One of the big questions the Orioles will have this offseason is what to do with right fielder Nick Markakis. As many are aware, the 30-year-old has a mutual option in his contract which expires at year's end. The six-year deal worth more than $66 million was signed before the 2009 season when Andy MacPhail was the team's president of baseball operations. The team can decline its end of the option and pay a $2 million buyout at the end of the season or pick up the option of $17.5 million.
The trick with picking up the option would be that Markakis would have to do the same - that's where the mutual part comes in. If Markakis continues on the pace he's on and has a strong 2014 campaign, there's no way he'd pick up his end of the option. He'd rather explore free agency in an effort to get a better long-term deal. Either way, it's important to realize that Markakis' nine-year tenure in Baltimore could be coming to a close.
Markakis has been incredibly durable and steady over his career. He's played in at least 145 games in every season aside from the 2012 campaign, when his season was cut short by a CC Sabathia fastball that caught him in the hand. The hamate bone he broke required surgery and caused him to miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs. He returned last season, but the lack of a full offseason caused him to post career-low numbers in nearly every offense category. So far this season, Markakis has returned to form. He's back to hitting right around .300, getting on base at a good clip and batting at the top of the order to provide an early attack for the O's offense.
There's no question in my mind that Markakis has been one of the most underrated and underappreciated Orioles throughout his career. He doesn't get the accolades of current players such as Adam Jones, Chris Davis or even newcomer Nelson Cruz. He goes about his business, plays a solid right field and seems to be one of the quietest players on the team. Markakis is slowly creeping up the club's all-time hit list, as well. He passed Paul Blair last week and now sits eighth behind Brian Roberts, Ken Singleton, Boog Powell, Brady Anderson, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. I'd say the seven players ahead of him have some clout in team history.
As Buck Showalter said last week, "Nick's one of those guys that you only really miss him when he's gone, when he's hurt." That was something very evident to me in the 2012 postseason. Who knows how things could've changed in the American League Division Series against the Yankees if Markakis had been around? Offense was so scarce throughout that series; perhaps having one extra healthy bat in the lineup might have pushed the O's into the American League Championship Series.
Markakis isn't showing anything close to the amount of power he had earlier in his career. He's not going to hit 20 homers or 40 doubles like he did for a few seasons. This is something I've heard criticism for in the past. But the Orioles are a team surrounded with power hitters and they don't rely on Markakis for power numbers. For a lineup that possesses very few options for a good on-base percentage, Markakis can provide that.
I can't say for sure, but I don't think Markakis will be worth the one-year risk of a $17.5 million option or even a qualifying offer, which could come close to that dollar amount. No one knows how the market will play out this offseason or what the future could hold. Even Dan Duquette has made it clear that he won't negotiate contracts with any players during the season. I do know that I'm already starting to shift into appreciation mode on Markakis. He's quietly become one of the most reliable Orioles in the team's 60-year history. In my mind, he's a shoe-in for the team's Hall of Fame and should be viewed in a positive light no matter what the future brings.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.