As arguably baseball’s top prospect is knocking on the door of the majors in Ronald Acuna, the Braves find themselves with a nice problem to have: they have a surplus of outfielders.
Last offseason, we saw the front office deal Mallex Smith for an elite pitching prospect due to the presence of Ender Inciarte. Given Acuna’s quick rise to stardom, it has always been a matter of time until the team would explore moving veteran corner outfielders Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp. Jon Heyman reiterated just that in a report today that claims the team will shop them both this offseason. Frankly, this should come as no surprise.
While it is always wise to listen, the decision with who to part with is a no-brainer. Nick Markakis has been a great Brave and a fun one to watch, but he must be the odd man out this offseason when trade season sparks up. The problem is that Markakis has a redundant skill set to many of the future cornerstones of the team. The Braves have a bunch of young contact hitters between Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Johan Camargo and Ender Inciarte. They may not be able to emulate his success with runners in scoring position, but at the end of the day, there are simply too many contact hitters in the lineup.
Kemp offers the team something that no other player can: protection for Freddie Freeman in the lineup. Yes, he is terrible defensively and his conditioning could be to blame for the injuries he has struggled with this season. However, the Braves lose games in streaks when they do not have a cleanup hitter behind Freddie, allowing teams to pitch around him. The Braves are also likely to test the market for Matt Adams this offseason, which could leave them without another power bat. Markakis will be going into the last year of his deal, and while the Braves do not figure to get anything more than a mid-level prospect in exchange for his services, his contract is much more moveable than Kemp’s, who is due more money and has two years left on his deal. The only way the Braves would be able to move Kemp is to eat money, and that would be foolish when considering Kemp still plays a huge role on this team. Kemp is not a long-term piece, but it would be much easier to move him to an AL team after a bounce-back season with just one year left on his deal. Now is not the time for the Braves to move him.
Nick Markakis is a consummate professional, and one of the smartest hitters in the game. But it is time for the Braves to go young. For the time being, a trio consisting of Freeman-Kemp-Acuna could elevate the Braves offense to levels it has not seen in half a decade. The same could not be said of Markakis, despite how great of a player he is.