Braves outfielder Nick Markakis has opted out of playing this season, manager Brian Snitker announced to reporters this morning (Twitter link via Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). In doing so, he’ll forgo this year’s $4MM salary and the year of service time he’d have otherwise accrued.
Markakis himself tells reporters that there were multiple factors that ultimately led to his decision (Twitter links via Burns and Mark Bowman of MLB.com). Markakis says that a talk with Braves star Freddie Freeman, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, proved pivotal. “That opened my eyes,” said Markakis. “He didn’t sound good.” Playing in the absence of fans was also a notable factor in his decision to sit out the season.
The 36-year-old Markakis has spent the past five seasons with the Braves, serving as a veteran guide and mentor through a rebuild that has seen the Atlanta organization return to perennial contender status in the NL East. Though he’s no longer the elite-level outfielder he was at his peak, Markakis was described by Snitker this morning as “the backbone of our club” — a nod to the veteran’s influence and standing in the clubhouse.
Markakis has surely thought long and hard over the decision, which comes just two day after Freeman, Will Smith, Touki Toussaint and Pete Kozma tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, teams throughout the league have been delayed in getting test results back from Major League Baseball, which has resulted in the cancellation of workouts for two teams thus far.
Though he’s not playing in 2020, Markakis added that he hopes this won’t spell the end of his career (Twitter link via David O’Brien of The Athletic). Playing in 2021 will be another decision for another day, though, and will be dependent on the status of the pandemic and what the 2021 season will look like.
The absence of Markakis from the Braves lineup will remove a steadily productive hitter from the Atlanta outfield and designated hitter rotation. The 2018 All-Star has batted .284/.359/.403 in his five years with Atlanta and would’ve shared corner outfield/DH duties — likely working in a loose platoon setting with Adam Duvall. The Braves still have Marcell Ozuna, Ender Inciarte and wunderkind Ronald Acuna Jr. in the outfield picture, but the loss of Markakis still thins out their depth in notable fashion. Prospects Drew Waters and Cristian Pache loom on the horizon and could conceivably see accelerated paths to the big leagues as a result.
Markakis joins David Price, Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross, Tyson Ross, Welington Castillo, Ian Desmond, Mike Leake and brief teammate Felix Hernandez in opting not to participate in the 2020 season amid public health concerns.