Orioles rumors: Team possibly targeting Nelson Cruz, closer

Tom Pennington

The team saved about $10 million by dealing away Jim Johnson to the Athletics.

The Orioles trade of closer Jim Johnson to the Athletics on Monday evening has opened up a number of interesting possibilities for the team. Baltimore could use the money saved in the deal to pursue a big outfield bat in Nelson Cruz, reports Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. Meanwhile, the team is also expected to seek a new closer, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

Johnson made $6.5 million in 2013 and is eligible for arbitration one final time before hitting free agency after the 2014 season. MLB Trade Rumors estimated he would earn close to $11 million for next season, money for which the Orioles are no longer on the hook.

Nelson has been rumored to be seeking a four year, $75 million deal, though it does not currently appear that any interested team will approach that number. Cruz played in just 109 games last year while serving a 50-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal, but still managed to slug 27 home runs while hitting .266/.327/.506. He has a career 823 OPS and has averaged 27 homers per year the last five seasons.

The Orioles would either use Cruz as a designated hitter--where they struggled to find consistency in 2013 — or in left field with Nolan Reimold moving to a fourth outfielder/DH role. The Orioles were already the fifth-most potent offense in the MLB in 2013. Adding Cruz could make them that much better.

However, signing Cruz would not help the team's goal of finding more pitching this offseason. Now without a closer, they are looking at the free agent market and possibly a trade to bolster the back end of the bullpen. Both John Axford and Edward Mujica are on the teams radar. Axford posted a 4.02 ERA in 2013, but was much better after a mid-season trade from the Brewers to the Cardinals. He had been the Brewers' closer from 2010-12. Mujica pitched well as the closer in St. Louis in 2013, but lost his job to Trevor Rosenthal after some struggles in September when he was dealing with an injury.

Currently, the Royals owe approximately $45 million to six players for 2014. Eight other players, including Chris Davis and Matt Wieters, are eligible for free agency. MLTR estimates that those eight will receive $31.6 million combined. If the team were to fill out the remainder of the roster with players making the league minimum, the Orioles are looking at an opening day payroll that stretches a little over $80 million. Their opening day payroll in 2013 was $92 million. That gives the team about $10 million to work with in free agency.

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