Orioles have calls to make on hitters this winter

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The Orioles took care of one key piece of business last week, signing shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year extension through 2017. They’ll have some decisions to make on the rest of their lineup this winter, though.

– Nelson Cruz, signed to a one-year, $8 million deal last winter, is a free agent.

– Nick Markakis can be brought back on a $17.5 million option (which includes a $2 million buyout) or the team could negotiate a new deal with him.

– Chris Davis is arbitration eligible after earning $10.35 million this year.

One imagines the Orioles will work something out with Markakis, who has been in the organization since the team picked him seventh overall in the 2003 draft. The soon-to-be 31-year-old Markakis is no longer a star, but he did have a better season offensively and defensively this year than in 2013. Ideally, the two sides could do a two- or three-year deal at a lesser salary than the option is worth.

Related: Royals complete sweep of Orioles in ALCS

Unless owner Peter Angelos really loosens the purse strings, retaining both Cruz and Davis seems unlikely. Cruz established new career highs with 40 homers and 108 RBI this year, but he’s 34 and a liability defensively in the outfield. He’ll probably ask for a four-year deal worth at least $15 million per season. Davis, nearly the AL MVP in 2013, probably won’t get much of a raise in arbitration after struggling and getting suspended for Adderall. Since it’d just be a one-year deal, the Orioles should keep him and hope for the best.

Fortunately, the Orioles’ pitching staff, Andrew Miller excepted, will return intact. Five of Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez will comprise the rotation, and Zach Britton, Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter will all be back in the pen. Top prospect Dylan Bundy, who spent this year rehabbing after Tommy John surgery, could also help next summer.

With Matt Wieters and Manny Machado due back healthy, the Orioles have the potential to be better next year than they were in winning the AL East this season. They’ll almost surely enter the spring as the favorites in the AL East no matter what the Red Sox and Yankees do.

Lucas Giolito earns second shutout of season

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The Twins have arguably baseball’s scariest offense. Their average of 5.87 runs per game is second only to the Yankees (5.90) while leading the league in slugging percentage (.501), OPS (.840), and home runs (244). White Sox starter Lucas Giolito made their offense look impotent on Wednesday, blanking them over nine innings for his second shutout of the season. The White Sox won 4-0.

Giolito allowed just three hits and walked none while fanning 12 batters over his nine innings of work. He’s now 14-6 with a 3.20 ERA and a 194/51 K/BB ratio in 151 2/3 innings on the season. Giolito is very much in the AL Cy Young Award picture. The Astros’ Justin Verlander leads the league in ERA at 2.81. A strong finish to the season for Giolito could certainly see his ERA dip below 3.00.

As mentioned, Wednesday’s shutout was Giolito’s second of the season. He and the Indians’ Shane Bieber are the only pitchers with multiple shutouts this season. They are two of only 21 pitchers with a shutout.