Baltimore Orioles: Markakis and Cruz among Worst Offseason Moves?


Oct 14, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis dives back to first base safely on a fielder

An article that hits the fan every year is one from FanGraphs by Dave Cameron (see what I did there?) that ranks the 10 worst free agent moves of the offseason. Of interest to Baltimore Orioles fans is that Nelson Cruz being signed for four years at $58 million by the Mariners was ranked as the fourth-worst deal, and Nick Markakis being signed for four years for $44 million by the Braves was listed as the second-worst deal.

Of course, this is being written from the perspective of what is predicted to be bad for the organization, not the player. And the writer did modify his remarks at the top of the article by saying that these did not have the horrible look of so many deals in 2014. He wrote that the spending of crazy free agent money is ratcheting downward by teams, and that even these critiques were more in the vein of “moves that are more suboptimal than outright disasters.”

Let’s take a quick look at each:

Nelson Cruz

Among Cameron’s remarks …

Yes, Nelson Cruz had a great year in 2014, and if he does anything close to what he did in Baltimore, the Mariners will be fine with this deal. But his pre-Baltimore track record is filled with mediocrity, and there is no worse place in baseball for an aging right-handed slugger than Safeco Field. Perhaps he’ll give the Mariners enough production to justify the salary for 2015, and maybe even for 2016 if they’re lucky, but the last two years of this deal are likely going to be a disaster…

You might not like the way it is stated; it may have a bit of a wise guy, snarky ring to it. But I have to say that I agree generally with this evaluation. I do think it is ungenerous to say that his record prior to Baltimore was “filled with mediocrity.” There was more than a little bit of good production there. But it is true that Safeco Field, not to mention also the amount of games in other AL West venues like Oakland, are not going to portend any possibility of matching what was done last year. And the issue of the latter half of a four-year deal is exactly why the Orioles were wise in letting the dear guy go away. It was a fun 2014; we’ll always treasure the memories.

Nick Markakis

Among Cameron’s remarks …

The Braves spent the winter blowing up their roster, admitting that they’re likely non-contenders for the next several seasons, and are going to attempt to rebuild a winner by the time their new stadium opens in 2017. So why, in the middle of going young, would you outbid win-now teams for the services of a mediocre low-ceiling outfielder who, by the way, happens to need neck surgery? Markakis fits as the 6th or 7th best position player on a winning team, the kind of solid role player that helps fill a hole, but there’s no reason for a rebuilding club to win an auction for his services.

Again, I think this evaluation of Markakis is ungenerous. He’s better than a sixth or seventh-best position player on a winning team. And it’s a bit snarky to call him simply a “role player.” Yes, there are concerns about the neck surgery, though my guess is that it will be soon forgotten. The better argument would have been to bring back the declining value of the four-year deal aspect of it … again, a reason why the Orioles were wise to let him go.

Fan Reactions

I first saw this article noted on MLBTR and went to FanGraphs to read it and write about it before later seeing and reading that Steve Melewski of MASN had taken up this theme yesterday. I was not surprised to see that we looked at it about the same way – that there is basic truth to it, though it is probably overstated and harsh in its tone.

What was more interesting to me is to see the fan remarks in both sites – where readers have a very active commenting community. The Markakis deal was particularly harshly seen by general baseball fans in the FanGraphs article. Nick is not viewed elsewhere with the same eyes as he was regarded in Baltimore.

More from Baltimore Orioles

After the MASN article, it was surprising to see a very solid majority of O’s fans acknowledging that the Baltimore Orioles and Duquette probably made good decisions relative to Cruz and Markakis. That would NOT have been true soon after each of them signed elsewhere.

The reason for this is that the emotional connection is starting to wane just a bit. It will always be there; these were good guys and assets for the Orioles. But O’s fans have already begun to re-adjust their emotional meters.

Where there is continued criticism is the still-present feeling that not enough has been done (if anything seriously) to replace the missing offence of these players. Of course, this has been the dispute and debate over the entire offseason. The complicating issue is that there is not a one-to-one replacement, particularly for Cruz. Perhaps Alejandro De Aza will prove to be as good as or better than Markakis leading off. And it will be the combined efforts of a number of players who receive the missing Cruz at-bats that determine if he was sufficiently replaced or not.

I believe the Baltimore Orioles are going to be fine and that the money not wasted will go to good use in the next offseason, which is going to be crazy!

Next: All O's now signed to contracts