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Cold, hard numbers prevail over emotion with Markakis’ departure

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Cold, hard numbers prevail over emotion with Markakis’ departure

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles faced difficult free-agent decisions entering the offseason after winning their first American League East title in 17 years.

The anticipated departures of slugger Nelson Cruz and shutdown lefty reliever Andrew Miller certainly hurt from an on-field standpoint, but both were hired guns for the 2014 season with little emotional attachment.

But longtime right fielder Nick Markakis?

That one hurts. It hurts a lot.

It stings fans, teammates who adore him and respect his everyday approach, and manager Buck Showalter, who has often said Markakis is the kind of player whose value isn’t fully felt until you don’t have him anymore.

That sentiment now becomes reality, and we’ll learn how true the manager’s words ring.

The organization’s longest-tenured player departing to sign a four-year, $44 million deal with the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday hurts as much as any Oriole to leave via free agency since longtime ace Mike Mussina joined the New York Yankees 14 years ago. After making his home in Monkton, Markakis was supposed to spend his entire career with the Orioles.

One of the lasting images of a wonderful 2014 season was watching Markakis, after enduring years of losing in Baltimore, celebrate the Orioles’ first division title since 1997 when they clinched in mid-September. After he could only watch the Orioles in the 2012 playoffs because of a season-ending thumb injury sustained a month earlier, the 2003 first-round pick finally earned his first taste of postseason play in his ninth major league season.

So, how did it get to this point after nearly everyone assumed that Markakis would be back?

Both local and national outlets reported a month ago that the Orioles and Markakis were working toward a four-year deal in the neighborhood of what the Braves ultimately paid the veteran outfielder. Concerns over a herniated disc in his neck discovered in 2013 reportedly prompted the Orioles to hedge on a guaranteed fourth year as the weeks progressed while Atlanta offered no such trepidation in bringing Markakis back to his home state.

Frustrated fans will understandably question the Orioles’ loyalty in how they negotiated and in ultimately failing to retain their longest-tenured player, but how much responsibility should Markakis hold? If he were truly committed to staying, why not sign a month ago when a similar offer was allegedly on the table instead of holding out for more and giving the Orioles the opportunity to rethink their position?

For as much as Markakis has been valued for his durability and consistency throughout his tenure in Baltimore, let’s not pretend the $30 million he earned in his final two seasons with the Orioles was reciprocated with similar value in production.

And that’s when we begin to view Markakis as the fascinating case study of weighing the old-school “gamer” against the cold, hard numbers he produces.

A look at the negative reaction from players via social media in the hours after the announcement suggests how unpopular the move will be in the Orioles clubhouse. Though a quiet man who doesn’t draw attention to himself, Markakis was a prime example of the club’s sum being better than its parts over the last three winning years. He plays the game the right way and is admired by teammates and fans alike.

But how much can and should you pay for those intangibles?

Assessing his value based solely on what shows up in the box score, Markakis likely isn’t worth close to $44 million over the next four seasons. In fact, observers with no apparent agenda are already saying the Braves will wildly regret investing so much in an outfielder whose numbers have declined over the last couple years.

Though he never developed the home run power some projected him to earlier in his career, Markakis averaged more than 65 extra-base hits per year from 2007 through 2010. He’s averaged just under 42 in each of the four years since, with only 34 in 160 games in 2013. What was once a gap hitter who regularly hit more than 40 doubles per year has become much more of a singles hitter — with little speed — in recent years.

His slugging percentage has dipped below .400 in each of the last two seasons, and he has only posted an on-base plus slugging percentage above .756 once in the last four years — his injury-abbreviated 2012 campaign when he produced an .834 OPS in only 471 plate appearances. Though a very good and dependable right fielder with a strong arm that resulted in him winning his second Gold Glove in 2014, Markakis’ range in right field has declined and figures to get worse over the next four years.

Those numbers aren’t presented to suggest Markakis no longer has any value as his durability, leadership, and work ethic can’t easily be quantified and will certainly be missed in addition to what he can still bring with the bat. But the numbers do confirm there is strong evidence to suggest he’s not worthy of a four-year investment after already showing substantial decline in recent seasons.

Only time will tell if the Orioles regret their decision based on how effectively they’re able to replace their longtime right fielder and on how he plays in his new home. It’s quite possible executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made the responsible call, but that will only matter if the Orioles find a quality replacement at the top of the order and in right field to continue the momentum of three straight winning seasons and a 2014 division title.

That will be easier said than done based on what options are available on the open market unless they plan to overpay some other player after drawing a line in the sand with the longest-tenured member of the organization.

The numbers and projections certainly shouldn’t be ignored, but baseball isn’t played in a vacuum, either. Markakis will be missed by teammates and fans alike, but the cold, hard numbers ultimately prevailed.

Markakis wasn’t the biggest or only reason why the Orioles have won over the last three years, but he has been a significant part of what they’ve done. He’s been one of their rare hitters to work counts and get on base — major weaknesses for the club despite their winning record — and one of their most influential presences in a clubhouse that’s been harmonious under Showalter.

Despite the disappointment and the frustration felt by many over the lifelong Oriole’s departure and the questions it creates, four months remain before Opening Day. Duquette deserves some benefit of the doubt after a very rocky start to the offseason in which two key everyday players have bolted.

But the Orioles have a lot of work to do to appease both a shaken fan base and an unhappy clubhouse.

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Longtime Oriole Markakis agrees to four-year deal with Atlanta

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Longtime Oriole Markakis agrees to four-year deal with Atlanta

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

A 12-year relationship is no more as longtime Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis has agreed to a four-year deal with the Atlanta Braves.

Two days after 2014 home run champion Nelson Cruz departed Baltimore to sign a four-year, $57 million with Seattle, the longest-tenured player in the organization agreed to a contract worth $44 million, according to Yahoo Sports. The 31-year-old Markakis will be returning to his home state of Georgia where he grew up north of Atlanta in nearby Woodstock.

The Orioles and Markakis had engaged in talks last month that appeared to be progressing toward a four-year deal, but discussions stalled as the organization reportedly became hesitant about the idea of guaranteeing four years to the two-time Gold Glove outfielder. Markakis’ offensive production has declined in recent years, but replacing his ability at the top of the order and in right field as well as his presence in the clubhouse will be easier said than done.

After a rough 2013 season in which he hit a career-low .271 with 10 home runs, 59 runs batted in, and only a .685 on-base plus slugging percentage, Markakis rebounded some last season to bat .276 with 14 home runs, 50 RBIs, and a .729 OPS. His slugging percentage fell below the .400 mark in each of the last two years with his once-impressive gap power that once produced more than 40 doubles per season in clear decline.

The seventh overall pick of the 2003 draft, Markakis appeared in his first postseason with the Orioles this past October, hitting .258 with one home runs and three RBIs.

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Orioles tender contracts to Davis, Matusz, nine other arbitration-eligible players

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Orioles tender contracts to Davis, Matusz, nine other arbitration-eligible players

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Luke Jones

There were no surprises prior to Tuesday night’s deadline for arbitration-eligible players as the Orioles tendered contracts to all 11 eligible in that department.

The group includes position players Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Ryan Flaherty, Steve Pearce, and Alejandro De Aza and pitchers Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, and Brian Matusz. There had been some debate about the futures of Davis, De Aza, Hunter, and Matusz, but the Orioles tendered each a contract with the former three set to become free agents after the 2015 season.

As is always the case with arbitration situations, the sides will exchange salary figures in hopes of meeting somewhere in the middle and avoiding a hearing. For now, each player simply remains under club control as the Orioles can include them in any potential trade.

Though it was previously undetermined whether the Orioles would retain De Aza, his presence becomes even more important after the free-agent departure of Nelson Cruz and the undetermined status of free-agent outfielder Nick Markakis. De Aza batted .293 with the Orioles after being acquired from the Chicago White Sox in late August and is projected to make $5.9 million in 2015, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.

Davis is coming off an abysmal season in which he hit only .196 and was suspended 25 games for amphetamine use, but the memory of his 53-homer campaign in 2013 was too much to ignore as he enters his final season before free agency. After making $10.3 million in 2014, Davis is projected to receive a raise to $11.8 million next season.

Perhaps the most questionable decision was tendering Matusz a contract as the lefty specialist is projected to make $2.7 million in 2015. The 27-year-old remained effective against left-handed hitting in 2014, but he once again struggled against right-handed hitters, who posted an .876 on-base plus slugging percentage against him.

Of the Orioles’ other arbitration-eligible players, Pearce figures to receive a significant bump after a career year while arbitration first-timers Tillman, Gonzalez, and Britton are in line for significant raises after impressive accomplishments in 2014.

Davis, Wieters, De Aza, Norris, Pearce, and Hunter are all scheduled to become free agents next offseason.

Below is a list of of Baltimore’s 11 arbitration players with their MLBTradeRumors.com projected salaries for 2015 in parentheses:

LHP Zach Britton ($3.2 million after making $521,500 in 2014)
INF Chris Davis: ($11.8 million after making $10.3 million in 2014)
OF Alejandro De Aza ($5.9 million after making $4.25 million in 2014)
INF Ryan Flaherty ($1 million after making $513,000 in 2014)
RHP Miguel Gonzalez ($3.7 million after making $529,000 in 2014)
RHP Tommy Hunter ($4.4 million after making $3 million in 2014)
LHP Brian Matusz ($2.7 million after making $2.4 million in 2014)
RHP Bud Norris ($8.7 million after making $5.3 million in 2014)
1B/OF Steve Pearce ($2.2 million after making $700,000 in 2014)
RHP Chris Tillman ($5.4 million after making $546,000 in 2014)
C Matt Wieters ($7.9 million after making $7.7 million in 2014)

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Nelson Cruz agrees to four-year deal with Seattle

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Nelson Cruz agrees to four-year deal with Seattle

Posted on 01 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz will not be returning to Baltimore after agreeing to a four-year deal with the Seattle Mariners on Monday.

As first reported by the Dominican newspaper El Caribe, the 34-year-old will receive a total of $57 million after spending a season with the Orioles that was described as a “platform” year by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. Baltimore had hoped to retain Cruz’s services after he led the majors in home runs, but the organization was unwilling to offer more than a three-year deal as Cruz was initially seeking a five-year commitment.

The good news is that the Orioles will receive a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round after making Cruz a $15.3 million qualifying offer last month, but they will need to replace production that resulted in the veteran receiving the Most Valuable Oriole award last season. The organization signed Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract last spring after interest in the outfielder was lukewarm because of his connection to the Biogenesis scandal and subsequent 50-game suspension.

The Orioles may prove wise not making a lucrative commitment to a player who will turn 35 next July and is coming off a career year, but finding a productive bat to replace his work at the designated hitter spot and in left field won’t be easy. They’ve reportedly shown interest in outfielder Torii Hunter, but it’s believed the 39-year-old would have to accept a one-year deal.

Another option that’s reportedly been discussed is Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who has battled injuries in recent years and is still owed more than $107 million over the remaining five years of an eight-year, $160 million contract inked before the 2012 season. Of course, the Orioles would demand that the Dodgers take right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and his bloated contract off their hands in any potential trade, but it’s difficult envisioning the organization assuming such a deal without further financial assistance accompanying the 30-year-old outfielder.

Kemp hit .287 with 25 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and an .852 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014, the first season in which he played more than 106 games since 2011.

Perhaps the easiest way for the Orioles to make up for Cruz’s production in 2015 would be a bounce-back season from first baseman Chris Davis as well as the respective returns of Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, but counting on Davis isn’t easy after he hit just .196 and saw his home run total drop from 53 in 2013 to just 26 in a nightmare 2014 that ended with him being suspended 25 games for amphetamine use.

In 678 plate appearances for the Orioles in 2014, Cruz hit .271 with 40 home runs, 108 RBIs, and an .859 OPS.

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Orioles add left-hander Barnes, infielder Navarro to 40-man roster

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Orioles add left-hander Barnes, infielder Navarro to 40-man roster

Posted on 26 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles officially added two more players to their 40-man roster Wednesday with the acquisition of left-handed relief pitcher Scott Barnes and the signing of infielder Rey Navarro.

The 27-year-old Barnes was acquired from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for cash considerations. He appeared in 25 games for Triple-A Columbus in 2014, going 3-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 31 2/3 innings. In two major league seasons for the Indians, Barnes pitched to a 5.20 ERA in 27 2/3 innings spanning 22 appearances.

Barnes was effective against both righties (.194) and left-handed hitters (.192) for Columbus last season and struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings pitched.

Navarro, 24, was previously a member of the Cincinnati Reds organization, splitting his 2014 season between Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Louisville. In 65 games for Louisville, Navarro hit .296 with a .351 on-base percentage, three home runs, and 24 runs batted in.

The infielder has the ability to play second base, shortstop, and third base.

With Wednesday’s transactions, the Orioles now have 39 players on their 40-man roster.

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Orioles searching for new hitting coach to replace Presley

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Orioles searching for new hitting coach to replace Presley

Posted on 25 November 2014 by WNST Staff

After previously anticipating his entire coaching staff would return for the 2015 season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter must now find a new hitting coach.

Reportedly citing personal reasons, Jim Presley will be reassigned after four seasons as the hitting coach in Baltimore. The Sun first reported the news on Monday as the Orioles have already begun the search for his replacement.

The 53-year-old Presley had one year remaining on his contract as the Orioles led the major leagues in home runs for the second straight year. In 2014, they finished eighth in the majors in runs scored, ninth in batting average, and 17th in on-base percentage.

MASN reported the Orioles interviewed minor league hitting coordinator and former major leaguer Jeff Manto for the position on Monday.

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Orioles add right-handed pitchers Wright, Wilson to 40-man roster

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Orioles add right-handed pitchers Wright, Wilson to 40-man roster

Posted on 20 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles selected the contracts of young right-handed pitchers Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright, adding each to the 40-man roster on Thursday.

Wanting to protect them from next month’s Rule 5 draft, Wilson and Wright find themselves inching closer to receiving opportunities at the major league level. The 25-year-old Wilson was named the organization’s 2014 pitcher of the year after going a combined 14-8 with a 3.67 ERA in 166 2/3 innings between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

Wilson led all Orioles minor leaguers in wins (14) and strikeouts (157) while ranking seventh in ERA. He was selected by Baltimore in the 10th round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Virginia.

The 24-year-old Wright went 5-11 with a 4.61 ERA in 26 starts for Norfolk in 2014, but he finished strong by allowing only one earned run in his final four starts covering 29 2/3 innings. A third-round pick from East Carolina, Wright has often been mentioned by manager Buck Showalter over the last couple years as a minor-league pitcher to watch.

While Wilson and Wright were expected to be added to the 40-man roster, the Orioles’ decision not to select the contract of right-handed pitcher Parker Bridwell was surprising considering how much talent the 23-year-old possesses. Bridwell’s 4.45 ERA in 26 starts at Single-A Frederick this year wasn’t overwhelming, but his mid-90s fastball and overall makeup make him a good candidate to potentially settle into a late-inning relief role at the major league level.

Bridwell, a ninth-round pick in 2010, has averaged 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in each of the last two seasons.

With the additions of Wilson and Wright, the Orioles now have 37 players on their 40-man roster.

On Wednesday, the Orioles announced the minor-league signings of infielder Michael Almanzar, left-handed pitcher Frank Gailey, infielder-outfielder Derrik Gibson,right-handed pitcher Tim Gustafson, lefty Chris Jones, right-hander Kenn Kasparek, shortstop Ozzie Martinez, right-hander Mikey O’Brien, and southpaw Ronan Pacheco. Almanzar was a Rule 5 selection last year who was returned to the Boston Red Sox before he was eventually dealt back to the Orioles as part of the Kelly Johnson trade.

 

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Orioles claim former Red Sox outfielder Hassan off waivers

Posted on 20 November 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles announced Thursday that they have claimed outfielder Alex Hassan off of waivers from Oakland.

Hassan, 26, batted .287/.378/.426 with 40 extra-base hits and 55 RBI in 114 games for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2014. He made his major league debut for Boston on June 1 and went 1-for-8 in in three games for the Red Sox.

In six minor league seasons, Hassan has batted .291/.396/.436 in 538 games, including a .315/.434/.520 line in 648 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. Originally selected in the 20th round of the 2009 First Year Player Draft by Boston out of Duke University, Hassan was claimed off waivers by Oakland on November 17.

The Orioles now have 35 players on their 40-man major league roster.

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Mike Harmon talks all things sports with Nestor

Posted on 19 November 2014 by WNST Staff

Nestor was joined by Mike Harmon from Fox Sports to talk all things baseball and other sports. Clayton Kershaw dominates in the regular season but struggles in the playoffs. How much money will the Dodgers spend to make them a real threat? CATCH IT ALL HERE.

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Orioles re-sign relief pitcher Drake to major league deal

Posted on 18 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles elected to keep right-handed pitcher Oliver Drake in the organization by signing the 27-year-old to a major league contract on Tuesday.

Before becoming a minor-league free agent this offseason, the 27-year-old had a strong 2014 campaign at Double-A Bowie. In 52 2/3 innings, Drake posted a 3.08 ERA with 31 saves and averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings to prove he was fully recovered from shoulder surgery two years earlier.

Drake was previously on the 40-man roster before being outrighted due to the 2012 shoulder surgery. He’s posted strong numbers since returning to pitch for Bowie in 2013, putting himself back on the organization’s map as a possible option in the bullpen.

A 43rd-round pick out of the Naval Academy in the 2008 draft, Drake began his professional career as a starting pitcher before he injured his shoulder. In 160 career minor-league games spanning seven seasons, Drake has gone 32-28 with a 3.53 ERA.

The Orioles now have 34 players on their 40-man roster.

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