Cruz headlines group of nine Orioles free agents

Club looks to target starting pitcher, OBP specialist in Hot Stove season

Cruz headlines group of nine Orioles free agents

• Hot Stove Tracker

BALTIMORE -- With the World Series in the books, the Hot Stove season officially begins, with several key Orioles becoming free agents.

Here's a quick look at who could be leaving Baltimore and what the O's needs are as baseball shifts into the offseason.

Free agents/options
The biggest name heading to the free-agent market is Nelson Cruz, who was named 2014's Most Valuable Oriole. Trade Deadline acquisition Andrew Miller, Delmon Young, pitchers Joe Saunders and Johan Santana, along with infielders Kelly Johnson and Alexi Casilla, are also free agents.

The Orioles declined the contract options of outfielder Nick Markakis and catcher Nick Hundley, while starter Wei-Yin Chen and reliever Darren O'Day both had their option picked up. That brings the total of O's free agents to nine.

The Orioles have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents for a five-day period after the World Series ends, and they would like to retain Markakis and Cruz the most, along with Miller -- a key part of the bullpen -- if he fits within the club's budget. Cruz, who declined his qualifying offer from Texas last year, got one this year -- at $15.3 million -- but Markakis did not. Cruz has until Nov. 10 to decline or accept the offer. If he declines, he is free to negotiate with any big league club, including the O's.

Cruz's four-hit, seven-RBI game

The Orioles should get back the trio they missed in the postseason in Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Chris Davis. But there are still areas to address this winter -- foremost a starting pitcher to put atop the rotation. The O's could also use a player who specializes in on-base percentage, which was a glaring hole in the lineup this October.

Potential targets
There are aces to be had in the market, with the two most sought-after targets expected to be Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. There aren't a whole lot of big-name OBP players floating around in free agency, and that looks more like a need executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette could fill with a trade or one of his trademark under-the-radar signings. Duquette has said the expectation is the team will raise payroll for 2015.

Trade assets
With Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy expected to be in play for next year's rotation, the Orioles could move some starting pitching to swing a big deal. Duquette has made it a point to accumulate pitching depth in his tenure, but he has yet to deal a Major League starter.

Bottom line
The O's season ended in the American League Championship Series, and a few big winter moves could go a long way in helping Baltimore reach the World Series.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.