Markakis, O's talk deal, back off

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles and standout right fielder Nick Markakis engaged in negotiations for a contract extension in the past week, but those discussions halted yesterday and likely will not be rekindled until after the season, several baseball sources said.

Markakis, 24, who is considered the cornerstone of the team's rebuilding plan, is eligible for arbitration after the season and is under the Orioles' contractual control through the 2011 season.

Asked about the talks between the Orioles and Jamie Murphy, Markakis' agent, club president Andy MacPhail said: "We don't comment on negotiations."

Murphy and Markakis also declined to address the topic yesterday.

The extension talks started right around the All-Star break and ended yesterday with the sides failing to reach an agreement, according to sources. The Orioles' multiyear offer would have included buying out Markakis' three arbitration years, sources said, but other specifics were not available. However, the money was deemed too low by Markakis' side.

What Markakis is seeking, in years and dollars, has not been made public, but he potentially could command a deal similar to that of fellow American League East right fielder Alex Rios of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rios, 27, signed a six-year contract extension in April reportedly worth $64 million through 2014. Markakis is three years younger than Rios and is having a better offensive year.

Florida Marlins All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, already considered one of the game's best at age 24, signed a six-year, $70 million extension in May. He has similar service time as Markakis, but Ramirez plays the premium position of shortstop. Markakis' market value could lie between the two.

Earlier this season, MacPhail said he preferred discussing contract extensions in the offseason, but he did not rule out in-season negotiations.

"I'm not a slave to one point of view or the other," MacPhail said. "Like most people, I just prefer to play baseball in the summer. But I'm not one for setting rigid policies that preclude you from looking at different options regardless of the time of year."

Markakis entered last night's series opener with the Toronto Blue Jays hitting a team-leading .295 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs. He was third in the AL with 62 walks, a career high, and second in the league with nine outfield assists. Last year, he batted .300 with 23 homers, 112 RBIs and 18 steals in his second full season.

Markakis is making $455,000 this season after earning $400,000 in 2007. The Orioles and the outfielder couldn't agree to terms on a deal for the 2008 season before the March 4 deadline and Markakis' contract was unilaterally renewed by the Orioles.

The result miffed the soft-spoken Markakis, though he didn't criticize the organization.

"That's just how the Orioles feel," he said at the time. "I don't have much of a choice. I'm just going to have to deal with it."

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