Early last week, the Braves announced they re-signed Nick Markakis to a one-year, $4 million contract. The ironman has been a staple in right field for the past five years, but while he will be returning, the plan is for him to come back in a different role. The Braves no longer view Markakis as an everyday option. His lack of pop is worrisome, along with his struggles against left-handed pitching last year and his declining defensive production. Instead, they would like him to platoon with another player in left field.
Naturally, that would mean Acuña shifting over to right with Ender Inciarte taking his spot back in center. Markakis starts in left against right-handed pitching, while the Braves mull over the possibilities against lefties. Adam Duvall, who was spectacular in AAA and even better in the postseason, could be retained, and Austin Riley is another option if Josh Donaldson is re-signed. The Braves also have Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson returning healthy – both of whom can play the outfield. But are they done adding to this bunch?
It comes down to a few things. The Braves only have so many positions where they can upgrade significantly. It starts with their rotation, which is priority number one. They are going to want to sign an ace-type pitcher this offseason. Rumors are already circulating that they are making Madison Bumgarner a priority. If they can add an arm like that, while re-signing Josh Donaldson, there won’t be much more money lying around for them to upgrade their outfield.
The Braves also have two top prospects – Drew Waters and Cristian Pache – waiting patiently for their opportunity in the bigs. After seeing limited at-bats in AAA last season, both will begin 2020 in Gwinnett, but both could also be ready at some point during the season. It doesn’t make too much sense to make a splash if it means blocking one of their future stars past this year. By the end of next season, the hope is one of these guys is an impact player, as Atlanta heads into their third consecutive October.
With that being said, the Braves could upgrade at center and left field in this hypothetical scenario. Ender Inciarte is a liability at the plate, even though his defense is second to none. If Atlanta could find a taker for his contract, while adding more power to the lineup, it would make a ton of sense for them to do so. And while Markakis was signed for $4 million, the Braves could easily justify using him in a bench role and adding a more potent option to their corner outfield. Those situations are much more probable if the Braves fail to re-sign Josh Donaldson or acquire a top-of-the-line starting pitcher.
If Donaldson walks, the Braves might have to stick Austin Riley in at third base, which would limit the platoon options for Markakis. Atlanta will also be looking to replace close to 40 bombs and a .900 OPS. That would not be possible at third base, given how thin the market is at the position (No, Rendon is not coming to Atlanta). However, they could potentially make up for that lost production in the outfield.
If starting pitching turns out to be too pricey this offseason, and the Braves go the cheap route by moving Newcomb back into the rotation and adding a cost-efficient fifth arm, they will have plenty of money to spend elsewhere. Assuming they ink Donaldson, the next most natural place for them to upgrade is in the outfield or behind the plate, which would create possibly the most explosive offense in baseball.
The priorities heading into the offseason are clear. The Braves want to strengthen their rotation and bring back Josh Donaldson. Everything else is secondary. Some potential outfielders could fit in Atlanta – both on the trade block and the free-agent market – but one of the primary reasons the Braves will focus on Donaldson and starting pitching is because they don’t want to block the future of their outfield. Drew Waters or Cristian Pache will be ready in 2020 – if not both. As much as adding an outfielder this year might improve the team in the short-term, it does not make a whole lot of sense in the long-term. I wouldn’t expect a ton more movement in the offseason regarding this unit.