Nick Markakis expected to return to action Tuesday as designated hitter

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Nick Markakis hasn’t played in a Grapefruit League game since March 1 due to a small disc herniation in his neck, but all signs are pointing toward him being ready for Opening Day next Tuesday against the Rays.

According to Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com, Markakis was cleared to return to games after he took batting practice for the second straight day this afternoon. The plan calls for him to serve as the designated hitter in tomorrow’s Grapefruit League game against the Twins. The Orioles likely wouldn’t risk playing him on the major league side if they didn’t think he’d be ready for the season, so this can be taken as a sign that his neck is no longer an issue.

Markakis was limited to just 104 games last season due to hamate bone surgery and a broken left thumb. However, the 29-year-old posted his highest OPS (.834) since 2008.

Phillies, Red Sox interested in Carlos Santana

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The Phillies and Red Sox appear intent on pursuing free agent first baseman Carlos Santana, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports. Santana rejected a one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Indians on Thursday and is expected to draw widespread interest on the market this winter. The Mets, Mariners, Angels and Indians could make a play for the infielder, though no serious offers have been made this early in the offseason.

Santana, 31, is coming off of a seven-year track with the Indians. He batted .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and 3.0 fWAR last season, making 2017 the fourth-most valuable year of his career to date. Although he was primarily stationed at first base over the last year, he could step back into a hybrid first base/DH role with the Red Sox, who are hurting for infield depth with Hanley Ramirez still working his way back from shoulder surgery.

As for Santana’s other suitors, the Mariners are far less likely to pursue a deal after trading for Ryon Healy last Wednesday. Neither the Mets nor the Phillies have a DH spot to offer the veteran infielder, and the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins appears to be blocking the way at first base. Then again, Santana may not find a more enticing offer outside of Cleveland, where Edwin Encarnacion might otherwise be the club’s best option at first base. During the GM meetings, Indians’ GM Mike Chernoff said he “love to have both [Santana and Jay Bruce] back” in 2018, but hasn’t backed up that love with any contract talks just yet.