Blood Brothers

A few weeks ago, Parkes wrote about the struggles of two former Blue Jays outfielders; Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. Mired in terrible season-starting slumps, both men failed to get on base or hit for power or do anything worthwhile considering the expectations and pay scale.

Immidiately after Dustin struck them down, the former Jays showed signs of life, hitting a few home runs between them, still not good enough for the middle of two lineups “expected” to challenge for playoff spots. Neither are bad players, simply overpaid.

Like most contracts, they looked great at the time of signing. Alex Rios was a superlative defender and burgeoning power bat, well worth the considerable contract extension when compared to his teammate.

Around the same time as Rios signed his big deal, the Baltimore Orioles signed a very similar outfielder to a very similar deal. Right now, three years later, the Nick Markakis looks an awful lot like the sunk cost Alex Rios quickly became.

The O’s inked Nick Markakis to a $6 year, $60 million dollar contract extension after his superb 2008 season, one in which he posted a .389 wOBA (.306/.406/.491) with 20 home runs, 10 stolen bases and excellent defense in right field. He was a cornerstone around whom the Orioles would build.

That was the plan, anyway. After signing this big deal, Nick Markakis failed to deliver on the promise of his breakout season. His declining power numbers were concerning at first but his ability to get on base saved him from total waste, until everything went south during the first month of this season.

Markakis finds himself mired in a miserable slump, posting a .227/.288/.318 line with a single home run. Orioles bloggers now wonder aloud if the O’s might give Markakis the Rios treatment – letting him go for a song, just to escape the contract:

…if given a do-over, but the contract isn’t exactly an albatross (maybe Nick’s production actually falls off and he’s over-paid*, and maybe salaries rise faster and he’s under-paid). Letting him go for nothing but the extra salary space (which I’m not that confident would be spent too wisely** anyway) doesn’t seem like a good idea.

For me, Rios and Markakis are now forever linked. In addition to being walking advertisements for the “Don’t Sign Players After Career Years” corollary, they are similar enough to break a thousand hearts apiece. So many tools, so much talent – yet their best years might well be behind them at age 27.

Age is the number one reason the Orioles won’t cut Markakis lose any time soon – there is still time for him to earn that contract, even if he can’t eclipse those excellent early seasons. The struggles of Nick Markakis mirror the Orioles struggles very closely, all sorts of promise only to zig when they’re expected to zag.

The O’s can try to plug holes in their lineup all they want, until their best players produce at an elite level, they’re never going to escape the AL East basement that’s been they’ve owned for so long.