I don't know exactly how it would get done, but now is the time for the Orioles to do whatever it takes to trade Nick Markakis. He is scheduled to make $12 million in 2012, $15 million in 2013, and $15 million in 2014; he's a good player, but he's not that good.
Even though Markakis is one of the best players on the team, the O's should be looking to unload his contract on another team, while also possibly hoodwinking that team into throwing in a useful prospect or two. It won't be easy, but it's worth a shot. And at the end of the day, even just getting rid of his contract would probably be considered a minor victory, since that money would be better off spent on future pieces that could help the team in the next several seasons.
One of the best reasons to deal Markakis now? He's on fire. Just look at his monthly splits:
Mar/Apr: .204/.275/.286, .259 wOBA
May: .287/.352/.357, .318 wOBA
June: .351/.371/.459, .365 wOBA
July: .338/.386/.523, .406 wOBA
So that's impressive. It would be difficult for him to take yet another step forward in August, but it's fun to watch him hit right now. Still, even with his surge at the plate, his numbers are still similar to his disappointing 2009 and 2010 seasons.
One of the oddest things about Markakis's 2011 season is the lack of walks. He has drawn a walk only 6.1 percent of the time this season; he has a career 9.4 BB%. Despite his fantastic numbers the last several weeks, Markakis walked only four times in June and has just four walks so far in July. He does have more than a week and a half to draw more walks this month, but that just doesn't seem like many for Markakis, who has a very good eye at the plate.
He's cut down on his strikeouts: 9.2 K% this season; 13.9 K% in his career. So he's walking less and striking out less as well, meaning he's making a ton of contact. That's not really a great thing for someone whose slugging percentages have been dropping each season since 2008.
So why would another team be so eager to deal for Markakis? Good question. The biggest hurdle is his contract; no small-market team would be willing to bring his contract aboard, which certainly limits the O's trading partners. But he's still a 2.5-3.0 WAR player at this point, and there's certainly value in that. He also plays every day and has never spent much time on the disabled list, so injuries aren't much of a concern (unlike, say, the recent J.J. Hardy signing).
To be honest, it's hard to get too excited about Markakis. At 27 (turns 28 in November), he seems to be playing like he will for the next several seasons: pretty good on-base percentage, limited power, solid contact hitter who uses the entire field, average right fielder, great arm, and slightly above average speed. He's not someone other teams should target if they're thinking of getting a guy who's going to transform an entire offense. He's not that kind of player. But he is a steady force who would seem more imposing on a team with more talented hitters already on it. That doesn't mean he'd hit better there -- after all, lineup protection has more or less been proven to be nonexistent -- but there would be lower expectations on him if he's batting sixth instead of second or third.
Maybe only a handful of teams would be looking to pick up a guy like that -- maybe less. And even if they did, they would resist giving up anything in return. Regardless, the O's should be seeking out those teams and trying to work something out. Then again, if a potential Markakis trade ends up with Buck Showalter playing Felix Pie in right field on a daily basis, I'd reconsider the whole thing. Maybe.