Alright, be honest: How many of you all have been on social media replying to the Braves (and Braves-related/adjacent) accounts imploring the front office to make a move? “Do something! Anything,” you implored. Well, be careful what you wish for because it might come true. The Braves made a move today and I’m sure that everybody is thrilled with the Braves returning to activity on the free agent market, right?
I’ll start with the positives. The big positive is that the Braves have a lovely clubhouse at the moment and Nick Markakis was a big part of making that a possibility. You’ll never hear anybody say a bad word about the guy across baseball and while “veteran presence” may be a bit of a meme phrase at this point in baseball analysis, it’s undeniable that he will be a positive influence on the young guys in the locker room.
Another positive is he’s coming off a big rebound season in 2018. You would be hard-pressed to find anybody who seriously believed that Nick Markakis would go from being worth 3.1 fWAR during the first three seasons of his initial four-year deal with the Braves to finishing his tenure with a 2.6 fWAR season. This included Markakis putting up some of his best offensive numbers since his time as a Baltimore Orioles player.
Markakis’ 2018 season was an incredibly pleasant surprise and while he’s heading into his age-35 season, you had to imagine that some team was going to take a flier on him on a cheap, short-term deal where there wouldn’t be much pressure on him to succeed and he’d get a chance to prove that maybe 2018 wasn’t a fluke and that he’s still got plenty more left in the tank. He’s earned an opportunity to prove it, that’s for sure.
Unfortunately, that’s where we start with the cons of this deal. While the contract is definitely team-friendly, it would be a huge disappointment if the Braves decided to stand pat with their lineup as-is at the moment. While Markakis did indeed have a solid season in 2018, he did the vast majority of that damage in the first half of the season. Once the second half rolled around, we got the version of Nick Markakis that a lot of people were expecting to see — the version who would scuffle at the plate while not providing much of anything impressive from a defensive standpoint.
Then there’s the fact that even though Markakis has earned the opportunity to prove that his 2018 success wasn’t a fluke, the odds are still very much stacked against him. Again, this is his age-35 season and while there are a handful of players who manage to turn things around and beat back Father Time’s advances, it’s also highly unlikely that Nick Markakis will end up joining the club of those who looked Father Time square in the eyes and gave him a punch across the jaw.
Plus, there’s the feeling that the Braves could have definitely done better for themselves on the free agent market. A.J. Pollock comes with the dangerous cost of a draft pick at a time when due to international sanctions, the Braves really can’t afford to lose a draft pick. Still, you’d have to figure with the rest of baseball being incredibly conservative with their offseason action, that might have been a risk that the Braves would have been willing to take in order to get ahead of the competition.
Then there’s Marwin Gonzalez. While giving him a once-rumored three-year, $56 million contract would have been wild, the Braves still wouldn’t have done bad for themselves for bringing him in on something that would have actually been reasonable. Gonzalez wouldn’t be a splash signing on the level of Pollock, but he’d still serve as an improvement over Markakis as a starter.
There’s also the possibility of Bryce Har—nah, I won’t even start that.
The point is that the Braves have the opportunity to do better. As a matter of fact, the window is still open. We could very well see them pull off a trade, whether it’s for an outfielder who’s on the trade market or if they can finally convince the Marlins to come to their senses when it comes to sensibly trading J.T. Realmuto. If the Braves can make another impact move, then bringing Nick Markakis back into the fold won’t seem like too much of a gaffe.
For now, it just seems like the Braves are making this move for familiarity’s sake and also following a troubling trend that’s been going around the entirety of baseball. Why spend big on free agents and/or blockbuster trades when you can simply sit on what you currently have and hope for the best while convincing yourself that you’re getting value for money?
It’s basically like riding around in an old bucket car. You ride around in that bucket car for four years, but you’re only doing it because you’re saving up for a nicer car in the future. You ride around in that bucket for a few years, but you finally reach a point where you’re able to go to the dealership and make the upgrade so that you can stop bumbling about and start stunting on everybody in a brand new car. However, after spending plenty of time at the dealership, you decide to just simply get this year’s version of the same bucket you had been riding around in before.
If the Braves leave it there, they may as well have just gotten this year’s version of the bucket — especially if Atlanta ends up in a situation where Josh Donaldson continues to struggle with injuries and the Braves are essentially putting the same lineup from 2018 out there for 2019.
It’ll serve the team well in the regular season but will it be enough to go deeper into October if they make it there? The good news is that there’s still time for the Braves to make something big happen. Only time will tell if they’ll actually do it or if they’re just going to be satisfied with the status quo.