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How will qualifying offer affect Nelson Cruz's free-agent market value?

It will be interesting to see if the qualifying offer process costs Nelson Cruz money on the open market again this offseason.
It will be interesting to see if the qualifying offer process costs Nelson Cruz money on the open market again this offseason. (Ron Jenkins, MCT)

The Orioles made slugger Nelson Cruz a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer Monday, but it remains to be determined how that will affect Cruz's free-agent market value going forward.

This is the third year of the qualifying-offer process -- designed to help teams who lose their high-paid free agents by compensating them with an unprotected draft pick the next season. And the new system has changed the way both teams and players maneuver free agency.

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The Orioles hope that the requirement of giving up a draft pick will make other teams less willing to give Cruz a lucrative multiyear deal. Cruz initially was seeking a five-year deal in preliminary talks with the Orioles, according to an industry source.

Cruz was one of 12 players around baseball to receive a qualifying offer. He will have a week to decide whether he will accept it, but given the year he had -- he led the major leagues with a career-high 40 homers -- he's likely to refuse it with sights on a multiyear deal.

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Over the previous two offseasons, 22 players received qualifying offers. None of those players accepted the offer, though Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz negotiated a two-year extension soon after receiving a qualifying offer after the 2012 season.

Cruz is an interesting case study. After the 2013 season, the Texas Rangers made Cruz a qualifying offer for $14.1 million.

Cruz, who was coming off a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, declined the offer but couldn't get the multiyear deal he wanted. He ended up settling for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles, which turned out to be one of the best bargains in baseball in 2014.

The Orioles were more willing to give up a draft pick in that situation, because they only had to forfeit their second-round pick. (They had already given up their first pick to sign right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and had traded their competitive balance pick -- which was between the first and second rounds -- to the Houston Astros.)

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Dan Duquette has said the Orioles likely wouldn't have signed Cruz to a one-year deal had they not signed Jimenez earlier in the offseason.

Cruz's stock is certainly higher this time around. Those who followed the Orioles closely saw how he carried the offense at times, and his resume in the postseason -- which includes 16 homers and 34 RBIs in 41 career playoff games -- can't be ignored either.

But he's 34 and came into last season with a history of leg injuries, which the Orioles managed by splitting his time between the outfield and designated hitter. Cruz's 89 starts at designated hitter, most in the second half, were the most in his career. He made 70 starts in the outfield.

If teams believe that giving Cruz time at designated hitter is critical, will that scare off National League clubs from giving him a long-term contract? That would take half the teams off the board for Cruz, and several more could drop because they don't have the financial means to sign him or are scared off by the draft pick compensation.

So the pool for Cruz could be smaller than expected, which could allow the Orioles to swoop in and re-sign Cruz to a more team-friendly deal.

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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