Viewed in isolation, the Atlanta Braves re-signing Nick Markakis didn’t exactly excite the masses or create a spike in season ticket sales. By all of baseball’s endless assortment of statistical measurables, Markakis was an average to a tick above average Major League outfielder.
As with anything, though, signing Markakis needs to be weighed against the options as well as within context.
First, the options.
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos wanted to sign a bigger bat to plug into right field, which Markakis manned almost single-handed over the past four seasons. One by one, though, the already thin market dissipated.
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Andrew McCutcheon: Phillies, three years, $50 million
Michael Brantley: Astros, two years, $26 million
And now, in a deal that’s been in the works for more than week, A.J. Pollock: Dodgers, five years, $65 million, if you include his $10 million player option at the back end.
So $6 million for one season and assurance that they can bring him back for the same price tag in 2020 is a relative bargain.
It’s not that the Braves cheaped out. Anthopoulos just refused to get sucked into a bidding war for someone else who might not even prove to be an upgrade. There was nobody else on the free agent market that would be considered an upgrade.
Well, nobody that the Braves had a chance of signing. They weren’t going to pay $300 million for Bryce Harper. Just wasn’t going to happen.
And here’s where the context comes into play. Anthopoulos wasn’t going to part with any of the Braves’ prized pitching prospects to make a blockbuster trade for an outfielder or catcher J.T. Realmuto. They now might be willing to include one high-level prospect to swing a deal for a front line starting pitcher or reliever. Maybe.
More likely, they will use their remaining payroll flexibility to sign a free agent pitcher.
Say … Craig Kimbrell? Dallas Keuchel, maybe?
Or maybe they just ride with what they have and take their chances on becoming buyers at the summer trade deadline. Yeah, that might not inspire the fans, especially with the Phillies and the Mets making big moves in the offseason and the Nationals expected to bounce back from last year’s disastrous season.
So maybe they don’t repeat as National League East champs. The last thing they need to do is allow their competition to force them to trade prospects that they’ve spent so much time developing. Sure, they have a surplus of talent, especially young arms.
Problem is, no one knows which of these prospects will develop into franchise players — if any at all. When Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery were prospects, the Braves also had guys like Pete Smith, Kent Mercker, Kevin Coffman and Tommy Greene. Teams were constantly calling the Braves to pry away some of this talent. Mercker ended up having a solid career, mostly as a reliever. But the others did little to nothing.
So if they have to take a step backward until some of these pitching prospects develop, so be it.
Meanwhile, Markakis is a more than capable starting outfielder. He lacks the home run power teams want to get out of their corner outfielders. But to label him a mere singles hitter is simply misguided. In his first four seasons with the Braves, Markakis has 38, 38, 39 and 43 doubles. That ranked fifth, ninth, fifth and third in the National League.
And he probably won’t be asked to bat cleanup this season, making his production even more valuable further down the lineup.
The best part of the Markakis contract isn’t the money. It’s the fact that it’s a one-year deal. And if he proves that he still has something left, they can bring him back in 2020 for a relatively modest sum of $6 million, and that might be as a left-handed bat off the bench. In fact, he might end up in that role later in the season if someone else becomes available.
Granted, signing Markakis may not be the splashy move many fans wanted. But there’s no down side.