Markakis amenable to leading off for Orioles

Markakis amenable to leading off for Orioles

Markakis amenable to leading off for Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Nick Markakis, leadoff hitter?

It could happen in 2014, with Orioles manager Buck Showalter saying at last week's Winter Meetings that Markakis is the club's leading in-house option should the organization not sign or trade for a leadoff hitter.

"That's the first time I've heard of it," Markakis said Monday at the OriolesREACH Holiday Party for Kids at Dave & Busters in Hanover, Md. "No mention of it, but if that's what's got to happen, that's what's got to happen to make the team better and the organization better. It is what it is, and we'll address that situation if it comes up.

"I like it, because nine times out of 10, on the road, you're going to get five at-bats. I like the extra at-bats, especially when you're feeling good. Getting that extra at-bat helps. It's a different position, but I liked it. I enjoyed it."

Markakis has spent time in the leadoff spot, posting a career .329/.375/.441 line in 88 games. Ideally, the Orioles would like to add a leadoff man, but they've got a lengthy to-do list and there's no guarantee the O's will sign a top-of-the-order hitter. As for Markakis, he was able to start working out earlier than in past offseasons, and he said he's about a "couple extra weeks to a month" ahead of where he's been.

"I feel good, I feel healthy," Markakis said, coming off a 2013 season in which he posted career lows in numerous offense categories, including a .685 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) in 160 games. Markakis spent last offseason recovering from a broken thumb, his third surgery in 2012, and was slowed with a neck issue in Spring Training.

"A lot went on the past year as far as injuries and stuff," he said. "I got myself in as best of shape as I could in the time I was given. It was a tough year for me, but I was able to make it through healthy. That's your main goal at the beginning of every season. It was productive to some points, and some points, it wasn't productive."

Markakis' declining power numbers have been a hot topic among Orioles fans, and it's a facet of his game he was asked about again Monday.

"I guess going back to it, yeah, you can say it [needs to improve], but my main thing is I want to be healthy and I want to get stronger," Markakis said. "I'm on my way to doing what I want to do right now. So I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing."

Is Markakis motivated to put the 2013 season behind him?

"I don't necessarily need the motivation," he said. "I do this because I love doing it, and the love and appreciation I have for the game. That's enough for me to, I guess you could say, be motivated. I'm always excited to work and get better at the game any way you can."

The O's haven't been too active this offseason, with a few smaller moves and the trading away of closer Jim Johnson, a deal that shocked Markakis

"Jim's a guy who's been here his whole career; he was drafted by this team. I played through the Minors with him and my whole career with him," Markakis said. "We had something a little more special than a lot of the players.

"Speaking for all the players, yeah, Jim was a great guy to have in the clubhouse. His work ethic and what he does translates on the field. If you're an Oriole fan, you saw what he did the past two years. It's a tough one to bite, but this is baseball and anything can happen. That's the business aspect of it."

The Orioles are looking for a replacement for Johnson, with nothing new as of Monday afternoon on the club's quest to land free agent Grant Balfour. The O's have been viewed as the favorite to land the fiery right-hander, and they are also in need of a designated hitter, left fielder and rotation help.

Baltimore is also kicking around the idea of re-signing veteran second baseman Brian Roberts.

"I've talked to him here and there, but no talk about his future or anything," Markakis said of Roberts. "I'm sure they'll get that worked out."

As the longest-tenured active Oriole, Markakis said he isn't worried about the team's quiet offseason and preached patience.

"There's still a lot of time left between now and the beginning of the season," he said. "That's why Buck and [president of baseball operations] Dan [Duquette] and those guys up there do what they do. Those are the things we don't have to worry about. We'll get it done, and we'll be talking differently probably in April."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.