It’s been a tough week for the Baltimore Orioles and their fan base. The blow from the loss of Nelson Cruz, the MLB leader in home runs in 2014, stung but was expected as the Orioles weren’t willing to go beyond three years and he clearly wanted four or more. The real gut-wrencher, the kick to the groin, is the departure of lifetime Oriole, Nick Markakis.
Nick Markakis was a gamer for the Orioles, playing in 147 or more games in eight of his nine seasons with the club. He was never flashy; he just showed up and did his job. In an all-or-nothing Orioles lineup, Markakis was the saving grace. While the rest of the team got on base at a .311 clip in 2014, Markakis had an OBP of .342, and his career OBP is .358.
Defensively, Markakis has not made an error since 2012. The two-time Gold Glove-winning right fielder has recorded eight or more outfield assists in six of his nine seasons, including a MLB leading 17 in 2008. While his speed is hardly what one would call swift, he more than made up for that with his flare for the dramatic, making diving or leaping catches on a seemingly nightly basis.
The man was also a leader in the clubhouse. While the baseball world looks at the Orioles and sees Adam Jones as the team leader–and rightfully so–those in Baltimore know that Nick Markakis has always been the silent leader in the clubhouse. Come to work everyday, suit up, and do your job. There are not many players in baseball that get a promotional t-shirt night where the shirt reads each teammate’s description of that player. That’s what Nick Markakis meant to the Baltimore Orioles.
And now he’s gone. Signed away to the Atlanta Braves for four years in the $45 million range.
Fans and players alike were shocked when the news broke Wednesday night. On twitter, Adam Jones posted “U don’t want my opinion!!!!!!!!,” while Zach Britton posted “Say it ain’t so….”
J.J. Hardy, in an interview with MASN’s Roch Kubatko, said, “He was a leader in the clubhouse even though he didn’t talk much. It was just the way he went about his business. I definitely looked up to him. He changed the way I went about playing the game. I played through pretty much everything I could.”
So if Markakis was such a clubhouse favorite, such a gamer, so steady and consistent, then why would the Orioles let him walk? Based on the reports, it seems as though the selling point was a fourth year from Atlanta, whereas the Orioles were only comfortable offering three years, sighting neck issues from a herniation as concern for offering more years. Couple that with declining numbers, and the Orioles may have been right to be hesitant with Markakis.
Before the 2009 season, Markakis signed a six-year deal worth $66 million. This was after posting back-to-back seasons with a .300 BA, 20+HR, 40+ doubles, and 85+ RBI. After signing the contract, Markakis never hit .300 again, never hit 20 HR again, and drove in more than 73 runs just once. Over the last four years of the contract, his high for doubles was 31, and his average was just .281, solid numbers for most players, but certainly not what the Orioles hoped for when they signed him long term.
In-house, the Orioles have the AL Manager of the Year in Buck Showalter, and the AL Executive of the Year in Dan Duquette. These two men have brought the Orioles out of the dark ages and returned the team to where it belongs as one of the proudest and best franchises in all of baseball. It’s only December. They deserve our trust and the benefit of the doubt.
At the end of the day, Nick Markakis leaving Baltimore for Atlanta stings. It downright hurts. But the man is not an $11m/year player anymore, and the Orioles know that. While the defense may suffer a bit, expect the Orioles to upgrade offensively at the position.
As for the clubhouse, whoever the new guy is can’t hold a candle. Best of luck, Nick.