In what comes as a surprise to nobody, the Baltimore Orioles have decided to extend a qualifying offer to outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz and decline the option of outfielder Nick Markakis, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman. Both players have been key pieces of the Orioles' recent run to a 96-win season that has included a division title and ALCS berth. While both Markakis and Cruz are set to test the market, Baltimore would still like to keep the pair, and plans on making a run at re-signing them this offseason.
The 34-year-old Cruz will receive a qualifying offer worth $15.3 million, and should he choose to decline (as expected), he will force any signing team to surrender a draft pick. Cruz was in a similar situation last winter, when concerns about his age, injury history, and Biogenesis connections limited his market, and he ultimately remained unsigned until the Orioles inked him to a bargain one-year, $8 million deal in late February.
While much of the same concerns that surrounded Cruz last offseason still apply to him today (especially the age), he is coming off arguably his best season, as he played a full season for just the second time in his career and produced at an elite level at the plate. In 678 plate appearances, Cruz hit .271/.333/.525 with a 137 wRC+, 4.7 WAR, and league-leading 40 home runs.
Markakis has been a constant in the Orioles' lineup for the past nine seasons. Nearly 31, Markakis appeared to at one time be on a path to stardom, but he has since seen his performance drop, and he is now closer to average than All-Star caliber. In 710 plate appearances this season, he hit .276/.342/.386 with 14 home runs, 62 walks, a 106 wRC+, and 2.1 WAR. His option for 2015 is worth $17.5 million, so considering his play, it's no surprise that Baltimore has decided to pass up on that offer. They will instead pay him a $2 million buyout, and should look to re-sign him this winter at a lower rate.
Baltimore also recently locked up another core member of their AL East-winning lineup, signing shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $40 million extension last week.