With the departure of long-time Oriole Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis will be the longest tenured Oriole in uniform opening day. Markakis, who was taken with the seventh overall pick in 2003, will be entering his ninth season in an Oriole uniform. However, his struggles in recent years have placed his future with the Orioles in question.
After a relatively down year in 2011, Markakis looked primed to bounce back in 2012. However, his first career stint on the disabled list in June derailed a strong start to the season. After a month away, Markakis rejoined the team in July only to have his season ended in early September when a C.C. Sabathia fastball broke his wrist. While on the field, Markakis was productive. His forty-four extra-base hits and .298 average were on pace to easily surpass the previous year’s totals. However, missing 58 games along with the Orioles’ first postseason since his arrival resulted in a disappointing season for Markakis.
The trend continued in 2013 with career lows in extra-base hits, batting average and on-base percentage. The frustration seemed to grow as he constantly tinkered with his swing, and by the season’s end he barely resembled the #21 Camden Yards was familiar with. His failure to drive the ball throughout the season had some speculating that the lingering effects of his wrist injury hindered his bat speed or caused an inability to swing the bat without pain. It’s also possible that an offseason with his wrist in a cast didn’t allow him to enter the season in the shape he’s use to.
Whatever the reason for Markakis’ struggles in recent years, he entered the spring this season at a crossroad in his career. He is at the end of a long and lucrative contract with the Orioles, who most likely aren’t going to exercise the $17 million-dollar option for next season. That doesn’t mean he can’t play himself into another contract with the Orioles. He is well aware of his contract situation, and according to people around the team, came to Sarasota stronger and healthier than recent years and has seen results early; batting .440 with five extra-base hits and a stolen base through his first eight games. The Orioles want him back, but only for the right price and only if he improves on his numbers from last year. Likewise, Orioles fans don’t want to see the long-time Oriole in a different jersey in 2015. As the season approaches, the organization and fans will watch and hope he can translate his strong and healthy spring into a solid season and a solid future as Orioles’ right-fielder.