04 December 2014

O's Logically Decide to Let Nick Markakis Walk

Remember in 2011 when the Orioles couldn't find a general manager? Jerry Dipoto didn't want the job. Neither did Tony LaCava. Or Allard Baird. Or DeJon Watson. I'm sure there were others. Dan Duquette was an afterthought, and the whole thing was a circus. But thanks to Duquette and Buck Showalter, the Orioles have averaged about 91 wins the past three seasons and made the playoffs twice.

Duquette is clearly in charge now, and that the Orioles would be willing to let a fan and owner favorite walk speaks to his influence on the direction of the franchise. It's about results, and value, and who can help the Orioles win more games.

A few weeks ago, the Atlanta Braves traded away Jason Heyward. And last night, they inked his replacement:
Nick Markakis wanted a four-year deal, and he got it. The Orioles seem to have underestimated Markakis's popularity on the open market. I'm sure they wish they could go back and extend him the qualifying offer. Not only would that have limited some teams' interest in signing him, but it would have netted the O's another draft pick (after Nelson Cruz left) if he still decided to leave.

Early in the process, the Orioles seemed willing to offer Markakis four years. But at some point that changed, and the O's eventually were no longer the favorite to sign Markakis. Roch Kubatko discussed the situation on Tuesday:
The Orioles and Markakis' agent, Jamie Murphy, were working on a four-year deal, but talks stalled and there's been limited contact beyond the general managers' meetings last month in Phoenix. Duquette stated earlier today that the Orioles are "still in discussions with Nick." He wouldn't place odds on a deal getting done.
According to multiple sources, the Orioles are trying to iron out any misgivings they may have concerning the length of the contract. Though Markakis played in 155 games this season, they're doing a thorough check on him physically and may be more comfortable offering three years.
Ken Rosenthal also mentioned last night that health reasons may have been what scared the O's away from offering that fourth year. That's nothing new for the Orioles. Just ask Grant Balfour. Perhaps it's a frustrating way of conducting business, but it sure seems as if the Orioles are interested in being as thorough as possible before handing out millions of dollars.

So now the Orioles will be without the services of Cruz and Markakis going forward. Predictably, some fans are panicking. To many, it's one thing to lose Cruz, who was fantastic last season but had only been in Baltimore for one season, but it's another to watch Markakis leave. He was drafted by the O's in 2003, made his debut in 2006, and showed flashes of brilliance before settling in as a decent but not great player.

But that's really the key to looking at the loss of Markakis: The Orioles did not lose the 2007 or 2008 versions of Markakis. They lost the current player, who is entering his decline years.

Yesterday, Mike Petriello of FanGraphs attempted to answer a basic question: What are we missing about Nick Markakis? He wanted to see if there was something we had been overlooking about Markakis, and why a few teams were in a bidding war for him. After some terrific analysis, Petriello concluded:
Let’s say you disagree with Markakis’ defensive ratings, that you prefer to think of him as a 2 WAR player, which isn’t unfair. That’s a league-average player. Markakis seems like a league-average player. . . . Markakis is a steady player, nothing more, with little upside remaining and age squarely against him, one who could look worse outside of Camden depending on where he winds up. Some team is going to pay heavily for that. Some team is going to regret doing so.
That's not exactly a glowing review. And, more or less, it reflects much of the analysis of Markakis over the years from various Camden Depot writers. When many fans look at Markakis, they see that 2008 player; they cherish that homegrown talent. They expect line drives all over the field, a rifle arm, and a right fielder who rarely makes an error. He does still possess those qualities, to some degree, but they don't add up to the level of player you would expect.

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Let's also tackle a couple of other overused and unoriginal thoughts when it comes to the O's front office and free agents. The first is the notion that the Orioles are cheap. Apparently the O's, and especially Peter Angelos, are being cheap by not bringing back Cruz and Markakis. This is also something that gets brought up any time a significant percentage of fans want the O's to spend money on a certain player and it doesn't happen. Remember, there were complaints about the O's being cheap when they shipped Jim Johnson to Oakland.

I want the owners of my favorite teams to spend money. I want them to work to create the best possible team. But the "it's not my money" argument has always been silly, as Jeff Sullivan recently discussed on Twitter:
And, of course, spending the most money does not equal guaranteed success. It's also foolish to suggest the Orioles aren't spending much money on players. A couple years ago, Adam Jones signed a six-year, $85.5 million contract -- the largest in Orioles' history. Does that not count? They spent $50 million to bring in Ubaldo Jimenez (oops!) last offseason. They recently re-signed J.J. Hardy. Markakis previously had a lucrative contract. Last year, the O's were 15th in the majors in team payroll. They were near teams in similar market sizes. And with arbitration raises and plenty of freed-up money left to spend in free agency or on players acquired via potential trades, the O's could certainly move a few spots ahead.

If the O's don't end up spending a chunk of that money they saved from not inking Cruz and Markakis, then they deserve to be ridiculed. But there's plenty of offseason time left for things to happen. The O's may end up getting creative, but that doesn't mean they won't be spending money.

The second point is that with players like Matt Wieters and Chris Davis entering their final year of arbitration, the O's aren't taking their position of being in win-now mode seriously. To that, I say, we have different ideas of what it takes to win now. If the Orioles really wanted to win now and money was no issue, they'd target the top free agents. We advocated for doing that last year, to go along with a very strong core of established players.

How much better would the Orioles have been with Robinson Cano at second base? Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield? Masahiro Tanaka in the starting rotation? We'll never know. Signing Jimenez was viewed as a win-now move, and he currently has the worst contract on the team. Would it have been worth weighing down the chances of future O's teams to bring back, on four-year deals, two players on the downside of their careers? Maybe some would have taken that chance, but I don't agree with it. The Orioles are not the Dodgers or Yankees; they don't have seemingly endless money to spend. They will spend money, but signing someone like Jimenez hurts them more than a team like the Yankees. It's not surprising that the O's have at least been trying to free themselves of Jimenez and the remaining three years on his deal.

It's not a bad strategy to refuse to overpay for a player, even if it doesn't look great in the short term. And considering the team's current core and the low-risk, high-reward moves that Duquette and Showalter have been able to cook up, I'm not sure I'd count the O's out of anything just yet.

It's going to be strange to watch Markakis play in a different jersey. He was a bright spot on several awful Orioles teams. We wish him well.

Photo via Keith Allison

14 comments:

Erik said...

This could be a prelude to re-signing Wieters and/or Davis. At some point you have to budget your future spending, and if Markakis wanted a contract that stepped into Manny Machado's arbitration days too far, then that could be a problem for the team. It would be interesting to see what a 4-year chart of expected player expense for core players is. I have not seen a chart like that for the Orioles anywhere.

Matt Perez said...

MLBTR put out a 4-year chart for all the teams in baseball but it only included known salaries. I have us at about 70 million for 2016 presuming that we don't resign any of our free agents and that we DFA Matusz.

Here's the thing. I have the Orioles at $106M after arbitration. Swartz's numbers have us at $110M. With Matusz coming back the only open spot on the 25 man is at DH.

If we keep Norris and Matusz then we probably only have $10M or so remaining. Enough to add a DH like Morse or an outfielder like Aoki. Probably not both.

Os fans are not going to be happy.

Statistics Don't Lie said...

The difference between this year's division champs and the prior years teams has been starting pitching. If the pitching can hold up or improve, our chances are not that bad.

Wieters, Davis, and Machado improved production over 2014 will help offset the losses of Cruz and Markakis. Truth is, Cruz was not going to repeat his career year - he is due for major regression, as Davis regressed after his own career year. Markakis production will not be hard to replace. Both of these guys shouldn't have been counted on in 2015 for huge years.

What I would like to see is some Jon Lester here. Followed by a trade of Jimenez and/or Chen for some offense.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I seriously doubt the Orioles sign Chris Davis to any kind of long-term deal. That's just a hunch. But depending on what kind of 2015 he has, he could be looking at a large payday. That type of deal just seems too risky.

I could see them re-signing Matt Wieters, though. I'm not sure he's worth the type of money Russell Martin is going to receive, but I wouldn't be surprised if he got close to it.

Benjamin Stoehr said...

Thanks for putting out a reasonable discussion I can point my less reasonable fellow Orioles fans to. I can't help how different the last few years would have been if Markakis had sustained his 2008 production. Alas, he turned into a fairly average player. I understand why a lot of Os fans are upset and why they have a fondness for Nick. He was, after all, the first position player they drafted and developed that actually played an impact on their winning teams of the last three years. However, signing a bunch of guys in their 30s to overpriced deals is one of the reasons they had 14 straight losing seasons, so I'm ok with holding off on that kind of move. I will hate to see Nick in another team's uniform, but not as much as I would have hated to see him perform poorly and contribute to an Os team that was headed back for the basement.

Anonymous said...

Markakis was good, not great. Watching him during the Royals series, he looked disinterested and without confidence. It will be good for him to go to Atlanta.

O's should definitely pick up a starting pitcher.bCueto or Tehran. Then jettison Jimenez and Chen for a Lefty.

Keep Delmon and bee could still be in the hunt.

Anonymous said...

Good article for sure....just gotta remember that when it is said that Markakis is on his way to decline at 31....that the O's got a washed up Frank Robinson from the Reds at 31....not comparing Robinson to Markakis just the age reference...

Anonymous said...

Jamie Moyer pitched well into his 40s. His example is not typical. Exceptions exist but we must remember them as exceptions as opposed to stars one might wish upon.

Anonymous said...

I believe Cruz and Markakais did us a favor in the long term by leaving. We have over paid Nick for several years and I do not believe Cruz will come close to what he did last year. I believe we will miss Nick in the short term but long term I think it may be for the best.

Anonymous said...

If we keep that schmuck/loser Matusz, I'm bolting. Not worth seeing the O's lose time after time in critical situations. The jury's out on Britton as a go-to reliever as well. They should have pushed hard to keep Miller as a closer, which apparently they're not and pushed Britton back to a setup role. Maybe he'll repeat the 90% success rate from last year...maybe he won't, but I'd love to see Miller as the closer. He's got more moxie than Britton. Now we'll never know.

Shoulda tried to keep Cruz too. Markakis is def on the downside of his career...

Anonymous said...

That looser Matusz had a sub 2 ERA in the second half. Not a great pitcher, but you could do a lot worse.

Will Groves said...

There was no excuse for not picking up his option and not make him a qualifying offer though. First off, they should have picked up their part of the mutual option to avoid the buyout. Then they should have offered a qualifing offer: If he accepts, Markakis on a 1 year 15 million deal is fine and a big upgrade over whatever RF they will get. If he declines, then they get a first round draft pick. The whole process seemed silly

Unknown said...

The Orioles underestimated the desire of other teams to actually spend money. Meanwhile; they cry poverty. Despite 3 winning seasons, there's still a lot of ground to be made up. A look at the average attendance (about 15,000 off the peak) tells you that.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

As mentioned in the article, I agree with the qualifying offer point.

I'm not sure what "crying poverty" has to do with not re-signing Markakis. Plenty of analysts are criticizing the Braves' decision-making on this signing. It's also not as if Markakis is some irreplaceable player at this point in his career.