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Free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz declines qualifying offer from Orioles

Nelson Cruz declined the Orioles' qualifying offer Monday.
Nelson Cruz declined the Orioles' qualifying offer Monday. (Joy R. Absalon, USA Today Sports)

Free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz has declined the Orioles' qualifying offer for a one-year, $15.3 million contract to remain with the team for next season.

The move was expected as Cruz, who led the major leagues with a career-high 40 home runs last season, is seeking a multiyear deal.

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More than anything, the qualifying offer process is intended to protect teams who lose their free agents.

If Cruz signs elsewhere, the Orioles will receive the highest unprotected draft pick from the club that signs him. It is likely that the pick will be higher than the No. 55 overall selection in this year's draft that the Orioles forfeited when they signed Cruz in February.

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Cruz was one of 12 free agents who were made qualifying offers, and all 12 declined them. Since the beginning of the qualifying offer process in 2012, all 34 players who were made qualifying offers have declined them.

It doesn't mean, however, that the Orioles won't re-sign Cruz, who said as recently as last week that remaining in Baltimore was his first choice, and he hoped the sides could still work out a deal.

Last season, Cruz refused a qualifying offer of $14.1 million made to him by the Texas Rangers. Three months later, after he was unable to sign a multiyear deal following a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, Cruz settled for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles.

After a career year, Cruz likely will be able to sign a multiyear deal this offseason, but he is also going to be 35 years old in July and played the majority of his games at designated hitter, which could diminish the number of suitors willing to give him a longterm commitment.

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Still, Cruz carried the Orioles offense at times this year, and he reminded teams how much of a force he can be in the postseason -- he has 16 homers in 41 career playoff games -- so all it will take is one willing team to take him.

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