Tag Archive | "Nick Markakis"

Buck Showalter, Adam Jones

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Showalter makes Orioles best bet in question-filled AL East

Posted on 06 April 2015 by Luke Jones

I’ll admit I don’t love this Orioles roster going into the 2015 season.

While fighting the thought that they may have missed their last best chance to go to the World Series last October, the Orioles lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller this offseason while making no sure-fire additions to replace their production. Yes, the payroll rose to just under $120 million to account for a laundry list of players receiving raises in arbitration, but that still doesn’t erase the feeling of it being an underwhelming winter.

Those factors alone make it easy to pick against the Orioles this year before you take a step back to examine the remaining roster.

Will the Orioles miss Cruz and Markakis? Absolutely, but will they miss them more than they might have yearned to have the injured Matt Wieters and Manny Machado last season while still managing to win 96 games? Will they ache for Cruz quite as badly if Chris Davis rebounds from a horrific campaign to look more like the slugger he was in 2012 or, better yet, 2013?

And while Miller found a lucrative contract in Yankee pinstripes, the rest of a pitching staff that finished third in the American League in ERA last season remains intact. So does a defense that’s been the best in baseball over the last three years and might be the biggest reason for the Orioles’ success.

If you’re not yet convinced, a look around the rest of the AL East might do it.

Boston? That’s one hell of a scary lineup, but four of their five starting pitchers posted an ERA above 4.00 last year and the bullpen headlined by ailing closer Koji Uehara is shaky at best.

Toronto will again hit the baseball with the additions of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, but the bullpen is a major weakness and the loss of Marcus Stroman puts too much stress on veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle and three starters below the age of 25.

The Yankees? That roster would have scared you five years ago, but age and injuries will be their undoing as it was a year ago.

Tampa Bay will have a strong starting rotation if early-season injuries are overcome, but the Rays will struggle to score runs all year and the magic maneuvering of former manager Joe Maddon is now gone.

No, the Orioles won’t run away with the division, but there’s vulnerability anywhere you look. And that’s where the potential tiebreaker comes into play that will push Baltimore over the top.

Taking nothing away from Boston’s John Farrell and New York’s Joe Girardi for having won World Series rings with their respective clubs, but I’ll count on Buck Showalter to get the absolute most from his roster while hiding deficiencies better than any manager in the AL East.

For the last three years, the Orioles have thrived on overcoming adversity while relishing opportunities to prove their doubters wrong. Showalter and his players were already talking about many naysayers picking them to finish in last place weeks ago, even if those slights are more fabrication than reality.

The knee-jerk reaction in assessing the Orioles after an underwhelming offseason is to drop them substantially in the standings, but then you remember they clinched the division in mid-September and won the AL East by a whopping 12 games. That’s a lot of ground that the others in the division needed to make up.

The Red Sox appear to have emerged as the media favorite to win the AL East, but that didn’t stop 30 of ESPN’s experts from picking Baltimore to take the division compared to 36 forecasting Boston. A number of other national outlets are giving the Orioles plenty of respect as well, and even their bigger critics are generally picking them no worse than second or third.

After watching the Orioles average 91 wins per year while outperforming projections over the last three seasons, we should know better at this point. The questions that exist elsewhere in the AL East should only confirm the truth.

You don’t bet against Buck.

And even if I may not like the Orioles as much as last year, they will still be the best that the AL East has to offer in 2015.

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Five things that can’t happen for 2015 Orioles

Posted on 03 April 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s funny how we annually try to pinpoint absolutes in assessing what must go right or what can’t go wrong for the Orioles to have a successful season.

There are very few absolutes on which you can count over the course of a 162-game schedule. Look no further than last year to realize just how true that can be.

You might have predicted last spring that nearly everything needed to go right for the Orioles to win their first American League East title in 17 years. Instead, they endured the absence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters for most of the year, another season-ending knee injury to Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, and an abysmal campaign from 2013 home run king Chris Davis that ended with a 25-man suspension for Adderall use.

If given a preview of only those subplots last spring, you would have been more inclined to predict a 96-loss campaign as opposed to 96 victories and winning the division by a dozen games.

You just never know and that’s what makes it fun, as manager Buck Showalter would say.

With that reality in mind, below is a stab at five things that can’t happen for the Orioles in 2015 after we looked at what factors must go right on Thursday. In an effort to avoid being redundant in the wake of the first piece, I avoided the polar opposites of the factors already discussed.

1. The worm turns on the health of the pitching

In addition to recapturing the success from last season, Orioles pitching would desperately like to extend its run of good fortune in the health department as only four pitchers — Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez –visited the 15-day disabled list in 2014. Of those four, only Jimenez spent more than 18 days on the DL and there was plenty of external debate over the severity of his ankle injury as he was in the midst of a disappointing season.

Injuries are a part of the game and it’d be difficult for the Orioles to expect that same level of health, but you can only hope the baseball gods don’t decide to exact revenge in 2015. Baltimore was one of only 10 teams in the majors last year to have four pitchers make 25 or more starts while only two clubs — Kansas City and Washington — had five pitchers make 25 or more.

The odds are not in the Orioles’ favor to repeat last year’s injury-light run as any given club has a 65 percent likelihood of having two starters ailing at the same time at some point in a season, according to FanGraphs. That reality makes it clear why executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was so hesitant to part with any of the club’s top six starters this winter.

While many focused on the misfortune of the injuries suffered by Wieters and Machado last season, the rotation and the bullpen were as healthy as you could have hoped for on the way to 96 wins.

2. Corner outfield spots become a wasteland

It’s been impossible to escape the lamenting over the departure of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason as the Orioles weren’t willing to invest the combined $101 million that the pair received elsewhere in free agency. The veterans accounted for a total of 207 starts at the corner outfield spots that others will need to assume in 2015.

No two individuals will be expected to fill their roles exclusively as some combination of Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, Delmon Young, Travis Snider, David Lough, and possibly Nolan Reimold will receive early opportunities. Even if you thought Cruz and Markakis were overpaid, the Orioles still need to account for the 116 extra-base hits the two produced last year.

Of course, the club can reasonably expect better offensive returns from the likes of Davis, Machado, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy at their respective positions, but there’s a lot of unknown that Showalter will be facing in trying to pull the right strings with a cast of unproven or flawed characters flanking center fielder Adam Jones.

The Orioles don’t necessarily need the overwhelming success of platoons resembling the best days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke, but poor production from the corner outfield spots is a recipe for a lineup likely struggling to score runs.

3. Matt Wieters is a shell of his old self defensively

There was a reason why I didn’t include Wieters having a bounce-back year as one of the things that must happen for the Orioles. The truth is they proved they could win without him last season.

Make no mistake, the Orioles would benefit from a better offensive catcher than Caleb Joseph, but a more uncomfortable proposition might be a Wieters behind the plate who is a shell of what he used to be defensively. If Wieters is fully cleared, Showalter will immediately reinstall him as the starter, but that doesn’t guarantee his defense will warrant him being the overwhelming regular, potentially creating an awkward situation.

Last season, Joseph produced 1.5 defensive wins above replacement — a better mark than Wieters in either of his last two full seasons — and the Orioles allowed the eighth-lowest total of stolen bases in the majors. For a club that prides itself in controlling the opponent’s running game, Wieters’ defense is more important than his offense.

Yes, it’s important to have Wieters back, but him returning as a defensive liability while also remembering that his on-base plus slugging percentage steadily declined from 2011 through 2013 would be worrisome. With a small number of catchers having undergone Tommy John surgery at the major league level over the years, it’s impossible to truly know what to expect.

4. Injuries continue to zap J.J. Hardy of his power

A back injury that lingered for much of the 2014 season limited the three-time Gold Glove shortstop to just nine home runs and a .372 slugging percentage, which is what made the news of a shoulder injury last week disheartening for the 32-year-old.

Hardy isn’t expected to miss much time, but the Orioles are counting on him to be part of the equation to fill the power void left behind by Cruz. Before Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract last fall, the organization had to be expecting a return to power numbers similar to what he posted in his first three years in Baltimore.

Back and shoulder issues for a shortstop on the wrong side of 30 are worrisome, especially when you’re counting on Hardy to hit a few more out of the ballpark this season. His defense is his best asset, but the Orioles need more than that while paying him an average of just over $13 million per season over the next three years.

5. The underwhelming offseason and the reality of 11 pending free agents create a tight clubhouse

Several players made no secret about their disappointment in this past offseason in watching the departures of Markakis, Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller while seeing minimal additions for the 2015 season. Duquette has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but it’s human nature for veterans to be disappointed to see a longtime Oriole like Markakis depart.

On top of this, the club has 11 players currently slated to become free agents next offseason including position players such as Davis, Wieters, Pearce, De Aza, and Young and starting pitchers Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why many are viewing 2015 as the Orioles’ last chance to seriously contend for at least a couple years.

Showalter is as good as any manager in baseball in cultivating a loose clubhouse and strong player leadership remains despite Markakis’ departure, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if players might be too tight this season, especially if the club were to get off to a slow start.

And the memory of a disappointing four-game sweep in last year’s American League Championship Series could creep back into players’ psyche in the process.

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Jones defends Markakis’ strong words about Orioles departure

Posted on 26 February 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 12:00 p.m.)

SARASOTA, Fla. — The biggest headline stemming from Thursday’s workout in Sarasota involved a player who’s no longer with the Orioles.

More than two months after signing a four-year, $44 million with the Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis fired a shot at the way the Orioles and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette handled negotiations. The 31-year-old underwent neck surgery Dec. 17 for a herniated disc he’s dealt with for two years, and the Orioles were concerned with the latest magnetic resonance imaging exam, prompting them to lower their initial offer of four years to three.

“Don’t believe a word they say,” Markakis said to USA TODAY on Wednesday. “It was all because of my neck. They can say what they want to make them look good. It’s all B.S.”

Center fielder Adam Jones was asked about his former teammate’s comments and expressed satisfaction that the normally-quiet Markakis spoke his mind.

Told Duquette had confirmed that the neck was a concern from the Orioles’ perspective, Jones still took exception to the timing of the comments after Markakis had already departed. The center fielder credited Markakis for playing through the neck issues over the last couple years, citing that nearly every player in baseball deals with various ailments over the course of a season.

“Now you want to say it two months later,” said Jones of Duquette. “Let’s say it when everybody is wanting to know right then and now. But it always comes out later. That’s just how this game is.”

Truthfully, Duquette acknowledged in early December that the Orioles had “concern that made the terms an issue” as it was reported at the time that the neck was a clear holdup. Markakis may have legitimate gripes about the way negotiations were handled behind closed doors, but Duquette going public about the health issues could have easily hurt the right fielder’s value in free agency with any team vying for his services.

In that regard, the Orioles might have actually been doing Markakis a favor.

It’s also worth noting that the Braves sold off a number of players this offseason after signing Markakis, making it likely he’ll be playing for a club with little chance of winning in 2015. Maybe some underlying frustration exists after he took Atlanta’s offer? Markakis hopes to be ready for Opening Day, but that isn’t a certainty, according to reports from Braves camp.

Meanwhile, the Orioles will try to turn to page without Markakis or 2014 home run king Nelson Cruz, who signed with Seattle in the offseason. Jones admits he’ll have to get used to someone different manning right field after spending the last seven years with the same guy.

“It’s going to be different looking to my left not having Markakis there just like it’s going to be different for Orioles fans knowing that 21’s not in right,” Jones said. “He’s been there for nine years, but it’s baseball. Cal [Ripken] retired, and somebody had to fill in. The game is going to continue. 2015 Opening Day’s not going to be halted because we don’t have Markakis. It’s just an adjustment we’re going to have to make. I think we’re going to be fine.”

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New Orioles outfielder Snider not concerned with filling Markakis’ shoes

Posted on 24 February 2015 by Luke Jones

SARASOTA, Fla. — New Orioles outfielder Travis Snider may be the leading candidate to replace veteran Nick Markakis in right field, but he isn’t taking anything for granted this spring.

Playing parts of seven seasons without ever recording as many as 360 plate appearances in a single campaign, the 27-year-old can’t dwell on the opportunity presented to him in Baltimore after the free-agent departures of Markakis and slugger Nelson Cruz. Call it a force of habit for a former first-round pick who’s seen more disappointment than success in his major league career with numerous minor-league demotions and nagging injuries.

“I don’t worry about what happened last year and who you guys say I’m replacing,” Snider said in an interview with WNST.net. “I came here to play when they tell me to play and where they tell me to play. For me, the focus remains on the day to day of getting better and when they put my name in the lineup, I’ll be ready.”

Fair or not, the pressure is on Snider to perform as he represents the Orioles’ most significant addition of the offseason. The beginning of his career doesn’t remotely stack up to Markakis’ nine-year run in Baltimore, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette hopes Snider’s .776 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2014 — Markakis’ was .729 — is a sign of a once-heralded prospect finally figuring it out at the major league level.

Snider’s numbers spiked in the second half of 2014 as he hit .288 with nine home runs, 24 runs batted in, and an .880 OPS to help lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a wild-card berth. The numbers reflected the kind of prospect Snider once was in posting a .968 OPS in 835 plate appearances at the Triple-A level.

Even if his offense remains a question as a .246 lifetime hitter according to William Hill Sports, the Orioles already like what they’ve seen from Snider defensively as he will potentially replace a two-time Gold Glove winner in right field. The left-handed thrower was viewed as a good defender in Pittsburgh and was frequently used as a defensive replacement when not in the starting lineup.

“I don’t care who you are, you always have these preconceived ideas and visual and then you actually see it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I watched Travis Snider run two balls down in right field during [batting practice]. You take something out of everything.”

After five disappointing years with Toronto in which he could never live up to his potential as the 14th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Snider was traded to Pittsburgh midway through the 2012 season. His improvement at the plate hardly came overnight — the left-handed hitter batted just .215 in 2013 — but he credits the winning culture in Pittsburgh over the last two years for changing his mindset, which led to his own improvement in 2014.

After being acquired in exchange for minor-league pitchers Stephen Tarpley and Steven Vault, Snider believes playing for a club that has advanced to the postseason in two of the last three years and is coming off its first division title in 17 years is the perfect environment to pick up where he left off in his final year with the Pirates.

“I’ve been able to take some steps forward in my career and the way I approach each day by remaining focused on each day and not worrying about stat lines or box scores and those types of things,” Snider said. “As a young player, I got caught up worrying too much about myself. Being part of a winning culture, it made it easy to buy in and knowing that you’re playing for each other and the pressure is taken off of your personal accolades and put onto the team and what you have to do each night to get the win. It makes baseball a whole lot more fun when you play that way.”

With Snider and the impending signing of infielder Everth Cabrera the only notable position players added to the mix this winter, the Orioles will likely need a breakout performance from an unheralded name similar to what they received from Steve Pearce a year ago to give themselves the best chance to make it back to the postseason. A former Pirate himself, Pearce rose from anonymity at age 31 last year to hit 21 home runs and post a .930 OPS and is now being counted on to fill a regular role this season.

It’s the perfect example to which a player like Snider can aspire after years of failing to live up to expectations as one of the best prospects in the game.

“Steve Pearce was one of the best stories in baseball last year, and that was one of the first things that I told him,” Snider said. “Understanding that this game and this business doesn’t always go the way that we plan, the guys that are able to overcome that adversity and make the most of those opportunities [succeed]. It was a lot of fun for me to watch him do what he did last year.

“We all get humbled at some point in this game. Opportunities come and opportunities go, but understanding where that focus remains and to see guys go out there and do what he did last year, that’s pretty cool.”

The opportunity will be there for Snider this season, but it will be up to him to take advantage.

 

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Who should lead off for Orioles in 2015?

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With spring training only a couple weeks away, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has a number of issues to sort out as it relates to his everyday lineup.

Most attention has centered around replacing outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz — Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, David Lough, Delmon Young, and the newly-acquired Travis Snider are among the candidates — but identifying who will lead off in the Baltimore lineup is anyone’s guess at this point. However, it’s not a question over which the skipper is panicking in early February.

“Somebody’s going to lead off Opening Day, I bet you,” quipped Showalter, adding that he’s more concerned with having a strong bottom of the order than with who’s hitting first. “Our guys don’t talk about it a lot. I’ve told you many times, [you could] just take your best hitter and hit him first to get more at-bats.”

It’s that very mindset that led to Markakis first becoming a regular leadoff hitter during the 2012 season even though he stole only six bases over his final three seasons with the Orioles. No one would confuse the Orioles with a track team after they stole a league-worst 44 bases in 2014, so speed isn’t a prerequisite for replacing Markakis at the top of the order.

Among their current candidates, who should lead off for the Orioles in 2015?

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Of the possible options currently on the roster, De Aza carries the most experience hitting in the leadoff position with 296 career starts there, but Showalter said Saturday it would be wrong to simply assume it’s his job to lose this spring. His career .334 on-base percentage in the top spot of the order is just a touch higher than his career .330 OBP overall, but De Aza told reporters he feels comfortable leading off if that’s what the Orioles want him to do.

His production in 2014 spiked when he was traded to the Orioles at the end of August, but De Aza is eager to rebound from a campaign he called the worst of his career as he hit only .252 with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in, and a .700 on-base plus slugging percentage combined with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore. He would also represent one of the Orioles’ speedier options as he stole 17 bases last season.

“I can’t just go there and tell them that I want to be leadoff or they’re just going to give me the leadoff spot,” said De Aza, who added that Showalter hasn’t talked to him about the job to this point. “I’m just going to work hard, and they’re going to make the best [decision] for the team.”

Showalter acknowledged he’s had some “radical” thoughts about his lineup throughout the offseason, mentioning Lough, Pearce, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and even Chris Davis as potential candidates to be the leadoff hitter, but nothing is set in stone. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates last week, Snider carried a .356 on-base percentage in the second half of 2014, and the Orioles hope that’s a sign of better things to come for the former first-round pick who’s struggled to realize his potential at the major-league level.

But if the Orioles are looking for a unconventional option who might also be the best one, Pearce led the club with a .373 OBP and worked the count as well as any hitter in the lineup a year ago. Even if the 31-year-old won’t match his lofty power figures of 21 homers and a .556 slugging percentage in 383 plate appearances in 2014, he has a career .335 OBP in parts of eight major league seasons as well as a .371 career OBP in the minor leagues.

Like Markakis, Pearce won’t offer much in terms of speed, but Showalter acknowledged the traditional leadoff hitter appears to be an endangered species in today’s game. In all likelihood, the Orioles will use a committee approach in Grapefruit League action until one or two hitters settle into the role depending on the opposing starter on a given night.

“They know things are going to change a little bit from time to time depending on who we’re facing,” Showalter said. “The conventional leadoff hitter like Brian [Roberts] was for a long time and like Rickey Henderson was for a long time, how many of them are there [today]?. How many guys can stay in the lineup against left-handed and right-handed pitching and be there every night?”

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Hardy thankful for health, long-term stability going into 2015

Posted on 02 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With the departures of Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, and Andrew Miller, it’s easy to forget the one who didn’t get away from the Orioles this winter.

On the eve of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, shortstop J.J. Hardy signed a three-year, $40 million contract extension to remain in Baltimore where he’s won three Gold Gloves and been one of the best offensive players at his position in the majors. The 32-year-old acknowledged Saturday that he was relieved not having to go through what his former teammates experienced this offseason before signing elsewhere.

“It’s nice to know that I’m going to be here for a few more years,” said Hardy, whose three-year, $21 million signed in 2011 expired at the end of the 2014 campaign. “It’s just nice having it over with. It really wasn’t a great or fun process to do it, but once it was done, I’m happy it’s over with.”

The biggest question for Hardy will now be how well he bounces back from a down year offensively in which he hit only nine home runs — his lowest total since 2010 — and posted a .372 slugging percentage. Much of Hardy’s lack of power has been attributed to a lingering back injury that initially surfaced during the first week of the regular season.

The 2013 All-Star selection missed a week of action in early April and managed the injury for much of the season before it again flared up in September. Magnetic resonance imaging exams revealed no structural damage at either point, but Hardy received a cortisone shot to help with the pain as the Orioles narrowed in on the American League East title in mid-September.

Back issues are always concerning — especially for a middle infielder on the wrong side of 30 — but Hardy took advantage of the offseason to rest and put in the necessary work in hopes of avoiding problems this coming season. After posting a .436 OPS with no homers in the month of September, the veteran batted .240 with one home run and three runs batted in in 25 postseason at-bats.

“It happened so early last year that it was just a constant battle to get my core strong enough to where I didn’t feel it,” Hardy said. “I felt like maybe two months out of the year I actually felt normal. The rest of the time was a grind. I’ve been able to strengthen my core pretty good this offseason with my workouts. Hopefully, that holds up.”

The Orioles will certainly hope for more from Hardy offensively than a year ago, but his biggest value lies with his defense as he’s collected three consecutive Gold Glove awards, becoming the second shortstop in club history to win three in a row. The late Mark Belanger won six straight from 1973 through 1978.

 

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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

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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Outfield situation remains uncertain for Orioles

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Though months remain until the Orioles report for spring training in Sarasota, this week has brought unrest and concern when it comes to the club’s outfield situation for 2015.

The free-agent departure of slugger Nelson Cruz might have been expected, but his 40 home runs and 108 runs batted in must be replaced as the Orioles try to repeat as American League East champions. The potential exit of Nick Markakis hits closer to home, however, for fans who’ve watched the right fielder play for the better part of a decade.

The sides appeared close to a long-term extension less than a month ago, but talks have cooled since with the Orioles reportedly thinking twice about committing to the 31-year-old for four years. Meanwhile, Atlanta, Toronto, and San Francisco have shown interest in his services with the Braves being of particular interest because of his roots in the state of Georgia where he also owns a home in addition to his residence in Monkton.

Multiple reports have stated that Markakis met with members of the Braves organization in Baltimore on Monday.

His critics will point to his declining numbers over the last few years and a failure for Markakis to live up to the terms of his just-expired contract, but the Orioles would be challenged in finding a replacement at the top of the order and in right field. Losing both Cruz and Markakis would understandably create unrest for Orioles fans with Christmas just a few weeks away and limited alternatives on the open market.

Veteran outfielder Torii Hunter had been linked to the Orioles as a short-term option, but the 39-year-old agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million with the Minnesota Twins Tuesday night. It was an opportunity for Hunter to return to the place where he started his career, and there were no indications that any discussions with Baltimore had progressed beyond a preliminary stage.

According to USA Today, the Orioles have shown “strong interest” in outfielder Michael Morse, who spent the conclusion of the 2013 season in Baltimore. Morse played with the San Francisco Giants this past year, hitting .279 with 16 homers and 61 RBIs in 131 games. The 32-year-old also hit a home run in the National League Championship Series and drove in four runs in the World Series.

Baltimore traded outfielder Xavier Avery to Seattle two years ago to pick up Morse, but he went only 3-for-29 while dealing with a wrist injury.

 

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Other offseason moves not doing Orioles any favors

Posted on 18 November 2014 by Luke Jones

While it’s been a quiet start to the offseason for the Orioles, this week has brought moves elsewhere that wouldn’t figure to do them any favors.

The Toronto Blue Jays’ decision to sign 31-year-old catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract will undoubtedly influence the asking price of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters when he hits free agency next offseason. Martin is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in which he hit .290 with 11 home runs and 67 runs batted in to go with a career-best .402 on-base percentage, but it’s a steep investment to make for a catcher who will be 32 at the start of spring training and hit below .240 in each of his previous three seasons.

Martin’s career on-base plus slugging percentage is .754 compared to Wieters’ .743.

This signing on the heels of the New York Yankees inking veteran catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract last winter must have agent Scott Boras licking his chops while waiting for Wieters to complete his rehab from last season’s Tommy John surgery.

Assuming he makes a full recovery and displays a throwing arm comparable to what he had prior to 2014, Wieters figures to get a deal that will trump what Martin or McCann received in free agency. The 2007 first-round pick doesn’t turn 29 until May and will have a full season to prove to all suitors he’s 100 percent after the procedure that cost him all but 26 games last season.

Of course, the Orioles have known all along that it would be difficult to sign their All-Star catcher to an extension as players typically don’t employ Boras with thoughts of a hometown discount when it comes to free agency. He isn’t getting nine years or the $164 million San Francisco gave Buster Posey a couple years ago, but it appears quite feasible that Wieters will approach or even reach nine figures with a strong and healthy 2015 campaign.

The Blue Jays giving $82 million to a catcher on the wrong side of age 30 only reaffirms that Wieters is going to get paid lucratively.

Another smaller signing Tuesday confirms the growing emphasis on relief pitching with the Chicago White Sox agreeing to a three-year, $15 million contract with left-hander Zach Duke. Free-agent lefty Andrew Miller and his representation must be salivating to see the 31-year-old Duke cash in on a good 2014 season amidst mediocre career numbers.

In 74 appearances with Milwaukee, Duke pitched to a 2.45 ERA and averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings, but he sports a 4.46 career ERA — much of that coming as a starter earlier in his career — and has averaged just 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 10 seasons pitching only in the National League. Lefties batted .198 against Duke while right-handed hitters posted a .242 mark in 2014.

The veteran southpaw had a good season, but if a club was willing to hand out a three-year, $15 million contract to a lefty reliever after only one good season, how much is Miller — who’s posted three impressive seasons in a row — ultimately going to fetch as arguably the most sought after bullpen arm on the market?

Another move to keep in the back of your mind was the Atlanta Braves’ decision to trade outfielder Jason Heyward to St. Louis in exchange for starting pitcher Shelby Miller, the first blockbuster trade of the winter. As right fielder Nick Markakis remains unsigned and available, it’s interesting to note that the 31-year-old spent much of his life growing up in Georgia and the Braves now appear to have an opening in the outfield depending on what they do with some other position players.

To be clear, there haven’t been any tangible indications that Atlanta would pursue the 2014 Gold Glove winner as it’s still expected that the Orioles and Markakis will get a deal done.

The news of Miami inking young slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract doesn’t appear to have any direct impact on the Orioles, but it does compel some to again bring up the possibility of signing 22-year-old third baseman Manny Machado to a long-term contract.

Machado is certainly the kind of talent that you’d like to keep as long as possible, but the Orioles need to make sure he is fully healthy in 2015 after having both knees surgically repaired in less than a year’s time. Until he makes it through a full season — which his rehab schedule indicates he’ll have a good chance to do — the organization should be holding off on any talk of a lucrative deal.

The 2010 first-round pick isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2018 season.

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