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Nelson Cruz and five other Orioles now officially free agents

Six players who just yesterday were Orioles are now free agents. That list includes Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller, who will be missed if they head elsewhere.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

At nine o'clock this morning, the Orioles' six players whose contracts were about to expire became free agents. Last night they were Orioles. Today they are not. That's kind of sad. Well, there's nothing sad about Joe Saunders and Alexi Casilla not being Orioles any more. Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller, though, we'll miss those guys.

The other newly-minted free agents are Kelly Johnson, about whose departure I can summon no feeling whatsoever, and Delmon Young.

It's hard to believe that Young was only on a one-year minor league deal. Yesterday, MASN's Roch Kubatko wrote that Young would be looking for a chance to play every day. The O's might be able to offer that, if they want to, depending on who stays and who gets away out of their other outfielders.

When was the last time we truly had to miss a departing free agent? Most often it ends up being missing a player for sentimental reasons rather than actually missing their performance. We experienced some of that sentimental departure last year when Nate McLouth and Brian Roberts headed elsewhere. They were Orioles who had nice stories but wouldn't have been solid contributors for this year's team. Crucial departures like Cruz and Miller are another story.

Over the next several days, the O's will have to officially decide whether or not to exercise 2015 options on four more players: Nick Markakis, Nick Hundley, Wei-Yin Chen, and Darren O'Day. They're expected to decline the $17.5 million option for Markakis (with a $2 million buyout) and a $5 million option for Hundley, which would leave them with eight free agents heading off of the 40-man roster.

For Chen ($4.75 million) and O'Day ($4.25 million) picking up the option for each is a no-brainer. They'll each cost a little bit more than 2014, but not much more, and unless disaster strikes, they'll more than earn their keep.

Starting today through Monday, there's a five day period where the O's have exclusive rights to sign their own players. The players can suss out what teams might be interested and what kind of role they might have with those interested teams, but cannot talk money with other teams during what is deemed the Quiet Period. The O's are reportedly interested in retaining all of Cruz, Markakis, and Miller. Money talks.

Given that Markakis is the longest-tenured Oriole, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they reach an agreement with him in this period.

By the end of this Quiet Period, they have to make up their minds whether to make the qualifying offer (a one-year, $15.3 million contract) to any of their free agents. Giving one to Cruz is also a no-brainer. Markakis could get one, probably with the O's hoping he'd decline. Once a player declines a qualifying offer, if they were to sign elsewhere, the team signing them forfeits their top draft pick (top 11 picks protected), while the Orioles would get a pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft.

This is why the Orioles had no pick until the third round, since they lost their first and second round picks in signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Cruz before this season.

Markakis seems like the kind of player who might suffer with that pick loss attached to him. A team might like him, but would they like him THAT much? That is what the O's might hope - they can keep him at a more reasonable price with that kind of leverage. Steve Adams of MLBTR projected earlier in October that Markakis would get a three-year, $39 million deal if he receives and declines a qualifying offer, whereas he'd get a four-year, $48 million deal if he has no qualifying offer baggage.

Players have until 12 days after the World Series ends to make their choice as to what to do with a qualifying offer.

In the short time since this system was created, no player has yet accepted the offer. After Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales sat out until after the draft this past season, then struggled when they played, it won't be surprising to see some players take the offer this time around. Cruz himself, who settled for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles, is also a cautionary tale about declining the offer. He could have made about $14 million if he accepted the offer from Texas last year. Lucky for the Orioles that he didn't do that.

If the O's extend the offer to Markakis and he takes it, they'd end up paying him $17.3 million between the offer and the option buyout and they'd still only have him for 2015. That's less than ideal for an outfielder who lacks speed and has slugged .389 this year.

Someone who changes teams mid-season isn't eligible for the qualifying offer, so Miller is just a free agent and that's that.

Who do you think the Orioles will end up keeping in the Birdland nest? Who would you like to see back who you think will get away? Chime in the comments section below.