Guest Writer: Andy Simms of
Filling the void: The one where the Nick Markakis hole was filled with… Nick Markakis…
The biggest story of the off season for the Braves to date has been the lack of urgency in filling the void left behind when Nick Markakis became a free agent at the end of the season. One name after another was offered up as a possible solution, only to be either signed away to another team or shot down as speculative rumor-mongering on the part of bloggers and national writers alike. All this time there were warnings from Alex Anthopoulos of what was to come:
On Tuesday the Braves announced a reunion with Nick Markakis and presumably resolving the issue of the right field vacancy, at least for 2019. Markakis returns to the Braves on a 1-year deal with a second year option that guarantees him $6M by way of a $4M payout for 2019 and a $2M buyout on that option ($6M) for 2020. This is a very reasonable deal for a guy who is coming off his first All Star selection, a Silver Slugger award and a Gold Glove. Markakis admits that he had other offers with more years and more money, but ultimately his decision was made for him:
Upon the announcement, Braves Twitter exploded. There are basically three camps: those who loved the move, those who were disappointed by the move, and those who were looking for a reason to blast the Braves and their owners anyway…
So I have had around 24 hours to digest this signing, and these two responses to the Markakis deal seem to capture where I am at right now on this issue:
I mean, I get it. The contract is terrific. If you had told me we signed Nick Markakis to a 1 year, $4M to be a bench player for 2019 I’d have thought it to be a little rich but worth the money. When you consider that Markakis is going to assume an every day role in the outfield, however, this just leaves me wanting more… so much more…
Anthopoulos has hinted that the Braves may not be done, and that this deal preserves enough working capital to address other needs. At this point, at least for me, this rings hollow. We were told exactly the same thing when the Brian McCann signing was announced, and we were told on numerous occasions beginning with the trade announcement of Matt Kemp that 2019 would be the year we had substantial funds to make a push for the playoffs. While it’s easy to get excited over the Donaldson signing, we do have to remember he hasn’t shown he is recovered from injury and back to MVP-level performance, and that’s the only level that will make his contract worth the $23M we are going to pay him. Aside from that the net effect to the Braves roster is that we have remained stagnant.
Truth be told, I am not even that upset about Nick Markakis returning. I had hopes that the Braves would take this chance to significantly upgrade his roster spot, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t know that aside from overpaying Bryce Harper there was anyone we would put in RF that would overcome the current deficit we have in the rotation when compared to our division rivals. It can be seen as a disadvantage that Markakis is not a guy you can count on to bat clean-up, and that displaces Acuña from the lead off spot and takes away valuable plate appearances from a very dynamic hitter, but that is assuming that he maintains his second half production and doesn’t fall victim to the second-year-player slump so common among young players. In essence, all this signing does is introduce one more in a long line of questions about the Braves starting lineup:
- Can Ender avoid a slow start to the season and remain at the top of the lineup?
- Can Josh Donaldson show he his healthy and ready to perform at an MVP level?
- Will Acuña suffer a sophomore slump?
- Was the second half of Markakis’ season an indication of overall decline or just a function of over-work?
- Can Albies make adjustments at the plate from the left side to overcome the adjustments the league made to him?
- Can McCann provide any offensive value?
- Will Flowers continue to trend towards offensive decline or will a platoon improve his overall offensive value?
- Was the wrist of Swanson the reason he struggled offensively last year and, if so, is he 100% healthy now?
The biggest question that faces the Braves in 2019 is whether or not Alex Anthopoulos believes there are any moves left for him to make that can close the gap on paper between the Braves and their NL East contemporaries. If he looks at the landscape and sees nothing that tips the scales to his advantage before the season even starts then we are likely to enter 2019 with essentially the same team that we had in 2018 and hope that the moves the rest of the league made don’t pan out. This is a strategy doomed to failure in my opinion, but aside from empty promises there is nothing to provide any indication that a significant move is in the works.