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Is now the time to sign Markakis long term?

We'll get into some serious baseball talk around the bar today. We'll be talking the Orioles' future and your money.

But let's revisit yesterday's goofy topic of the all-zoo nickname team for a moment. I asked you to help me come up with an all-time MLB team of animal nicknames and several of you -- open drink tabs for Rob, Jim, Jeff and Barry -- really answered the bell. The only limitation is that you couldn't duplicate nicknames unless there was a variation (so only one Moose, but Horse and Iron Horse were acceptable).

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For some reason, first base is jammed; guys like Mo "Hit Dog" Vaughn and Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff didn't make it. And catcher is wide open. I'm sure there are better ones out there than the two we came up with. So if you have one, it's never too late too add it to our solid 25-man roster.

The starting lineup: 2B Ryne "Ryno" Sandberg, LF Joe "Ducky" Medwick, 1B Lou "Iron Horse" Gehrig, CF Duke "The Silver Fox" Snider, DH Johnny "The Big Cat" Mize, RF Tris "The Gray Eagle" Speaker, 3B Ron "Penguin" Cey, C John "Horse" Orsino, SS Walter "Rabbit" Maranville.

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Bench: Reserve catcher, Floyd "Honey Bear" Rayford (hey, he caught 124 games in his career, and we couldn't leave the Honey Bear off this list), middle infielder Johnny "Crab" Evers, fourth outfielder Andre "Hawk" Dawson, and two other bats: Orlando "Baby Bull" Cepeda and Dave "Cobra" Parker.

11-man pitching staff: Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Greg "Mad Dog" Maddux, Jim "Kitty" Kaat, Mike "Moose" Mussina, Ferguson "Fly" Jenkins, Jim "Mudcat" Grant, Orel "Bulldog" Hershiser, Mike "The Big Bear" Garcia, Harry "The Cat" Brecheen, Gregg "Otter" Olson, Rich "Goose" Gossage.

OK, with all that done, back to today's baseball. Here's a shot to JW for beating me to the punch on another subject idea (This is the third time since we opened that I had planned a topic of discussion and some regular mentions it the day before).

In today's Sun we examine the trend of young players at least two years away from free agency signing contract extensions. Since Jan. 1, 15 teams have signed 26 players. The Orioles haven't extended any of their young players, most notably right fielder Nick Markakis, who is still three-plus seasons away from free agency. The sides haven't talked long-term contract yet.

This is an interesting debate. Markakis, 24, is the club's best player and he's arguably more valuable to the Orioles -- who are rebuilding and have few young hitters in the majors -- than most any other player in baseball is to his team.

That said, Markakis is under the Orioles' control through 2011, and that's a long way away. There's no real rush. But there is the danger of Markakis gambling on his ability and deciding not to take a long-term deal once he's only two years or fewer from free agency, biding his time and then leaving the Orioles for greener pastures. So this offseason likely looms important.

For an extension to be practical for the Orioles, they would have to get several years of free agency away from Markakis.

So we're talking about at least a six-year deal probably worth in the neighborhood of $8 to $12 million annually -- a contract roughly in the $60 million range. Maybe more. That's a whole lot of guaranteed cash for a player in just his third full season. He's extremely talented and still has upside, but is he that much of a sure thing?

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Daily Think Special: Should the Orioles sign Markakis before next season to a long-term contract or is it too early? What should be the Orioles' breaking point as far as years and millions are concerned? Remember, it's your money, too.


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