He has never made an All Star team. He has never been a Silver Slugger or led the league in any major offensive category. The man just shows up every day and goes to work.
He doesn’t hit eye-popping home runs. He doesn’t run like a gazelle and has never stolen more than 18 bases in a season. The man just shows up every day and goes to work.
All offseason, Orioles fans have been clamoring for two things: moves to give the team a fighting chance at playoff berth and extensions for the heroes of Birdland such as Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, and even Manny Machado (to a lesser extent). So far, the team is batting .500. But nobody is talking about the unsung hero of this team; the man who shows up every day and goes to work.
Nick Markakis is a former first round draft pick with a career .292/.360/.801 slash line. He has hit .290 or better in six of eight seasons, twice driven in over 100 runs and has smacked 43 or more doubles in a season four times, all while playing in 157 or more games six times.
Defensively, the man has been as steady as they come. Markakis won his first Rawlings Gold Glove award in 2011 and was a finalist for the award in 2013. He has twice led the league in outfield assists and has registered 13 or more in four separate seasons, all while committing just 18 errors in his eight seasons, including zero in 2011 and 2013.
Markakis has led all AL right fielders in fielding percentage in three separate seasons. His career .993 fielding percentage leads all active AL right fielders and is second all-time for the position. For you sabermetricians, his 7.5 WAR in 2008 led the American League.
So why is the longest tenured Oriole getting no love from the organization or the fans in Baltimore, at least outwardly as the 2014 season approaches?
Well, for one, Markakis has not shown the pop everyone around baseball thought he possessed after a strong start to his career. After hitting 16 home runs as a rookie in 2006, Markakis averaged 45 2B/20 HR/100RBI/ while hitting.299 from 2007-2009. Since then, the right fielder has yet to surpass 15 HR or 73 RBI in a season.
In 2013 Markakis set career lows in doubles (24), triples (0), home runs (10), and batting average (.271), and his 59 RBIs were second-worst to his 54 in the 2012 season in which he played just 104 games.
Another reason for the seeming lack of interest is Markakis’ contract situation. The Orioles own the rights to Markakis through 2014 and can either pick up his $17.5m option in 2015 or simply buy him out for $2m, making him a free agent after this season. Nobody expects the Orioles to pony up $17.5m for a 30-year-old player whose numbers have declined every season since 2009. But letting the man walk is the last thing the ball club should do.
For the first time since 2011, Markakis entered Spring Training healthy. After facing question after question about his lack of production, Markakis wasted no time putting 2013 behind him. After a three week break once the season ended, he hit the gym and showed up to Sarasota with an extra 16 pounds of muscle.
Claiming to feel the best he has ever felt, Markakis has hit the ground running. His four doubles and 11 hits are tied for the team lead amongst projected regulars and his .440 BA is second only to Chris Davis in the same group.
I know, I know, these are Spring Training stats, which mean about as much as the Grapefruit League standings once the regular season starts, but the way Markakis is driving the ball is reminiscent of his first four seasons in the league.
We all know that Hardy is the next priority for the brass in the warehouse as far as extensions go, but right behind him should be Markakis, who is primed for his best season in years. They need to do it now rather than risk waiting until after a potential breakout season when he might have priced himself out of Baltimore. He wants to be here, and he wants to win a championship here. The Orioles need to reciprocate those feelings, otherwise the man who just shows up every day and goes to work is going to continue doing just that in 2015…it just might not be for Baltimore.
Nobody should want to see that.
photo: Craig Landefeld