was injured in 2012) and he certainly wants to sign up with a potential winner for what likely will be his last long-term deal. But he is an East Coast guy, so that may make a difference.
Chicago White Sox -- There's a sense within the industry that the White Sox could be doing some under-the-radar shopping, and it's possible that they could make room in their outfield for Markakis while adding another left-handed hitter. I'd say it's a bit of a long shot, but it's not impossible.
Toronto Blue Jays -- They have liked Markakis for years and have periodically checked on his availability. No question they are interested, especially after adding two other "gamer-type" players in catcher Russell Martin and third baseman Josh Donaldson. The problem is Markakis, like many American League East players, has never been a fan of playing on turf. That could hurt Toronto's chances.
New York Yankees -- Markakis was born in Nassau County, Long Island and still has extended family there. At first blush, he certainly doesn't come across as a New York City guy, but he has always crushed in new Yankee Stadium, batting .327 with a .381 on-base percentage and .514 slugging in 55 games there. The Yankees already have four veteran outfielders, but Markakis would be the youngest of the group. Orioles fans can relax a little bit, though. I haven't heard much about a potential courtship here yet.