Orioles watch Markakis follow Cruz out the door


Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, seen here doubling in the first game of the ALCS against Kansas City, had trended down in several departments while remaining a fan and clubhouse favorite. Photo: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Markakis loved Baltimore, loved living in Monkton, Md., was quoted as saying he loved helping his neighbors get out of the snow, loved his teammates, and loved the Baltimore Orioles. When we hear the contract he signed with Atlanta today was 4 years for $44 million, virtually the same as the reported offer he had from the Orioles, it makes us want to hear more.

His human qualities and professionalism will be missed by most Oriole followers and teammates. But if he loved the Orioles that much, wouldn’t he have stayed, if the money was similar?

Diminishing returns had been the story of at least his last couple of years

Diminishing returns already had been the story of at least his last couple of years, and would have become even more so as he aged through the contract, having turned 31 recently. This past year, he hit .276 with an on-base percentage of .342 in what many thought would be a bounce-back year from three surgeries the year before.

If a leadoff hitter – or any hitter – had an average of .342, that would command such money and then some. But a .276 average, no speed, and drastically lower run production are things a lot of fans have noticed, not that it took much noticing. The home runs haven’t topped 15 for the last five years; in the RBI department, he’s had 54, 59, and 50 for the past three.

His once amazing defense has slowed somewhat, and his usually laser arm had started being late to the plate or off target, or had been content to let the cutoff man intercept the throw and concede the run.

Let’s not discount the possibility of a rebirth in Hotlanta, though.

You can get as sentimental as you want, but why did he turn down the money if Atlanta’s offer was virtually the same? The Braves guaranteed a fourth year. Theirs was the only other reported offer of any kind Nick had gotten. In Spring Training of 2013, he was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his neck, and he missed most of camp but suited up for Opening Day. This was reported to be a sticking point for the Orioles, but evidently was not for the Braves.

Toward the end of the new deal, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette would have had to sign Manny Machado long-term, and the Markakis money would have hindered that.

The Orioles can fill in by giving Alejandro De Aza and David Lough much more playing time, and by giving Norfolk’s Dariel Alvarez and Bowie’s Mike Yastrzemski a long look as Major League contributors, assuming they both may need more seasoning.

This is the cold world of baseball. Money almost always talks louder than loyalty, and the next man up gets his shot after years of waiting.

The Markakis signing obscured the fact that former Orioles reliever Jim Johnson also signed with the Braves today, a one-year contract.