In his weekly ESPN.com chat last Thursday, Keith Law replied to a question on free agent Nick Markakis. He answers questions honestly and bluntly, as is his style, but I was still a bit surprised by his response:
PA (DC)At least for the next couple years, I'm not sure it's fair to say that Markakis (who turns 31 years old today) is not a regular player. The hope is that his career worst 2013 season was an aberration. And indeed, he did bounce back. Except for that awful 2013, Markakis has been worth at least 1.6 fWAR in every season.
4/$40M too much for Markakis? Could the O's do better by flipping Gonzalez or Norris + a prospect?
Klaw (1:23 PM)
Way too much. Not even clear he's a regular at this point. And I was generally a believer in his talent when he was younger.
The topic of Markakis is popular among O's fans. In May, Nate wrote about Markakis's drop in power when facing left-handed pitching. In June, Jon wrote about Markakis's future value and what he could be seeking if/when he became a free agent. And a couple weeks ago, Nate and Matt Perez, respectively, offered their thoughts on why the O's should and shouldn't bring Markakis back.
What to do with Markakis is a divisive issue. Most, if not all, fans appreciate what Markakis has done throughout his career in Baltimore and recognize that he gave what he had when the team was terrible -- which it has been for most of his career. But a sizable group of fans also realize that loyalty is fine, but what they want to keep seeing most of all is a winning team. And that's the dividing point -- does it make sense to roll the dice and possibly give Markakis more than he's worth? Keeping a popular player around is fine, but it's not quite as pleasant if his production steadily slips.
There have been conflicting reports on Markakis's re-signing so far. Him returning to Baltimore seems like a foregone conclusion, but a deal has not been completed yet. Different contract figures have also been reported, though there is agreement that the length will probably be four years. But the above question mentions a four-year, $40 million deal. One report discusses a four-year, $44 million contract. And MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Markakis would get $48 million. Jon noted in his Markakis piece that a three-year, $30 million deal would be more than fair, but a shallow market appears to be driving up his value. That's not uncommon for a popular free agent target.
Keith Law may very well be wrong about Markakis's current abilities. He's not working with a crystal ball; he just offers his opinion. (And no, this isn't because of some anti-team bias.) And he's not wrong about Markakis's apparent younger talent. Many fans were dreaming of future phenomenal seasons after Markakis's fantastic 2008 (138 wRC+, along with excellent defense). While he's been good since then -- sometimes better, sometimes worse -- he has not been great. The great element of Markakis's game has been gone for a while, with most of that tied to his inability to consistently hit for power. He hasn't hit more than 15 home runs in a season since 2009.
If the Orioles do sign Markakis for four years and between $40 and $48 million, they would likely be projecting him to be worth somewhere between 1.5 and 2 wins for the next few years. Steamer projects him to be worth 1.3 wins in 2015. That's probably close enough, though that doesn't really inspire confidence going forward, especially considering the large amount of games he's played and the lack of rest over the years. Markakis is a good player -- and still an everyday player. But that may not be the case two or three years from now.
Photo via Keith Allison