I am sad. I feel crushed and disappointed. Buck Showalter warned us that if things did not change in MLB that Matt Wieters would end up in Yankees pinstripes. But losing Nick Markakis? No one said anything about that.
On the surface it is tough to understand. Why would the Baltimore Orioles allow Nick Markakis to even field offers from other clubs? When considering what he has meant to the city as well as the franchise, Markakis’ value should have been greater in Baltimore than anywhere else and a contract extension should have been a no brainer.
Markakis was quickly embraced in Baltimore and for much of his time with the Orioles was the face of the franchise. No small feat considering the many greats that have worn the O’s uniform. Through the lean years, Markakis was a bright spot for O’s fans. Now that the team has turned the corner into a contender to see him go is, well, heartbreaking.
Markakis’ value is greater in the free agent market than it should be. To me, the loss of Markakis is what is wrong with baseball, even more then the outrageous contract the Marlins gave to Giancarlo Stanton. When a team feels that they can no longer afford their star players on the backside of their career, Showalter is right and baseball does have a problem.
The Atlanta Braves lost a premier young outfielder in Jason Heyward to the Cardinals creating a void in their outfield. With no young prospects in the system ready to break into the Big Leagues, a known quantity like Markakis becomes more valuable to Atlanta. The Braves are now willing to overspend, whereas the Orioles are not. I do not fault Markakis for taking the more lucrative deal in Atlanta, nor do I fault the Orioles for making the financial decision to opt out of his contract. All parties made the right decision. I am just saddened at the situation.
Baseball’s player evaluation market has not yet fully adjusted to the post steroid era. Since MLB cracked down on PED’s, instituting stiffer penalties and more stringent testing, the likelihood of players continuing to produce at a high level into their mid to late 30’s has decreased dramatically. But the contracts have not been adjusted to reflect that diminishing return and with no salary cap in place it will take longer for them to do so.
Typical business strategy for MLB franchises was to prolong a prospects minor league career as long as possible, delaying their ability to receive arbitration or free agency, before paying out the value of the player in a longer term deal. Not to accuse everyone who had success past age 34 of doing steroids but it is becoming rarer and rarer to see such success these days. Instead the most productive years of a player’s career are happening before the age of 30 when they are being underpaid. Then they reach free agency and want naturally want to be compensated.
Several teams, such as the Orioles, Cardinals, and Rays, have already adjusted to this model and are very careful about how much they will spend on players heading into backside of their careers but until everyone does, casualties like the loss of Markakis are going to continue to happen.
Understanding the why does little to ease the pain, however.
The fan reaction of feeling let down and miserable is appropriate. It is disappointing and disheartening. While MLB’s popularity continues to drop on the national scale, it is the local interest that keeps the game relevant and financially supported. How long will that last if teams continue to lose their biggest names to free agent over spending? A change needs to happen before too many fans give up support on the local level due to hurt feelings over losing their beloved stars.
I do not know what will be harder to handle next season, seeing Markakis in a Braves uniform or not seeing him in the Orioles starting lineup.