Once something that seemed as inevitable as Earth's orbit around the Sun, a return to the Orioles for Nick Markakis is now seen as having a "less than 50-50 chance", according to a Baltimore Sun report. That's quite a departure from only a few weeks ago, when the O's and Markakis were reported to have reached the general contours of a four-year deal for between $10-12 million annually, with the main sticking point being the disposition of deferred money.
Maybe that report was inaccurate to begin with; it came from national reporters rather than local ones, although national reporters have a better track record of landing Orioles scoops. Maybe something has changed since then. No one is talking to Dan Connolly, who wrote the Sun article, on the record about the precise reason for the hold-up with Markakis, but he writes that there is "some talk" within the Orioles camp about whether or not a fourth year is a good idea.
I'll help them out: It's a bad idea, although I would have understood if they ended up doing it anyway. Markakis was the longest-tenured Oriole this season. Long seen as a personal favorite of O's owner Peter Angelos, Markakis was one player with the standing to express frustration during some of the dark years, such as when he criticized nameless teammates' lack of a plan. He later was reported to have lunch with Angelos to express his concerns.
Markakis was given a generous extension after a great season in his second year in the majors. By the end of it, he wasn't living up to the deal, which is why he's a free agent at all. The O's paid him a buyout rather than picking up a $17.5 million option for next year.
There's been little sign of the much-ballyhooed Angelos meddling ever since Dan Duquette took over as general manager. If Markakis is allowed to depart because the Orioles don't want to guarantee him a fourth year, that would be the surest sign that those days are gone for now and hopefully forever.
I'd be sad to see Markakis go because he once looked like the next good career Oriole. He hasn't looked like that for the last two years, combining for a .707 OPS in that time, not showing anything particularly noteworthy for speed, power, or range, while hitting for a decent average with a decent walk rate.
That is not a $48 million player, even in a weak outfield market, especially considering Markakis, already 31, is likely in the decline phase of his career. The Orioles can't afford to saddle themselves with that kind of salary for sentimental reasons.