The Braves have agreed to re-sign outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4MM, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets. Atlanta held a $6MM option on Markakis with a $2MM buyout, and it seems they’ve handled that option in the exact same manner they handled an identical option over catcher Tyler Flowers. Atlanta bought out both options and re-signed the veterans to one-year deals, thus giving each player the full value of his $6MM option while only counting $4MM in salary toward the 2020 payroll.
It’s a somewhat odd accounting measure for a team that doesn’t figure to approach the luxury tax in 2020, though perhaps they’ve simply been given a clear budget for the 2020 payroll by Liberty Media and found an easy means of freeing up some funds for next season. Whatever the reasoning, the end result is that both veterans will be back with the team on affordable short-term deals for the 2020 campaign.
Markakis, 36 later this month, has been a fixture in the Braves’ lineup for the past five seasons but saw a reduced role in 2019. That’s likely to be the case in 2020, particularly given the veteran’s recent struggles against left-handed pitching. While Markakis’ .285/.356/.402 batting line on the season was a bit better than league average, nearly all of the damage he did came against right-handed pitching. In 113 plate appearances against lefties, Markakis batted just .245/.310/.343 — a far cry from the .298/.371/.446 he recorded in 356 plate appearances against righties.
Atlanta has right-handed-hitting Adam Duvall on hand to serve as a platoon partner for Markakis, should they choose to go that route. Ender Inciarte and Ronald Acuna Jr., meanwhile, are currently in line to hold down the remainder of the outfield time. Of course, that plan could and arguably should change this winter. Inciarte is a clear trade candidate, and the Braves could certainly look to add an offensive upgrade either in center field or at one of the corners (with Acuna then sliding into center field. Top prospect Cristian Pache is looming in the upper minors, too, and could make up for any defensive value lost by moving Inciarte.
At the moment, the Braves have about $54MM committed to the 2020 payroll, though that factor doesn’t include a projected $28.4MM in arbitration raises, nor does it include Julio Teheran’s potential salary. The right-hander has a $12MM option or a $1MM buyout that must be decided upon today. If Teheran is picked up and the entire arb class is retained, the Atlanta payroll would sit around $109MM (including a current slate of pre-arbitration players to round out the roster). That would check in south of last season’s $115MM Opening Day payroll and further south of 2017’s record $122.5MM mark. Of course, Teheran isn’t a lock to be picked up, Inciarte (and/or others) could be traded, and theoretical non-tenders could also impact the team’s bottom line.
The Braves have plenty of needs to address this offseason. Beyond their fluid outfield situation, the Braves need a starting catcher and have multiple avenues by which they could look to explore their pitching staff. A massive payroll spike might not be in the offing, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos is no stranger to putting together creative trade packages even in the face of fiscal limitations.