One of the most glaring needs in the White Sox lineup going into the offseason is a quality left fielder. Nick Markakis, though a right fielder by trade, could fill this role much better than the incumbent, Dayan Viciedo. Markakis has played nearly 200 innings in left and has the defensive ability to play the position well. The question is whether or not the Orioles will pick up his club option for 2015 at a cost of $17.5 million, buy out his contract for $2 million and extend a qualifying offer, or let him walk, allowing Markakis to test the free agent waters.
According to baseball-reference.com, Markakis boasts a .290/.358/.435 career slash line. Compare that to Viciedo’s career line of .254/.298/.424, and it’s clear Markakis is much more adept at getting on base. One reason for the statistical edge is Markakis’ ability to minimize unproductive at bats. In 2014 Markakis struck out only 84 times in 710 plate appearances, a rate of 11.8%. Viciedo on the other hand, struck out 122 times in 563 plate appearances, a rate of 21.7%. Markakis also grounded into only 10 double plays compared to Viciedo’s 19.
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What about Viciedo’s power you ask? Well, in the 2014 regular season, Markakis posted a OPS+ of 107. OPS+ normalizes a player’s on base plus slugging percentage and measures it against the league average OPS. Viciedo, aka “The Tank,” posted a paltry 92 OPS+ in 2014, despite hitting seven more home runs and two more triples than Markakis. I’ll take a player that is 7% better than league average over a guy that’s 8% worse than league average any day. A 15% improvement in offensive production from their left fielder would do wonders for a team that finished 16th in team batting average and 20th in on-base percentage according to ESPN.com.
What the White Sox might like even more than Markakis’ offense is his defense. Granted, most of his recent experience has been in right field, but I don’t see too much of a drop off occurring by switching him to over to left. Currently, Viciedo owns a .978 fielding percentage (FP) in the outfield, whereas, Markakis boasts a .994 FP, per fangraphs.com.
It’s also interesting to note that even the worth of Viciedo’s strong arm paled in comparison to Markakis’ in 2014. Outfield Arm runs above average (ARM) measures the runs saved or allowed by a fielder with their arm by preventing, or not preventing, runners from advancing. Markakis posted a positive 5.5 ARM in 2014, saving 5.5 runs above average. Surprisingly, Tank posted a negative 4.2 ARM in 2014, allowing 4.2 more runs than league average. Here is an example below of the 30 year-old Markakis’ cannon in action. He fires a two-hop strike to his catcher, preventing the go-ahead run from scoring and ending the inning.
By the way, that runner rounding third was Mike Trout, not exactly the slowest guy in the league.
Assuming the Orioles buy out Markakis, whether they extend a qualifying offer or not, the White Sox could probably retain Markakis’ services for about $18-19 million per year judging by contracts recently awarded to Hunter Pence and Shin-Soo Choo this past offseason. Speculation abounds the Orioles will buy out Markakis, extend the qualifying offer, and take the draft pick as compensation for Markakis accepting a longer term deal elsewhere. In the White Sox case, that draft pick would be a second round pick, due to their top-10 first round draft position being protected.
It’s clear the Orioles’ right fielder would be an immediate upgrade offensively and defensively over Dayan Viciedo. What’s not clear is how much White Sox general manager, Rick Hahn, and the organization would be willing to pay for his production, or if Markakis is comfortable working in left field full-time. Those are questions the organization will have to explore the answers to, as the crop of free agent position players this offseason is thin compared to years past. Given the scarcity of outfield talent hitting the open market, Markakis, if he becomes available, would be a wise investment for the Chicago White Sox.