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:
Source: OF Nick Markakis agrees to four-year deal with Atlanta Braves. Dollars unclear, but sides discussed a deal in neighborhood of $44M.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.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 3, 2014
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.
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:
it's *someone's* money, and the less money that someone has available, the less they can afford to make your sports team better than it isAnd, 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.
— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) December 2, 2014
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