The Baltimore Sun is reporting perhaps the best news of the offseason today: "The Orioles and Nick Markakis are close to a six-year deal worth between $64 million and $66 million in guaranteed money." The deal would allow Markakis and the O's to avoid impending arbitration for 2009, as well as 2010 and 2011, and postpone Nick's first chance at free agency until after the 2014 season. This seems like an eminently reasonable deal for both sides, very much in-line with recent deals signed by Dustin Pedroia (6-years, $40 million, two free agent years bought out) and Cole Hamels (3-years, $20.5 million, zero free agent years bought out).
Hard as it is to believe, this will be either the second or third largest deal (in nominal terms) in Orioles history, and unfortunately, neither of the current largest deals turned out very well; Miguel Tejada's 6-year/$72 million deal in 2003 and Albert Belle's 5-year/$65 million deal in 1998 both soured quickly.
So what makes the Markakis deal more promising? First and foremost is age. Markakis will play his age 25 season in 2009, and will be just 30 years old when the contract expires. Thus, the Orioles have locked up their best player for what are likely to be his peak seasons. In comparison, the Orioles signed Tejada prior to his age 30 season and Belle before his age 32 season. Markakis is also regarded as an excellent defensive player, and according to Baseball Prospectus, is roughly a one win upgrade over an average rightfielder. Belle was certainly never known for his fielding prowess, and Tejada rates as (at least) one win below the average shortstop.
I love this deal for the Orioles, and Markakis must be happy that he's going to guarantee himself $65 million in career earnings before he even turns 31. Here's looking forward to at least six more seasons with Nick in right field.