My first thought when I heard Nick Markakis signed a very familiar 6 year, $60+ million dollar contract extension was "Alex Rios is officially overpaid." Markakis is often in my thoughts, while Alex Rios has become our reality. Not that I'm complaining, but initially they don't compare quite so well. Markakis is like Rios with a lot more patience and very similar power output. The Greek Rocco notched 43 home runs over the past two years to Winfield Lite's 39. He actually bested Alex's superlative 47 doubles in 2008 with 48 of his own.
But then I remembered that I'm supposed to be some kind of holistic baseball try-hard, it couldn't be so cut and dry. So I let some much smarter people than I do all the work, and I realized that despite their nearly identical numbers in 2007, Alex Rios was worth a full win more than Markakis. And despite having creating nearly 20 runs of offense above average fewer than Nick the Greek, Alexis was worth but a half win less overall. How can that be? The Oriole in question had Rios by nearly 40 points of wOBA, a stat that accounts for Rios sudden surge in base larceny??
Oh right, Alex Rios is one of the best outfielders in baseball. How could I forget? UZR, RZR, +/-, they all love Rios. Markakis is no slouch, but using Fangraph's evaluation system, Alex Rios makes up 13 runs because of his defense. He also picks up some bonus points for being able to play both CF and RF well. That doesn't even account for his outstanding arm. Sadly Markakis's gun, just like his ball fetching and forefather's cuisine, is very average.
So what was it? Why did I convince myself that Roccopolous was better than Alex Rios? Could I overlooked his much more offense-minded lineup and position in the order, allowing myself to be swayed by "traditional" numbers like RBI? I'd have to shut this whole blog down and start commenting at Torontosun.com, wouldn't I?
Thankfully, no. The value of Markakis getting on base an extra 50 times should not be diminished. The other point in Nick's favor is his age, especially relative to Rios. Alex Rios has what we like to call "Ryan Howarditis"; he's way older than you realize. Nick Markakis is headed into his 3rd full season at the age of 25, while the Jays right fielder will have reached the tender age of 28 before Opening Day. It should also be noted that Markakis has shown steady growth over each of his big league seasons, while Rios has ridden a roller coaster of staph infections, questioned effort and bastard children.
Realistically, both the Jays and O's are getting exactly what they must if they hope to compete in the AL East: excellent value for their money. Paying Markakis $10 million per year through his 30 year old season or Rios through 31 is sound business, considering their true worth starts somewhere in the neighbourhood of $16 million per year. A figure (plus inflation, naturellement) the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers will gladly pay them come 2013.