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What in the devil is wrong with Nick Markakis?We had some fun with Nick Markakis(notes) back when he signed a six-year, $66 million contract in early 2009. Because of the devilish numbers involved, we created the fiery photoshop to your right and jokingly wondered why he or his agent didn't ask for a million more (or less) so he could avoid being associated with the number of the beast.

Thing is, the way the 27-year-old Baltimore Orioles outfielder has performed since signing that contract makes you wonder if he really did sign a deal with the devil. Though he has missed a total of only three games over 2009 and 2010, he has also failed to take his assumed next step into becoming a star player. While he posted an .897 OPS in 2008, that mark fell to .801 in '09 and .805 in '10.

Not terrible, but not exactly the type of production the O's were expecting when they handed him all that cash before the end of his arbitration eligibility.

But this year, as the Washington Post's Dave Sheinin notes, Markakis has just been plain bad with four homers, 19 RBIs and a .602 OPS heading into this weekend's series with Tampa Bay:

So, what could be the problem with Markakis? There has been speculation recently that he is hurt. He has a history of shoulder soreness, dating to his amateur days as a pitcher, and some scouts have noticed his throws from right field don't appear as strong as they once were. But the Orioles say Markakis is healthy — or at least they don't have reason to believe otherwise.

As Sheinin notes, Markakis contends his struggles have to do with mechanics and several scouts agree, claiming that they're seeing a batter with zero confidence right now. While his strikeout rate is down from previous years, so is his walk rate. His isolated power measures at a meager .067, well off his career norm of .158.

Here's the thing, though: Markakis has too good of a track record to hit .238 all season, so there has to be a hot streak somewhere in his future here if he indeed isn't hurt. His BABIP of .252 is also well off his career mark of .323, so there is no doubt a little luck sending him down into the dumps.

But while the O's offense can certainly use a re-emergence of his talents — through all of this he's still batting near the top of their order — they may also have to come around to the idea that the $42 million they'll be paying him over the next three seasons won't turn out to be the bargain that they originally thought it might.

And even though he'll only be 30 when the contract expires — 31, if the O's pick up a $17.5 million extension for 2015 — Markakis may have to come around to the idea that there won't be a second big payday in his future. At least not if he keeps these numbers up.

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