Last offseason, the Tigers' outfield was largely set in stone from the moment their season ended. They added Rajai Davis as a theoretical platoon partner with Andy Dirks, but Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter both had their starting spots locked up. This offseason, the Tigers' outfield is one gigantic question mark. J.D. Martinez is the only player with a starting job locked up heading into 2015, though it remains to be seen which corner outfield spot he mans. Davis is still in the mix, but we do not know how large of a role the Tigers plan on giving him next season.
One absolute certainty is that the Tigers will look outside the organization for help. The ideal solution would be to find a young, cost-controlled center fielder, but those don't exactly grow on trees. With several solid corner outfielders on the free agent market, the Tigers may look to replace Hunter first and figure out center field later. This is where Baltimore's Nick Markakis comes in. Could the Tigers swoop in and sign the long-time Oriole?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Markakis is a 30 year old outfielder who was drafted out of high school by the Orioles with the seventh overall pick of the 2003 draft. He rose quickly through their system and debuted in 2006 as a 22 year old. Markakis hit .299/.351/.448 with 16 home runs and 62 RBI in 542 plate appearances during his rookie season, but finished sixth in a loaded AL Rookie of the Year vote. Since then, Markakis has been a mainstay in the Orioles' outfield. He has played in at least 155 games in seven of the past eight seasons and has compiled 22.6 career WAR.
Why should we care?
Markakis isn't a flashy player, but he has been an above average outfielder throughout his career. He has a wRC+ of 105 or better in eight of his nine seasons, topping out at 138 in 2008. Markakis totaled 6.1 WAR that year, but has been between 1.6 and 2.5 WAR in most years. A lot of this is because of his excellent durability. Markakis has compiled at least 470 plate appearances in each of his nine seasons and has only been on the disabled list one time. He has totaled 700 plate appearances or more in five seasons, including 710 last year.
Most of Markakis' value comes from his bat. He is a career .290/.358/.435 hitter and has hit double digit home runs in each of his nine seasons. The only season where Markakis failed to post an above average wRC+ came in 2013, when he hit .271/.329/.356. Markakis credited his down year to a lack of preparation during the previous offseason stemming from a thumb injury he suffered in September of 2012. To his credit, he bounced back in 2014, hitting .276/.342/.386 with 14 home runs and 81 runs scored. A left-handed batter, Markakis does well against left-handed pitching, hitting .288/.344/.398 for his career.
Why should we stay away?
Despite a solid reputation and a Gold Glove to his name, Markakis only grades out as an average defender in right field. He has been worth +6 defensive runs saved in his nine year career, while his UZR is -5.5. He was solid last season, at +1 and +6.2, respectively, but posted negative UZR seasons from 2009 to 2013. He has below average range for a corner outfielder, which would not play well in right field at Comerica Park.
Markakis has been somewhat of an enigmatic hitter since his breakout 2008 season, and his ISO has steadily declined ever since -- save for a .174 ISO in an injury-shortened 2012 season. His slugging average has been below .400 in both of the last two years, and he hasn't reached the 30 double plateau since 2011. With an injury history that is longer than his actual injury report suggests -- he has had neck issues in the past, in particular -- Markakis' best hitting days could already be behind him.
Markakis and the Orioles have reportedly been working on a four-year extension "for weeks," and he seems uninterested in hearing from other clubs. A four year deal is already the limit for what most teams would want to give the soon-to-be 31 year old, as his declining power is already an ominous sign of things to come. Nothing is guaranteed until Markakis signs on the dotted line, but it seems that the Tigers would have to blow the Orioles out of the water with a huge offer in order to change his mind.