How will the O’s address the loss of Nelson Cruz?

When the Baltimore Orioles signed Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8-million contract, they didn’t know what they were getting, and the question marks surrounding the 34-year old were the reasons for such a low contract. The Orioles cashed in on that frugal move, getting 40 homers and 108 RBIs out of Cruz, good for a WAR of 4.7 and seventh in the MVP voting. The only problem with that production was that at season’s end, the Orioles would have to make an offer significantly higher than the one-year, mere six-figure deal they had handed Cruz the prior winter. Nick Markakis would also become a free agent, as well as Delmon Young. Undoubtedly the O’s would have loved to keep a power bat like Cruz, especially with Chris Davis falling off a cliff in 2014. However the Mariners came in and handed Cruz a 4-year, $87-million contract, and the Orioles must look at their options to fill that hole. So what are their options exactly? Well, let’s begin.

Option 1:  Re-sign Nick Markakis.

– Markakis isn’t the offensive force Cruz is, but he is certainly a good player that would at least bandage the loss. Markakis hit .276, had an OBP of .342 and was good for 2.1 WAR, while also winning the AL Gold Glove in right-field in 2014. Markakis turned 31 in November, which isn’t young but isn’t too old either – three years younger than Cruz, actually. It shouldn’t be too hard for the O’s to give him a deal somewhere in the range of 3-4 years, at about $15-$18 million a year, as he made $15 million in 2013 and 2014, and had down years in both. The only problem is that another team may be willing to overpay for Markakis’ services, and the O’s would suffer another blow to their roster.

There aren’t any in-house options available to the Orioles just yet, as Josh Hart was only drafted last year, and his ETA isn’t until 2017, although he seems to have the tools to be a top-of-the-order player, so Markakis could be a nice bridge.

Option 2: Trade.

– In a scenario where Markakis gets away from the O’s as well as Cruz, the O’s could look to swing a deal for someone like Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, or Brandon Moss. Moss would likely demand more than Craig or Nava, but is a level above them at the same time. Moss is a good source of power and could also play some first base. Craig had a terrible 2014 campaign, but everyone knows what he is capable of. In 2011-2013, Craig batted above .300 each time, had an OBP over .350, and slugged better than .450, eclipsing .500 in 2011 and 2012. He was an All-Star in 2013, and is WAR in the years 2011-13 was 2.3,2.3, and 2.6, respectively. Craig isn’t a bad player, he had a down year, was maybe still affected by that ankle injury from the previous year, and might be worth a gamble by the O’s that could really pay off if he returns to his 2013 form.

Option 3: Sign Nori Aoki.

– Aoki had a decent campaign for the Kansas City Royals in 2014, and while he isn’t exactly on Markakis’ level, he is at the very least a serviceable everyday right fielder. Aoki has speed and makes pretty good contact with the ball. He was worth 1 WAR for the Royals, hit .285 and had an OBP of .353. Aoki won’t come at a heavy price either, reasonable at most. He proved to be a good option for the Royals before the emergence of Lorenzo Cain and Ned Yost‘s preference for defense in the form of Jarrod Dyson in the postseason forced Aoki to the pine, and really Aoki isn’t too bad on defense either, just ask Jason Vargas and Wade Davis.

Option 4: Steve Pearce.

Pearce had a nice coming out party in 2014, batting .293, slugging .556, posting a whopping OPS of .930 and good for a WAR of 6. The O’s could easily get by with Alejandro De Aza in left, Adam Jones anchoring center, and Pearce in right. Immediately this seems like the best option, but if the  O’s ship Chris Davis off Pearce would most likely move to first and there would still be a hole in right. If Baltimore does hang on to Davis for another season though, expect to see Pearce in right.

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