27 October 2014

Why the Orioles Don't Need Nick Markakis

Nate noted on Thursday that the Orioles need to figure out who will be playing in their 2015 outfield because players like Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Delmon Young will soon be free agents. They need to decide whether Steve Pearce is a full-time left fielder or if he is just a one-time wonder. Can Alejandro De Aza bounce back from a poor 2014 and start hitting left handed pitching? Can the Orioles afford to let Cruz and  Markakis leave? It doesn’t seem likely that the Orioles will keep Cruz, so one of the major questions the Orioles face is what they should do with Markakis. 

I would be happy if the Orioles are able to sign Nick to an extension for three years and $30 million. But I believe that if the sides were close that they would have agreed on an extension already. The World Series will end on Tuesday or Wednesday and then the Orioles will have a few days to decide between exercising Nick’s option, offering Nick a qualifying offer (QO) or letting him leave without compensation.

Exercising Nick’s option and offering Nick a QO that he accepts will cost the Orioles roughly the same amount of money. But if he is offered and refuses a QO then the Orioles would likely receive a compensatory draft pick. Matt Murphy claims that the value of such a pick was worth about $5.3 million in 2014. The only ways it makes sense to exercise Nick’s option is if one believes that he’s worth $20 million in 2015 or if he'll refuse to exercise his option. I don't think any of those are plausible.

I agree with Nate that $15 million for Markakis is only a slight overpay. But I generally don’t believe in overpaying to keep players. The Orioles have probably been negotiating with Markakis's agents long enough to determine whether he’d accept a QO. If the Orioles aren’t sure whether Markakis would accept a QO then I’d make him the offer and risk him accepting it but otherwise I’d look for other options.

The outfielders currently on the Orioles for 2015 are David Lough, De Aza, Pearce and Adam Jones. Jones will be starting in center field barring injury and Pearce is a lock to be a full time player after his strong 2014 and is a candidate to play LF which leaves the only hole at RF.

Lough and De Aza are both good enough defensively to play RF. The only problem is that they both have a certain weakness hitting. Here’s a chart showing their 2014 and career offensive wRC+ against left-handed and right-handed pitching.

De Aza 2014
De Aza Career
Lough 2014
Lough Career
wRC+ vs Lefties
wRC+ vs Righties

While De Aza and Lough are adequate at hitting against righties neither are particularly good against lefties. All the Orioles need to add is another outfielder that can play right field and hit against righties to complete their outfield.

Emilio Bonifacio is one potential free agent target. Bonifacio put up a .365/.411/.548 line against left handed pitching in 2014 for a wRC+ of 170. For his career he has put up a .291/.340/.380 line against lefties for a wRC+ of 94. Scott Van Slyke of the Dodgers put up a .315/.415/.630 line against lefties in 2014 for a wRC+ of 193 and has a career line of .268/.362/.530 with a wRC+ of 151. Alex Rios is interesting. He struggled last year but did hit .325/.353/.545 against left handed pitching with a wRC+ of 142. For his career he has a .290/.334/.466 line against lefties for a wRC+ of 109. All of these players are potential free agent targets to create a platoon in right field.

If the Orioles were unable to get one of these free agents then they could target trade options such as Ben Revere or John Mayberry Jr. Both of these players are strong against lefties and can play acceptable defense in right field but are considered fringe players. Both could likely be obtained for a minimal return and would be good platoon options. Failing that, the Orioles may decide to look in house. Daniel Alvarez has shown good offensive ability against left handed minor league pitchers with a combined .352/.379/.509 line. He could probably use another year in Norfolk and likely has a limited season but could see major league success in such a limited role.

But perhaps the best fit would be Nori Aoki. Nori Aoki had a .363/.428/.435 line against lefties in 2014 for a wRC+ of 150. For his career he has a .319/.371/.406 line against lefties for a wRC+ of 117. He also does decently against righties with a .273/.346/.380 line. Aoki is unable to hit for much power but does a good job of getting on base. Aoki isn’t an excellent defensive outfielder but he is competent and has a powerful arm. Unlike everyone listed aside from Rios, Aoki should be projected to be an everyday player.

If the Orioles were able to sign Aoki then they would only need to keep one of Lough and De Aza. Given their similar skill sets and the fact that De Aza will cost at least $4 million more than Lough it seems likely that De Aza is either a non-tender or trade candidate. An outfield of Lough, Jones and Aoki against right-handed pitching with Pearce at DH would be strong defensively and above average offensively. Against left-handed pitching, the O's could field an outfield of Pearce, Jones and Aoki leaving the DH spot for a player that hits left handed pitching like Delmon Young. Young would be an excellent fit on this club as outfield depth, a right handed DH and a top pinch hitter.

Building an outfield with these players would only be a slight downgrade from having Markakis and would be considerably cheaper. The saved money could be used to add another quality reliever like Koji. After all, the O's bullpen was one of their greatest strengths in 2014. Failing that, it would give the Orioles some flexibility to go after a top starter in a trade.

I still think that it makes sense to sign Markakis to an extension for 2015 and beyond at a reasonable cost. I don’t think it would be terrible to offer Markakis a QO and have him accept it. But if Markakis does go elsewhere then the Orioles have plenty of options. The Orioles could use Markakis but they simply don't need him.

Photo via Keith Allison


Anonymous said...

Agreed except I would even take it further. I would be against 3/30 type extension too. No reason to spend 30 million for a ceiling of ~2 wins a year when David Lough can do that for 550k.

Matt Perez said...

I'm not sure that Lough can replace everything that Markakis brings to the table. Markakis is much more proven. And you can only have so many platoons.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty stunned that a CD writer is advocating signing Norichika Aoki. I'm also pretty stunned that Ned Yost hasn't been lambasted for his continued starting of Aoki over defensive stud Jarrod Dyson.

Aoki has had a pretty steady drop in production each year he's been in the league.

His defense was awful last year (according to DRS, -8). And that 150 wRC+ vs LHPs comes in only 140 PAs. He hasn't even accumulated 600 PAs vs LHPs in the MLB yet.

He also fails to take any meaningful advantage of the home ballpark dynamics. LHHs with pull power are super valuable but Aoki isn't that kind of player. Not with his .075 ISO. That's not what we're looking for. And it's not like Aoki is really a speedster. He's operating at a 70% SB % for his career. He shouldn't be running at all.

I'd much prefer to roll with Van Slyke in a full time position than subject myself to Aoki in a platoon.

Matt Perez said...

Aoki has been reasonably consistent offensively once you consider park factors. I tend to dismiss the difference between a 113, 103 and 104 wRC+ as little more than noise. And his strong OBP is exactly what this team needs with or without Nick.

140 PAs is a reasonable amount of times in a year to face a lefty. You're not going to find a player that faces them for 600 PAs. He's not a 150 wRC+ hitter against lefties but he'll probably be above average.

It's true that Aoki had a -8 DRS in RF last year. It's also true that Aoki had a DRS of 8 and 13 in 2012 and 2013. Combine that with a UZR of 2.9, 3.2 and 5.4 from 2012 to 2014 and I'll go with the majority of evidence. If you look at three years of defensive data (which is common practice), then it's pretty clear he's slightly above average defensively.

Aoki isn't a perfect player. I agree that he has no power. But if he was perfect then he'd cost $20M+ a year plus a pick and wouldn't be a plausible target. I think the pluses are greater than the minuses.

Anonymous said...

But Aoki is going to be 33 next year. Maybe this is the point at which his defense really starts to fall off. I cheated a little bit with that one year of negative DRS but none of those UZRs are that good and two of them added up to be negative based on fielding/positional adjustment (at least as far as Fangraphs is concerned). Fine, he's an average defender, but I think it's fair to expect worse from him in the future.

I don't see a 7.8% BB% and think strong OBP threat but I guess Aoki hits enough singles to make that a reality. He just does not strike me as a good solution, especially given his extreme lack of power.

If you look at his avg. HR/FB distance, it fell off a cliff last year. He went from 279 feet in 2012 to 276 to 249 feet in 2014. That's a major red flag as far as I'm concerned and it puts Aoki's (lack of) power numbers into perspective. That number was 295th out of 298 hitters that qualified.

Matt Perez said...

His UZR/150 is 21 out of 71 for all right fielders with at least 500 innings from 2012-2014 and his UZR is 9th. That's better than average. I wouldn't worry about him failing defensively for another few years.


I don't know why you wouldn't just look at his OBP and determine that he's an on-base threat. It's not like his profile has changed over the past three years.

33 isn't old for a free agent. And realistically, Aoki isn't going to get a five year deal. I would think that something along the lines of 2 years and 10 to 15 million total should be enough to get a deal done.

For that price you're going to have to take some risks. If the Orioles are willing to spend more than guys like Cabrera and Tomas are possibilities and Cespedes could be a trade target.

Anonymous said...

I think Nick wants to be here...meaning that he would take a hometwon discount - not that we should go cheap on him, but he brings consistency, a great work ethic, stellar defense and there has to be some loyalty both ways given. Lough can go...was a bust for what we spent, De Aza try to keep. Pearce will still be a platoon player, DH - Davis will go if the team can work out a deal with Cruz - Cruz has more consistent bat - but they will not overpay on him. I love Delmon Young, but defense is suspect - Lock down Miller - please - pitching & defense.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

How is Lough a bust? Why would the O's treat Pearce like a platoon player after his last season, at least to begin the season? Why couldn't the O's bring back both Davis and Cruz?

Anonymous said...

Lough was a bust for being a minimum salary player in exchange for Danny Valencia?

We are kind of overusing the term bust. We are also ignoring Lough's defense. Pitching and defense, dude.

Matt Perez said...

Lough did have a terrible half of the season. But he had a stronger second half.

If I can get Aoki or Markakis then I'm willing to take my chances with Lough. De Aza probably has the better bat but I'd rather save the $4.5 million. If Lough totally collapses then Pearce moves into LF full time and Young becomes the permanent DH.

Cruz is worrisome though. You can't put him or Pearce in RF. You may have to tender De Aza if we end up with Cruz. Can't risk Lough falling apart in that situation.

Anonymous said...

I admit Lough did have a better 2nd half, but I think the Orioles planned on alot more out of him this year than he gave. The bat was horible in the 1st half, which is probably why we agree he improved in the 2nd half - it was that bad. He didn't steal bases, defense - I will give you, he did have a few misplays this year - but overall, he has potential. If I had my choice - Markakis, at his price provides more confidence in me - dependable, consistent hitting & defense. As far as Pearce being a platoon -he will get his AB's this year - but will not be nailed down in any one position - and if his bat struggles, those AB's will lessen over time. I love the guy, hard nosed, blue collar - hope he has teh same, if not more success next year. We cant aford what Cruz will want - I hope he wants to stay, but if Angelos doesn't want to loosen purse strings (small market) BS, he will get his money somewhere - u know it , and I know it.