The biggest mistake the Baltimore Orioles made last winter was not allowing Nelson Cruz walk to Seattle. No, allowing Nick Markakis to head south to the Atlanta Braves was the biggest misstep made by the front office. Dan Duquette and his team underestimated the value of a disciplined, consistent hitter like Markakis. The Orioles low-balled Markakis over concerns about the health of his neck and declining power numbers. Out went Markakis, in came Travis Snider and Alejandro De Aza. Out went Snider and De Aza.
To call the outfield situation for the Orioles in 2015 a mess is being kind. The only thing that kept the left and right fielders for the Orioles from being the worst in the league is the fact that Chris Davis spent a few weeks playing the outfield. Markakis was a constant threat to reach base for the Orioles, routinely posting .350-.360 OBPs, and generally making solid contact. He hit the ball to all fields, and played stellar defense in right field. The Orioles options this year did none of those things.
I awoke from a dream earlier this week in a cold sweat. In my dream, the Orioles had just pulled off a trade for Markakis. KAAAAAAAAAAKKKKKKKKEEEEEESSSSSS!!! I had yelled in my dream. It felt real, but upon waking, I was in for a cold, sad reality. Nick Markakis still plays for the Braves, and the Orioles still have no idea who is playing right field for them in 2016.
Could this trade be more than a delusional dream of a sleep-deprived new father (my newborn just celebrated her one-month birthday)?
Well, for starters, the Braves just shocked the world by trading the best defensive player in the league and one of the few reasons to watch their sorry team, Andrelton Simmons, away for a few minor league pitching prospects who are still a few years away from reaching the big leagues. They got Erick Aybar too, obviously the centerpiece in the deal. It’s clear the rebuild is in full swing down in Hotlanta. The only player on the roster who should be untouchable is Freddie Freeman.
When the Braves signed Markakis last year, it did not make a ton of sense. His signing came on the heels of Jason Heyward being traded. Markakis is a Georgia native, so the signing really made more sense for him than the Braves. The Braves did not have a roster that would contend, and Markakis is not exactly the type of player that fans would pack the new ballpark to see. If the Braves are making moves, Markakis should be on the block. The fans are up in arms over the Simmons trade, and a trade of Markakis would probably not move the needle too much in either direction at this point.
The Orioles have quite a few young players who could be attractive to the Braves. If Markakis is coming back to Baltimore for another three years, Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez become expendable. It’s still difficult to determine what the Orioles have planned for these two. Urrutia came up for a few games, and was then sent right back down after hitting a walk-off home run and appearing ready to handle big league pitching. Urrutia hit for a higher average in Cuba than Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, and Yoenis Cespedes. His arduous journey to the states from Cuba really set him back, but Urrutia has a ton of potential and could be attractive as a trade chip. The Braves are obviously collecting young pitching talent. Mike Wright showed some very good flashes and very bad flashes in his handful of starts this season. Tyler Wilson seems like the safer option for the Orioles, but could also be used in a trade.
Markakis is not the 20-homer, 45-double threat he was earlier in his career, but that’s not what the Orioles need him to be. If my pipe dream trade actually comes to fruition, Markakis would go back to leading off for the Orioles, Manny Machado would slide down to third, and Adam Jones could slide to fourth or fifth depending on what Chris Davis (or Scott Boras, actually) decides to do. Machado, Davis, Jones — wow, that would be a nasty combination, with Matt Wieters and Jonathan Schoop falling in behind.
It all starts with the tablesetter at the top for the Orioles, and Markakis is still a great one. He was fully healthy last year. Even without power, Markakis is a professional hitter who will give the Orioles a .360 OBP. What more can you ask of from a leadoff hitter in front of some of the best sluggers in the league? The Orioles let Markakis get away last year because they tried to get too cute in negotiations. If the outfielder becomes available again this winter, the Orioles need to jump on a trade and correct last year’s mistake.