After trading away Jason Heyward and with uncertainty surrounding the Upton Brothers and Evan Gattis, it appears that the Braves have their sights set on 31-year-old free agent Nick Markakis. Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that a group of Braves personnel, including manager Fredi González and assistant GM John Coppolella, met with Markakis yesterday.
RFer Nick Markakis had dinner last night in Monkton w an Atlanta Braves contingent that included manager Fredi Gonzalez, accdg to a source— Dan Connolly (@danconnollysun) December 3, 2014
With Fredi Gonzalez coming to Baltimore to meet Markakis, you have to think Braves are biggest suitor for Markakis right now -- besides Os.— Dan Connolly (@danconnollysun) December 3, 2014
Markakis, a 9-year veteran who became a free agent this offseason after spending the entirety of his career up until this point with the Orioles, would presumably serve as Jason Heyward's replacement in right field if he were to sign with the Braves.
Connolly notes that this was more of a "feeling-out" and "getting to know each other" meeting, and that Director of Baseball Operations John Hart was not present. So, it sounds like the Braves do have serious interest in Markakis, but a deal or even an offer doesn't appear to be imminent, which would allow the Braves to explore the trade market further before deciding on whether or not Markakis would be a fit.
Speculation was present that the Braves would make a run at Markakis, who grew up in Woodstock, in the Atlanta metro area, and attended Young-Harris College in Georgia. He's a left-handed hitter, which would help to balance out the currently righty-heavy assortment of hitters that the Braves have, and has solid on-base skills, posting a .342 OBP in 2014 (career .358) along with low strikeout numbers. Markakis is actually quite similar to Jason Heyward (at least the 2013 and 2014 iterations of Heyward) offensively in that he posts solid on-base numbers with decent batting averages, but hasn't produced much in the way of power. Markakis hit 14 home runs last season in a division that has quite a few hitter's parks that are conducive to home run hitting.
A point of contention in peoples' analyses of Markakis is consistently his defensive ability, or lack thereof. He won the American League Gold Glove for right fielders this season, and has another Gold Glove in his trophy case from 2011. Defensive metrics don't have such a rosy opinion of Markakis in the outfield, however, painting him generally as below-average in recent years. He was a tick above average in 2014, with +1 DRS and 5.8 UZR/150, but combined to post negative 14 runs saved in 2012 and 2013 combined. His range is below-average, but he is sure-handed and has an above-average arm. One has to wonder, however, how drastically his defensive profile would worsen as he progresses through his early and mid-30's.
One positive to a pursuit of Markakis is that he was not offered the $15.1 million qualifying offer by the Orioles after the season's end, so signing him would not cost the Braves a first-round draft pick. With John Hart's assertions that the Braves are looking to revert to their scouting and draft-heavy ways in order to accumulate young talent, it makes sense that the front office would be interested in a player who would slot into the outfield, an area of positional need, yet wouldn't force the team to forfeit a selection in the mid-teens in next June's amateur draft.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted a 4-year, $48 million contract for Markakis, and Fangraphs' contract crowdsourcing exercise landed at a projected 3-year, $33 million deal. I tend to think that the contract that he'll ultimately receive is probably closer to MLBTR's estimate, which would put him in Atlanta through the end of his age 34 season. I have some trepidation with regards to Markakis' age, but his profile doesn't show any signs of imminent collapse (dropping contact rates, etc.). Markakis is projected to produce a .268/.344/.381 line in 2015 by Steamer (103 wRC+) and post only 1.3 fWAR, assuming that he plays 140 games.
I'm not too crazy about the idea of Nick Markakis in Atlanta for four seasons, but I'd feel a lot more comfortable with a three-year deal, especially if the contract's AAV isn't too outrageous. He wouldn't exactly be a sexy signing, but he would likely be a decent-enough replacement in the outfield, a position at which the Braves currently have extremely limited options, especially if (or, rather, when) some permutation of BJ and Justin Upton and Evan Gattis are traded. There won't be any help coming from the farm in the near future, so this really could end up being a signing made out of necessity.