A huge part of the Baltimore Orioles unforeseen success this season has been keeping their best players healthy: J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis have all played in at least 46 games. The Orioles found out Thursday this trend will not continue through June. Markakis has been diagnosed with a broken hamate bone (the same injury as Pablo Sandoval earlier this season) and will likely miss the rest of June in recovery.
The Orioles have been relatively blessed all over the diamond in terms of injuries — only Nolan Reimold has missed serious time among key contributors, and the rotation has only had to go through one spot start in two months. But with Markakis and Reimold both on the mend, the Orioles will be exposed at one of their suddenly weakest positions. Can the rest of the team keep them near the top of the standings until their outfielders return?
Reimold is slated to return to extended spring training on Tuesday to resume his rehab, but there’s a chance his ailing neck may require another epidural before he can return; his recovery could be longer than Markakis’s. As a result, the Orioles are rolling out Steve Tolleson and Bill Hall flanking Adam Jones in the corners Friday night, a duo projected for wOBAs of .292 and .288 respectively.
Markakis still hasn’t evolved into the star he was supposed to be, but he’s a consistently useful hitter, with four straight seasons of a wRC+ between 107 and 117. But, as a defensive player typically considered somewhere around average in a corner, he’s a slightly above-average player — somewhere between two and three WAR over the course of a season.
So the downgrade to Tolleson or Hall — roughly replacement-level players, maybe slightly worse — probably costs the Orioles just about a half to a full win over the course of a month. The damage could be less if Xavier Avery — a speedster with a good glove and a similar bat to the current replacements — returns to the big leagues, or if Reimold’s recovery is quicker than expected.
Markakis’s play alone was never going to determine Baltimore’s fate. If the Orioles crumble in Markakis’s absence, it is likely because the burden was too heavy to begin with. If the rest of the Orioles can keep the team in contention through June — a possibility, as various projections give the Orioles anywhere from a 15 to 42 percent shot at the playoffs — Markakis’s brief absence will be but an afterthought come July.