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Deadline day for exclusive talks with free agents, making qualifying offers

Today marks the final day the Orioles can negotiate with their free agents before they hit the open market Tuesday. If the club chooses to do so, it also must offer its eligible free agents one-year qualifying offers for $15.3 million by 5 p.m. today.

Outfielder Nelson Cruz will undoubtedly receive a qualifying offer. After leading the major leagues with a career-high 40 home runs, he likely will decline the offer in hopes of landing a lucrative multiyear deal.

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In that case, the Orioles would receive a compensatory draft pick if Cruz signs elsewhere.

The only other free agent who might receive a qualifying offer is right fielder Nick Markakis and whether he does will tell how confident the Orioles are in re-signing their longest-tenured player.

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The Orioles declined their part of a mutual option for Markakis for $17.5 million, instead opting to give him a $2 million buyout.

If the Orioles make Markakis a qualifying offer, they would be offering him nearly as much ($17.3 million, including the $2 million buyout) as the option would have paid him. So making him that offer would show the Orioles believe Markakis would rather sign a multiyear deal elsewhere rather than take the one-year offer to stay in Baltimore.

If the Orioles don't get a deal done with Markakis by today -- negotiations have been progressing over the past few days -- he would be free to negotiate with any team. Markakis has never been able to test the free-agent market in his career because he signed a six-year, $66.1 million deal before the 2009 season while he was still under team control.

If Markakis hits the free agency, it doesn't close the door on him re-signing with the Orioles, but it would give him an idea of his market value outside the Warehouse, especially since he's seen as one of the top free-agent outfielders this offseason.

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Markakis also could win his second career Gold Glove on Tuesday. The Orioles have three finalists -- Markakis, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones -- and all three could win awards. Hardy and Jones could win the award for the third consecutive year.

The Orioles also have interest in re-signing catcher Nick Hundley after declining his $5 million option, likely somewhere in the $1.5-2 million range annually. Hundley would give the Orioles a veteran backup to Matt Wieters, who is returning from Tommy John surgery.

Hundley would give the Orioles a nice insurance policy, especially since he really jelled with the pitching staff late in the season, and give the club its best catching depth in years. But there isn't much catching depth throughout the majors, so Hundley might find a team willing to give him more playing time than the Orioles.

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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