By Rich Dubroff
When the Orioles signed Nick Markakis to a six-year contract before the 2009 season, fans rejoiced. The sturdy right fielder was an Oriole through 2014. That 66.1 million price tag was fair. The Orioles were finally spending money on one of their own. This was a rare homegrown Orioles draft pick who thrived in the majors.
Markakis was drafted seventh overall in 2003, and former scouting director Tony DeMacio scoffed when he was asked about his signability. It was his ability that stood out, DeMacio quickly answered.
A year later, Markakis was playing at Oriole Parkas a pitcher no lessfor the Greek Olympic team as they faced Canada in a pre-Olympic Games exhibition. In 2006, Markakis started the season with the Orioles, and after a rocky beginning, put up more than respectable numbers16 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .291 average.
Because the Orioles had few options, they rushed him to the big leagues, and Markakis adjusted well.
Markakis put up even more robust numbers in the next two years, batting over .300 twicewith a combined 43 homers and 199 RBIs. That contract seemed justifiedespecially for a player as durable as the 27-year-old right
Hes averaged nearly 160 games in the past five years. Shockingly, Markakis was removed from the final game of the season with a bruised abdomen. After the exciting win over Boston, manager Buck Showalter said that he had been hurting for an extended time. Markakis never takes himself out of a game.
Somehow, despite the durability, Markakis sometimes seems invisible. Never flashy, he still batted .284 with 15 home runs and 73 RBIs in 2011stats in line with his 2010 numbers. Hes finished in the top 10 in the American League in hits in each of the past five years and in the top five in assists in four of the past five seasons. Hes the top fielding active right fielder.
One scout for a major league team whos watched him throughout his career, isnt disappointed with Markakis.
His diminishing power numbers are a function of where hes battingand Markakis aim. Batting second for much of the season, Markakis isnt looking to drive the ball.
He was more concerned about getting the ball in play, the scout said. If you have a guy in the lineup that protects him, I think you would see the power come back.
Markakis is never booed. Hes never been an All-Star. That doesnt concern the scout. If he played on a better team, power, batting average would be bettereverything.
The Orioles clubhouse isnt a loud one. These days, there are no Kevin Millars to liven things up. Markakis doesnt necessarily fit into a boisterous clubhouse, sometimes he fades into the background. Often unavailable when the bulk of the media congregates before and after games, Markakis can usually be found in the video room, looking closely at his at-bats.
When he does appear, Markakis is willing and polite, but not a generous interview. There are times when he can surprise. When he was thrown out of his first game, he eagerly described the confrontation. When the Orioles struggled in 2010, Markakis was quoted as saying he wanted to become more of a leader, and asked for an audience with owner Peter Angelos.
After Showalters arrival, Markakis reverted into the background. Is there anything wrong with that?
Would Markakis be happier in a place like New York or Boston where he could be a secondary player? Has he been worn down trying to be the man?
The scout doesnt think Markakis is feeling pressure; hes just adapting to the circumstances of a team that doesnt winand trying to do what he can to help them.
Whatever hes able to contribute, hell do that, he said.
His contract and the accompanying pedestrian stats make a trade difficult. While there would be no shortage of interest in a right fielder whos excellent defensively and hits well, Markakis hasnt exactly lived up to his contract.
The scout thought Markakis would be a 25-30 home run a year player, but his courage in playing through a painful injury has convinced him of his value.
Id love to have him on my club, the scout said. I would acquire this guy in a heartbeat.
The interviews for the teams top baseball operations job began Tuesday. Jerry DiPoto, a top Arizona executive was to interview then. Tony LaCava, an assistant general manager with the Toronto Blue Jays, is scheduled for Wednesday.
Jeremy Accardo, who the Orioles sent outright to Norfolk last week, has elected to become a free agent. In 31 appearances, he was 3-3 with a 5.73 ERA, and as Showalter noted, Accardo allowed numerous hard hit balls.