BALTIMORE -- The Orioles lost a key cornerstone of their organization on Wednesday night, as Nick Markakis -- who had been their longest-tenured active player-- agreed to a four-year, $44 million deal with the Atlanta Braves.
Markakis, who spent the past nine years with the O's, was a quiet team leader who had made his year-round home in nearby Monkton, Md. Together with wife Christina, the Markakis' were a huge part of the Baltimore community and the departure of the popular 31-year-old -- and the Orioles' first-round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft -- leaves quite a hole in right field.
"U don't want my opinion!!!!!!!!" Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, a close friend of Markakis, said via Twitter just minutes after the news broke.
But indeed it is, as Markakis -- slated for a physical on Friday -- is returning home to Georgia to play for a Braves club located roughly 30 miles from his hometown. He will be reunited with longtime Orioles reliever Jim Johnson, who signed with Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon. Markakis will suit up for the first time against Baltimore at Camden Yards in July.
The Markakis news comes on the heels of the Orioles losing outfielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who signed a four-year pact with Seattle on Monday. Unlike Cruz, however, the O's appeared to be on the same page with Markakis' camp early and the two sides reaching a deal seemed to be nearly a foregone conclusion. But talks stalled over the length of the deal, with Baltimore growing wary of offering four years, and other teams expressing interest in the right fielder.
Still, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette refuted that the O's were out of the Markakis race as recently as Tuesday, saying, "Rumors of our demise are largely exaggerated."
Perhaps not. Atlanta reportedly made a strong push on Wednesday in adding Markakis, after several members of the organization had dinner with Markakis in Monkton on Tuesday night. In Markakis, the Braves get a steady fixture on the field and in the clubhouse as Atlanta continues its winter overhaul. Markakis batted .276 this season with a .342 on-base percentage and a .386 slugging percentage in 155 games, winning his second career Gold Glove Award in the process.
For the Orioles, his departure only intensifies the need to add outfield help. To borrow a popular phrase from manager Buck Showalter, Markakis "spoiled" the Orioles with his level of play in right field and -- coupled with Cruz -- his absence puts the club's outfield in a precarious state. Alejandro De Aza slots in right now in a corner spot beside Jones with the O's also returning David Lough, but Duquette had already planned on adding outfield help even before losing Markakis.