|Photo via Keith Allison|
The struggles of Nick Markakis have been well documented -- particularly on this site. To rehash: He was essentially a replacement level player (-0.1 fWAR) in 2013. It was the first time Markakis finished with an fWAR below 1.5, which he posted in 104 games during an injury-riddled 2012 season. He established career lows across the board offensively: he had a slash line of .271/.329/.356; had little power (.085 ISO); and tied for the lowest walk rate of his career (7.9 BB%). He also ended up with the lowest HR/FB rate of his career (5.7%) and had an infield fly ball percentage of nearly 15% (previous career high of 9.7%).
|162 Game Avg.||162||704||39||2||17||66||92||.292||.360||.441||.801|
Markakis was not very good defensively either. His arm is still OK, but it is not the weapon it once was. (Even Jose Molina, arguably the slowest runner in baseball, went from second to third on him in September (watch here around the 22-second mark)). Markakis handles everything to him or near him -- he didn't make a single error in 2013 -- but his range has been declining for years. FanGraphs had him at 11.5 range runs below average, and both FanGraphs' (-6.5 UZR) and Baseball Reference's (-7 per Baseball Info Solutions' defensive runs saved above average metric) advanced defensive numbers rated him poorly.
In the baserunning department, Markakis was about average (0.4 baserunning runs above average). He also stole one base and was caught twice.
That Markakis had this type of season is disappointing enough. And yet, he did all of this in his age 29 season (he turns 30 in November) in the fifth year of a six-year, $66.1 million contract. He made $15 million in 2013, and he will be the team's highest paid player yet again in 2014. He's due $15 million for 2014 and has a $17.5 million club option for 2015 (with a $2 million buyout). So the O's owe Markakis at least $17 million more in his Orioles career. It's unlikely the O's would exercise that 2015 option, even if Markakis rebounds with a monster season.
Markakis is going to be the team's everyday right fielder in 2014. Part of that is because of the money he's still due, and another part is that the Orioles don't have any outfield prospects of note who are close to the majors. The Orioles still consider themselves contenders -- as they should with this current nucleus -- but Markakis is no longer a 160-game-playing star right fielder. His numbers have been in decline for a couple seasons now, and if he didn't have a sort of bounce-back 2012 in a little over a half a season, this would probably be a bigger concern.
Markakis peaked offensively in 2008. He hasn't come close to putting up those numbers again, though. Here are his single season wOBA numbers since 2006:
Here are his isolated power numbers from 2006 to 2013:
His power outage is troubling. He went from June 24 to August 25 without hitting a home run. And from July 19 to August 25, he didn't have a single extra-base hit. Players go through slumps, and maybe Markakis isn't quite as bad as he was this past season. But he's not anywhere close to the 2008 version of himself, and that 2012 uptick seems somewhat fluky as well (11.1% HR/FB rate, his highest since 2008). Either that, or his wrist and thumb injuries from 2012 are still major issues.
Free Agent Options
In my post on the team's left field situation, I mentioned some big-name free agents like Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz. There's very little chance of the O's signing one of those guys, and the same goes for one of those high-priced outfielders to play right field. If the O's sign anyone to play right field (note: extremely improbable), it would probably be a right-handed corner outfielder who hits righties well (someone like Rajai Davis). Even then, that player wouldn't supplant Markakis.
My guess is that Dan Duquette targets a couple of fringe outfielders and signs them for cheap or to minor league deals (maybe Casper Wells or someone of his ilk).
What to Do in 2014
Markakis isn't going anywhere, and he'll be in right field for just about every game in 2014 (barring injury). That could/should change beyond 2014, but for now, that's the way it is. I believe the O's should at least bring in one right-handed outfield option to bat against lefties and give Markakis more days off.
Signing someone like Davis makes sense (especially if Nate McLouth is brought back as well). McLouth and Davis could both see time in left, and then Davis could play some right field as well. It's not a perfect solution, but if the O's aren't going to spend the type of money to improve the outfield, that's what they'll have to try. And considering they already spent a bunch of cash on Markakis, the guy they thought they wouldn't have to worry about, they may be even more reluctant to shell out more money right now.
So, in 2014, fans should basically hope that Markakis turns things around. The front office's plan very well may be the exact same thing.