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Nick Markakis Rumors
The Orioles have spoken to Nick Markakis‘ agent and will continue contract discussions this week, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. Markakis is expected to hit free agency when the O’s decline their half of a $17.5MM option on the outfielder’s services for 2015. “Both sides want to get a deal done, but….A hometown discount has its limits,” Kubatko writes. Indeed, Markakis will draw a lot of interest on the open market, with MLBTR’s Steve Adams predicting Markakis will find a three- or four-year deal worth between $39-$48MM (depending on whether the Orioles extend a qualifying offer).
Here’s some more from around the AL East…
- The Red Sox had some preliminary talks with Adam Katz, then Yoenis Cespedes‘ agent, about a four- or five-year extension, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reports. Since then, however, Cespedes changed his representation to Roc Nation Sports and is expected to look for a longer-term deal, making it more likely that the Sox explore trading him this winter. Beyond contract reasons, Boston could look to move the outfielder because, as a source tells Madden, Cespedes “marches to his own drum and the [Red Sox] coaches all hate him.”
- The Red Sox could use Cespedes as a trade chip for starting pitching, and Madden speculates that the Mets line up with the Sox as trade partners. Boston is also “exploring” what the Phillies would want for Cole Hamels, though Philadelphia isn’t interested in Cespedes.
- Ex-Rays manager Joe Maddon spoke with Fangraphs’ David Laurila in September (before the current drama surrounding Maddon’s opt-out) and discussed why pitching and defense are dominating the sport. Beyond the PED crackdown, Maddon pointed out that quite a bit of recent significant sabermetrics work has been focused on pitching and defense, rather than offense. Maddon also said driving a starter out of a game no longer presents the opportunity it once did, as “You see a lot of 95-plus out of the pen now, and some of those guys have quality secondary pitches. I think it’s become easier to build bullpens, and it’s rare a team has a bad one.”
- Maddon also suggested speed might become a more crucial part of the game than it has been in the recent past, when homers and walks became the blueprint for offensive production. The Red Sox, however, are one team that plans to stick to its offensive philosophy, GM Ben Cherington tells Laurila. “We know we need to build a better offense, but we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Cherington said. “If we can see pitches and get on base, and still hit for power and hit with runners in scoring position, I still think that’s a formula to score runs.”
If the Royals win the World Series it would be difficult to imagine GM Dayton Moore leaving for the Braves‘ vacancy. However, those who know Moore well say that he felt comfortable in Atlanta, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. On top of that, the Braves would offer Moore a bigger budget to work with. More from today’s column..
- Word is spreading that the Red Sox could make Yoenis Cespedes available. The slugger will make $10.2MM in the final year of his deal and his desire not to play right field or work on his defense could spell the end of his time in Boston. A Cespedes deal would allow the Sox to make room for Mookie Betts or add a left-handed hitter.
- The Giants are a team to watch when Nick Markakis hits the open market as expected. Even though they’re enjoying Travis Ishikawa‘s work, they are unlikely to commit to him as an everyday left fielder. The Mets could also be in the mix.
- One agent believes Jake Peavy has turned his next contract from a one-year, $7MM deal into a three-year, $36MM deal based on his second half with the Giants. Cafardo notes that the Giants won’t re-sign Ryan Vogelsong and with little help coming from Triple-A, they’ll likely have to bite on a Peavy deal.
- There have been preliminary talks between the Red Sox and Koji Uehara about staying in Boston,but the sides aren’t close to a deal.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette says the team plans to increase its payroll next season, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports. Duquette notes that he still needs to meet with team ownership to discuss the payroll, but he expresses confidence that it will rise.
“The important thing for our fans to know is that we’ve increased our payroll over the last couple years,” says Duquette. “I expect that we’ll be able to increase our payroll because the fans have responded to our team the last couple of years.”
The Orioles will have to deal with arbitration raises for a number of key players, as well as options for Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day. They are likely to buy out their end of Nick Markakis‘ $17MM mutual option, but they’d like to retain him, Encina writes.
Nelson Cruz, Andrew Miller and Delmon Young will be free agents. The Orioles will likely extend Cruz a qualifying offer, and Cruz has said he would like to stay in Baltimore, but Duquette cautions that it will be tricky to keep him. “You can tell just by watching him, he’s the leader of the ballclub,” says Duquette. “Having said that, he came here to have a platform year to get himself re-established to get him a long-term deal and that’s something we will have to consider.”
As Encina points out, the Orioles had an Opening Day payroll of over $107MM last year, then increased it in-season by adding Miller, Alejandro De Aza, Nick Hundley (whose 2015 option they’ll likely decline) and others. Keeping most of their existing talent (including Markakis) will likely force them to go higher than that $107MM figure. They’ve already agreed to an extension with shortstop J.J. Hardy that will pay him $11.5MM in 2015, and Adam Jones and Ubaldo Jimenez will make even more. Chris Davis, who made $10.35MM in 2014, will top the Orioles’ long list of arbitration-eligible players, which also includes Matt Wieters, Bud Norris, Steve Pearce, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton and De Aza.
Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis entered the 2014 season with a lot to prove coming off the worst season of his pro career in 2013, and he was able to reestablish a significant amount of value heading into what will likely be his first venture into the free agent market. While he does have a mutual option ($17.5MM with a $2MM buyout) — such options are rarely, if ever exercised by both sides — especially when they’re for such a lofty amount.
Throughout his career, Markakis has consistently gotten on base at a strong clip. A lifetime .290/.358/.435 hitter, Markakis has never posted a single-season OBP lower than .329, and he’s never batted below .271, either. His lowest OBP and batting average both came last season on the heels of three 2012 surgeries — one to repair a sports hernia, one to repair a broken hamate bone in his right wrist and the other to repair a broken thumb in his left hand. Markakis performed well after the first two operations — the hernia and the hamate procedures — but the thumb injury ended his season. It’s possible that an injury to his dominant hand, coupled with the effects of the surgery on his right hand left him a bit sapped in that poor 2013 campaign.
Though he does have those three fairly recent surgeries in his history, Markakis has otherwise been one of baseball’s most durable players over the life of his nine-year career. The former first-round pick (seventh overall) has averaged 152 games per season since debuting as a 22-year-old in 2006, topping 160 games five times and 155 or more on seven occasions. Aside from 2012, he’s never been on the disabled list.
As his OBP marks indicate, Markakis walks at a fairly strong clip. He’s never posted a walk rate lower than 7.9 percent in a season and is at 9.3 percent for his career (8.7 percent in 2014). He’s one of the toughest batters in baseball to strike out, as evidenced by a lifetime strikeout rate of 13 percent (11.8 percent in 2014). And, while he doesn’t have the plus power he showed earlier in his career, Markakis has hit 10 or more homers in each season of his career, including 14 this year.
Defensive metrics go back and forth on Markakis’ value in right field, but Ultimate Zone Rating has long been a fan of his strong, accurate arm, and he posted positive marks in both UZR/150 (+5.8) and Defensive Runs Saved (+1) in 2014.
As noted, defensive metrics offer a wide range of potential outcomes on Markakis. While he was a plus defender in right field this season and graded as perhaps baseball’s best right fielder back in 2008 (+11 UZR/150, +22 DRS), he’s posted negative marks more often than not in recent years. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the heavy workload he takes on each season, and perhaps the hernia surgery in 2012 impacted some of his glovework, but agent Jamie Murphy of TWC Sports will likely have to deal with some teams that are skeptical of Markakis’ defensive outlook in the tail end of his prime years.
Though he’s a steady contributor in terms of batting average and OBP, Markakis hasn’t hit for power in recent seasons. He was on his way to a solid .174 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) in his injury-shortened 2012, but that mark has been nearly cut in half over the previous two campaigns (.097). He’s still a double-digit homer threat, but after routinely hitting about 45 doubles per season earlier in his career, he hit just 51 between 2013 and 2014 combined.
Also clouding the picture is a late-season swoon for Markakis, who struggled mightily for 45-50 games from late July to mid-September. He did recover with a strong 10-game showing to close out the season, but his second half was notably weaker than his first: .288/.351/.395 before the break and .256/.329/.372 following.
Markakis and his wife, Christina, have three children. Together, the couple launched the Right Side Foundation in 2009 — a nonprofit organization that seeks to better the lives of distressed children in the state of Maryland. Nick and Christina were honored by the Balitmore Sun when they received the Tim Wheatley Award for off-the-field contributions to the community.
Markakis is known as a driven player who will take the field even when he’s not at 100 percent — a fact that is reflected in the number of games he’s played throughout his career.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported yesterday that the Orioles are expected to decline Markakis’ option. I found this to be a moderate surprise, as the team could have picked up its half of the option and assumed that Markakis would decline; players with his track record at his age almost never want to play on a one-year deal, instead preferring a longer commitment even at a lower annual rate. That move would spare the O’s his $2MM buyout and allow them to make a $15.3MM qualifying offer. It’s possible they could still make the QO — the combined total of the QO and the buyout ($17.3MM) would still be less than that of his option — but this seems to suggest that the team isn’t comfortable risking a $17MM+ commitment to Markakis in order to secure a draft pick. If that’s the case, he seems likely to hit the market without draft pick compensation, which is great news for Markakis and his agent.
From a competition standpoint, Markakis is positioned well. Yasmany Tomas is the name generating the most buzz in terms of corner outfield options, but he’s yet to play a game in the Majors. Melky Cabrera is coming off a fine season and is perhaps the most direct competitor. Nelson Cruz has a bigger bat but is more than three years older with more pronounced defensive issues. Some teams will undoubtedly have more interest in making an upside play on someone like Colby Rasmus over a shorter term, but Markakis can rightfully claim that he’s a more consistent contributor. Nori Aoki brings a lighter bat at an older age. Beyond that grouping, Markakis will be competing with aging veterans, many of whom are coming off poor and/or injury-plagued seasons; Alex Rios, Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart, Mike Morse, Josh Willingham and Torii Hunter are among the alternatives.
Markakis isn’t going to make a cellar-dwelling team into a contender, but he’s the type of bat that an above-average club can look at as one of the final pieces to rounding out a contending roster. His steady batting average and OBP numbers slot are a good fit at the top of a batting order.
If the Yankees are convinced that Alex Rodriguez can play in the field enough to make Carlos Beltran a primary DH, then Markakis could be a right field option there. He’d make a nice replacement option for the Blue Jays in the event that Cabrera signs elsewhere, and the Tigers have some uncertainty in the outfield after Andy Dirks missed the 2014 season and given Hunter’s uncertain status. The Royals will need to replace Aoki if he does not re-sign, and the Mets have a well-documented corner outfield need. Seattle, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are all in need of corner outfield help as well, and the White Sox would make sense if they want to move on from Dayan Viciedo.
Markakis has three primary competitors in my opinion: Tomas, Cruz and Cabrera. Beyond that grouping, he can make the case that he’s the next-best bat and a more certain commodity than others on what is unquestionably a thin market for bats. Players in this age bracket have been targeting at least four-year commitments, and I would expect Markakis to do the same.
The late-season swoon is a strike against Markakis, but the fact that he can likely come without a draft pick attached makes him an appealing alternative to Cruz and Cabrera, and he will of course be significantly less expensive than Tomas.
I still think there’s at least a chance that Markakis ends up with a QO, and if that’s the case, I’d peg him for a three-year, $39MM contract.
However, if he’s hitting the open market without draft pick compensation attached, I do think that’s enough to get him to four years, albeit at a slightly lesser AAV. Assuming there’s no QO in play, I’m projecting a four-year, $48MM contract in a weak market for hitters.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Cruz decision has been evident for quite some time, given the slugger’s MLB-leading 40 homers and strong .271/.333/.525 batting line. Cruz struggled in the wake of a qualifying offer from the Rangers last offseason, ultimately settling for a one-year, $8MM contract with Baltimore. While many contend that the qualifying offer crushed his market — and that’s certainly part of the reason for his struggles — Cruz also hit the open market with sky-high expectations in 2013, reportedly seeking as much as $75MM in the early-going. Had he been open to signing for less, a strong multi-year offer may have been on the table. However, now that he’s coming off such a strong season that put more separation between him and a suspension for performance enhancing drugs, he’s a lock to turn down that QO and in a much better position to land a strong multi-year deal.
The Markakis decision could have gone either way, in my mind, but the decision to decline his option seems to indicate that he won’t be on the receiving end of a QO of his own. The Orioles, in theory, could have exercised their half of the option in hopes of Markakis declining his, then made a qualifying offer, assuming that a player at his age and with his track record wouldn’t want to play on a one-year deal. I thought that to be the likely outcome prior to Heyman’s report.
However, declining the option suggests that they’re not interested in paying him $17.5MM, which is nearly the exact amount that the buyout plus a qualifying offer of $15.3MM would total. It’s possible that Baltimore will still extend the QO in order to have saved roughly $200K in the event that Markakis accepts, but that would be a very peculiar route to take with someone who is so respected within the organization. The likely outcome now seems to be that he won’t cost a draft pick this offseason, which should dramatically improve his free agent stock.
The O’s have a large number of arbitration eligible players, including Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and Bud Norris, so their arb-eligibles will inflate their payroll substantially. Because of that, it’s possible that the Orioles simply felt that they couldn’t fit both Markakis and Cruz into their 2015 budget, and their preference is to position themselves more strongly to retain Cruz’s power. The 30-year-old Markakis certainly didn’t have a poor season himself, however, as he hit .276/.342/.386 with 14 homers and right-field defense that graded out favorably from a metrics standpoint.
3:26pm: Markakis, too, says he is unaware of any current extension talks, tweets Connolly. He quotes the right fielder: “Nothing. Unless my agent hasn’t been telling me everything, because I haven’t heard anything.”
2:53pm: Cruz says that there are no talks at present, though he had some discussions with the Orioles earlier in the year, MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli reports on Twitter.
1:37pm: The Orioles have interest in reaching a late-breaking extension with outfielder Nick Markakis as well, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun suggests on Twitter. He does note that deals do not appear imminent with either Markakis or Cruz.
Earlier, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweeted that he would not be surprised to see the club try to open talks with Markakis.
12:08pm: After seemingly reaching terms on a deal with J.J. Hardy, the Orioles are now “pushing” to get a contract done with fellow free agent-to-be Nelson Cruz, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports on Twitter.
Cruz, 34, enjoyed a monster season at the plate in his first year with the O’s, hitting an MLB-best 40 home runs while working his way to a strong .271/.333/.525 batting line. While he’s been known to have injury problems in the past, Cruz tied a career-best with 159 games played this season.
Cruz is currently playing on a one-year, $8MM contract after struggling to find a suitable multi-year deal last offseason on the heels of a PED suspension and a qualifying offer. The slugging DH/outfielder recently switched agents, signing on with Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports, so he’ll have different representation this time around than he did when negotiating his last contract.
If the two sides do indeed reach a deal, the free agent market will take a significant hit today. Hardy was arguably the best pure shortstop on the market, and Cruz represented perhaps the best power bat for teams looking to add some thump to their lineup. An extension for Cruz would be unquestionably good news for the likes of Victor Martinez, Melky Cabrera and Yasmany Tomas, as there will now be less competition on the open market.
- The Mets are divided on whether Terry Collins should manage the team in 2015, Rosenthal writes. One sticking point is that Collins has young pitchers like Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom throw too many pitches. Since there isn’t agreement on Collins among Mets officials, one compromise might be to keep him but to dismiss some of his coaches.
- The Orioles could decline their $17.5MM option on Nick Markakis, pay him a $2MM buyout, and extend him a qualifying offer. If he were to accept it, there wouldn’t be much of a difference financially — the total cost would be about the same as his option. But if he were to decline the qualifying offer, he would be an intriguing addition to a free agent market that doesn’t have much position player talent.
- The Rockies need more starting pitching, and impending free agent Justin Masterson, a ground ball pitcher, could be a good fit at Coors Field.
- Rangers coaches Tim Bogar and Mike Maddux are both logical candidates to replace Ron Washington, but much remains to be determined — both coaches could also be candidates to replace Bo Porter with the Astros, and there could soon be other open managerial jobs, likely including that of the Diamondbacks.
Notable talent evaluators from the Rays and Cubs were recently on hand to watch Blue Jays prospect Daniel Norris throw five scoreless innings in a high-A ball start, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports. Norris, 21, was a second round draft pick for the Jays in 2011 and was ranked as the franchise’s sixth-best prospect by the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook. The southpaw has a 1.22 ERA, 4.22 K/BB rate and 10.3 K/9 in 13 starts this season, and Elliott wonders if Norris or outfielder Dalton Pompey could be targeted by the Rays or Cubs as part of a trade package for David Price or Jeff Samardzija this summer. Both Elliott and two scouts feel the Jays (who are known to be looking for a pitching upgrade) need a power arm to be legitimate postseason contenders.
Here’s some more from around the AL East…
- Also from Elliott, he hears that the Cubs are asking for four players in return for Samardzjia. The Blue Jays had two evaluators present for Samardzija’s start against the Marlins on June 7th.
- The Rays are “looking like the strong favorites” to sign 15-year-old Dominican shortstop Adrian Rondon, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports, though Rondon cannot sign until he turns 16 on July 7. Rondon, who is 6’2″ and 180 pounds, is expected to sign for around a $3MM bonus. Several scouts consider Rondon to be the best prospect available on the international market, with one scout even telling Badler that Rondon’s upside could make him “a Hanley Ramirez-type of offensive shortstop.”
- Nick Markakis “wants to play here for the rest of his life,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter told reporters (including MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko). The O’s have a $17.5MM club option on Markakis for 2015 that will very likely be bought out for $2MM, though Markakis’ strong play this season is putting him in good shape for a new multiyear contract.
- The Orioles expect Dr. James Andrews to recommend that Matt Wieters‘ right elbow will require Tommy John surgery when the catcher is examined later today, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports. Losing Wieters would obviously be a major blow to the O’s this season, and it would further complicate any plans they might have to sign Wieters to a contract extension (Wieters is under control through 2015).
- Two-thirds of the Red Sox roster could be trade candidates if the team decides to rebuild for 2015, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe writes. Abraham’s list includes several relievers (including Koji Uehara), A.J. Pierzynski, David Ross, Stephen Drew, Jake Peavy and Jonny Gomes. While you could make a case for the likes of Jon Lester, Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks or Clay Buchholz to be dealt as well, Abraham feels these players are much longer shots to be traded.
- Red Sox GM Ben Cherington needs to make a move for a quality outfield bat before the season is lost, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe opines.
We just looked at the latest from the AL Central; here are some notes from the rest of the American League:
- The Orioles will not discuss contract extensions during the season, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. “We’re not going to be exploring any extensions during the season,” said Executive VP Dan Duquette. “… Once the season starts, I think it benefits the team and the players and the fans to keep the focus on the field and the players on the field.” While star center fielder Adam Jones was inked to a mid-season extension back in 2012, Duquette explained that was a different situation since “we started that discussion during the winter, and it extended into the season.” The team is not presently in talks with any of its current crop of pending free agents, Duquette said. While shortstop J.J. Hardy had been linked to contract chatter during the spring, he and fellow free-agents-to-be Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis will seemingly be allowed to test the open market. (MLBTR’s Steve Adams just took a look an early look at the free agent case of Markakis.)
- Mariners closer Fernando Rodney said today that he wanted to stay with the Rays but never received a contract offer, reports Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune (Twitter link). Rodney added that he received two-year offers from the Mets, Orioles, and Indians, in addition to a one-year offer from the Yankees, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Of course, Rodney ultimately went to Seattle for two years and $14MM.
- Yankees hurler C.C. Sabathia is headed to see Dr. James Andrews, tweets Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com, though thankfully the issue is in his knee rather than his left elbow. As MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch writes, the visit is viewed as precautionary, as a recent MRI showed no structural issues. “The best-case scenario is, CC gets the knee drained, rests for five days and gets a couple of bullpens under his belt and he takes the start after he comes off the DL,” said GM Brian Cashman. “That’s the best-case scenario. I’m not saying that’s the scenario we’re dealing with yet, but that’s the best.” The club will hope that proves to be the result, as its rotation is already dealing with several notable injuries. Needless to say, any ongoing issues with Sabathia would only further enhance New York’s starting pitcher needs at the trade deadline.
- The Athletics have gained more production from the catching spot than any other American League club through the combination of Derek Norris and John Jaso, writes John Hickey of Bay Area News Group. Heading into today’s action, the platoon pair had combined for an impressive .338/.419/.507 triple-slash. Indeed, that line has actually been good enough to vault the A’s catching unit into the league lead by measure of fWAR, with a healthy 1.9 wins above replacement through just 184 plate appearances. Both players came to Oakland through trades involving the Nationals, with Norris a piece in the Gio Gonzalez trade and Jaso heading down from the Mariners in the three-team Michael Morse deal.