Time to stock the shelves in the free agent market

The World Series has finally come to an end, with Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner flushing the Royals in Game 7 while carrying an entire team on his back. Don’t try it at home.

My rooting interest was having seven close games with lots of late-inning drama. Most of them were blowouts, but not last night’s finale.

A World Series Game 7 has got to be the finest event in sports. As long as the Orioles aren’t playing the Pirates, of course.

Too soon. And I’m still talking about 1971.

Last night’s conclusion impacts the Orioles due to the start of free agency this morning. The Orioles technically have 11 players who could hit the market, a list that I’ll share again.

You can skip it if I start to sound like a broken record. However, skipping still sounds like a broken record to me.

The Orioles’ potential free agents are Alexi Casilla, Wei-Yin Chen, Nelson Cruz, Nick Hundley, Kelly Johnson, Nick Markakis, Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day, Johan Santana, Joe Saunders and Delmon Young. They have exclusive negotiating rights with their players for the next five days before other teams are allowed to make offers.

Cross Chen and O’Day off the list, since the Orioles will pick up their respective options of $4.75 million and $4.25 million. They will decline Markakis’ $17.5 million option and Hundley’s $5 million option unless the plan has changed over the last 12 hours.

Markakis has a mutual option, so he’d have to agree to it. He’s seeking a long-term extension and has no interest in a one-year deal.

The Orioles must decide on the options within five days of the World Series, but it shouldn’t take that long.

cruz-gray-HR-ALDS-sidebar.jpgThe Orioles also continue to negotiate with Cruz’s representative - the outfielder switched from Adam Katz to Diego Bentz - and it sounds as though the sides are far apart. Basically the size of an ocean.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following along.

The Orioles aren’t giving Cruz a four- or five-year deal, and he’s got no reason to settle for anything less in October. He’s going to test the market and hope that it’s more favorable this winter.

It should be more forgiving after he hit 40 home runs in the regular season and two more in the Division Series. The stain from his 50-game suspension in 2013 may have faded for some teams.

The issue is his age - he turns 35 on July 1 - and whether he can stay healthy if making most of his starts in the outfield. A National League team would be taking a risk without the designated hitter.

It’s encouraging for the Orioles that players take away a positive experience when leaving here or approaching free agency. You won’t find guys rushing out the door and ripping the organization to their friends. A few have offered recommendations, including pitcher Randy Wolf.

Naturally, it’s a huge selling point when the club has posted a winning record in three consecutive seasons and made the playoffs in two of the past three years. A winning atmosphere has increased Cruz’s interest in returning, as he pointed out following Game 4 of the Championship Series.

“I want to come back, no doubt. Just wait and see what happens,” he said while standing at his locker at Kauffman Stadium.

“I love the clubhouse, I love all my teammates. The whole organization is great from top to bottom. Even the guys you don’t see every day, they treat us the right way and makes your transition here, makes every game more easy for you. They find a way to get it done. I appreciate that.”

Appreciation only goes so far, however. Cruz remains a long shot to re-sign with the Orioles, but it doesn’t hurt to continue negotiations before deciding to make the $15.3 qualifying offer and take the draft pick.

So you’ve got the list of free agents. Go ahead and give me your priority signings. Where do you sink the most money, knowing that you don’t have an unlimited budget?

Also keep in mind that the Orioles have 11 arbitration-eligible players, listed below, which requires enough funds to dole out raises to the ones who aren’t non-tendered.

Zach Britton
Chris Davis
Alejandro De Aza
Ryan Flaherty
Miguel Gonzalez
Tommy Hunter
Brian Matusz
Bud Norris
Steve Pearce
Chris Tillman
Matt Wieters

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