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Orioles should have given qualifying offer to Nick Markakis

The rewards outweighed the risks for the Orioles to give a qualifying offer to Nick Markakis, at least in the eyes of this blogger. So why didn't they do it when they had the chance?

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

What if the Orioles had extended a qualifying offer for 2015 to the now-departed Nick Markakis? That's what they did for Nelson Cruz, and now that the outfielder has signed with Seattle, the O's get an extra draft pick after the first round. For Markakis, a nine-year Oriole, the team receives nothing at all as he signs with the Braves, unless you count all the puzzled stares or angry words from people who are surprised he got away.

The qualifying offer would have been an offer of a salary of about $15 million for one year only. If the player declines the offer, which every player has since its inception, then if a new team signs that player, they give up their highest draft pick (top 10 protected) and the team that lost the player gets a compensatory pick following the first round. If the player takes the offer, then they play out that one year deal at that salary.

When the deadline passed to make this offer, shortly after the World Series, the Orioles had just declined to pick up a 2015 option they had on Markakis that would have paid him $17.5 million for 2015. They paid him a buyout of $2 million, per the terms of the contract, in declining the option. Having already showed they didn't want to pay him $17.5 million for the year, the buyout plus the qualifying offer would have represented nearly the same amount of money, if Markakis had taken the offer.

Given that Markakis reportedly did not return to the Orioles because they were uncomfortable offering him a fourth year in a new contract offer, should they have taken the risk that he might take the qualifying offer? Earning $15 million to play baseball for one year is pretty good, but it's also $30 million less than he is now guaranteed from Atlanta over the next four years.

Being on the outside and looking back in hindsight, it's easy to say that the Orioles should have made the qualifying offer to Markakis. After all, we know the result of his being a free agent unhindered by the offer. It feels like a player in general would prefer the security of multiple years to one year and then uncertainty.

In hindsight, it's easy to say the Orioles should have made the qualifying offer. But really, shouldn't they have?

A one year deal is a risk for the player much more than the team. If they struggle, their value is diminished. A player who is one year older, coming off a year where they were injured or less effective than hoped, will not get as much money. The one year bounce-back contract worked out great for Cruz. On the other hand, the stubbornness of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales has probably seriously harmed their career earning potential after they held out two months and then performed poorly.

It's less risk for the team in the sense that the O's were already willing to give Markakis at least $10 million for next season, based on what has been reported on the negotiations. So for the O's, extending a qualifying offer would have represented gambling on about $5 million for the 2015 season. You'd rather have that $5 million than not, so it is a risk, but not a huge one. If they fear the decline of Markakis later in a multi-year contract, there's much less concern of that for next season.

There were two potential rewards for making the offer. One is that Markakis signing elsewhere with a qualifying offer attached would give a pick in the range of #42 overall. The other is that the offer would have likely diminished the amount other teams were willing to pay Markakis as well, as he is not the kind of star player who would make a team say damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Then again, this didn't stop the Mets from rushing out to sign Michael Cuddyer.

That would have created leverage for the Orioles to re-sign Markakis at a price more friendly to them. Maybe they could have avoided the fourth year that tripped them up. Maybe they could have gotten a lower average annual value of the contract, enough to make it palatable to sign him.

To me, that seems like the rewards outweigh the risk. They should have slapped the qualifying offer on Markakis. I suspect the Orioles would have reached this conclusion as well, making it unlikely that they would have just misread the Markakis free agent market and not bothered to make the qualifying offer.

This is the same front office that shrewdly unearthed a little-known rule that allowed them to circumvent the usual procedure after a player was designated for assignment, keeping Steve Pearce in the fold after Chris Davis was hurt. That was one of the season's crucial decisions. They are on top of things. They aren't going to be flawless with every decision, but it's enough that the most likely explanation for a given decision is not incompetence.

Yet, at the same time, it's tough to credit that the O's wouldn't have deemed the risk/reward ratio as going in their favor. After all, they participated enough in the Markakis free agent market, at least as far as we're aware based on reporting, that it seems doubtful their motivation was to move on from him immediately. If they were willing to offer him three years, you figure they didn't worry about if they got "stuck" with him in 2015 if he had taken a hypothetical qualifying offer.

I could be wrong about that. Wouldn't be the first time that happened, nor would it be the last. If my assumption is correct, then there's another reason they didn't extend the qualifying offer to Markakis.

What if the lack of the offer was the final gesture of loyalty from Angelos to Markakis?

We have heard for some time that Markakis is a favorite of owner Peter Angelos. I always figured this meant that, when the time came that Markakis' contract was running out, the O's would re-up him at a price that seemed generous to us. Indeed, that Markakis became a free agent at all seems to put to bed the old "meddling Angelos" idea, at least as far as Angelos ordering that a player be signed.

Perhaps the gesture of loyalty showed to Markakis came not in the form of a large Orioles contract but in allowing Markakis to get the largest possible contract on the market, whether it was here or elsewhere. It might be more than the O's were willing to pay, but they didn't take a step they might have taken to diminish his value.

This is only a theory. I happen to think it fits the facts as we know them, but there are other possible explanations. This is one of those times where it's unlikely that any of the involved parties would put the whole truth on the record.

Whatever the circumstances that led up to it, the result is that Markakis is not an Oriole any longer. Nobody can change that now. He's moved on elsewhere and so must the team. Hopefully this can work out for the best for both sides.