The Braves refused to succumb to the spending frenzy that the rest of the NL East took part in. They instead chose to rely on the development of their youth and a few old vets they found in the bargain bin on their way out of the dollar store to keep them atop the division for another year. It wasn’t a popular choice, but one that has paid off through the first month of the season.
Tyler Flowers was the first vet to earn his contract. The Braves offered him a one-year extension worth $4 million in August of 2018. As a 33-year old catcher, Flowers is primarily viewed as a defensive stalwart behind the plate, known for his pitch framing and ability to manage a staff; which is necessary when you have such a youthful rotation like the Braves. What Anthopoulos couldn’t have expected is his emergence with the stick.
Flowers is off to an unimaginable start, slashing .340/.407/.547. For the most part, it’s been singles, but he has slugged three home runs and even has a triple. His ability to get on-base despite not being a high-average hitter has been constant over his career. At this current rate, it is unsustainable. With that said, Flowers slashed .281/.378/.445 in his career-year back with the 2017 Braves. I see no reason why he can’t top those numbers; which would put him among the most productive offensive catchers in the entire league.
Flowers’ running mate, Brian McCann, is the second oldhead the Braves inked to a one-year deal. The two give Atlanta a tandem to be envious of – both on the field and in the clubhouse. McCann’s deal is only for $2 million, providing the Braves with an elite catching duo at the price of a reliever.
The longtime former Brave, turned Yankee, turned Houston Astro, is now back where he belongs and feeling more comfortable than ever. A short stint on the DL with a hamstring injury has limited McCann to 12 games. In those appearances, he’s slashing .325/.417/.450. Like Flowers, the average and OBP will go down, but I expect to see a lot more homers from McCann as the season goes on. He only has one so far.
The Braves’ offense has a litany of stars, but McCann and Flowers are doing outstanding things under the radar, making Alex Anthopoulos look like a genius for passing on J.T. Realmuto, who has a worse average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage with the same amount of home runs as the Braves’ catching twosome to this point.
The final piece of the Braves bargain bin trio is my personal favorite. It’s mind-boggling how “fans” were complaining about guaranteeing Nick Markakis $6 million for one year ($4 million this year with a $2 million buyout in 2020). This man was an All-Star last year! And he’s barely making more than Adam Duvall. Nothing about his career has been flukey, so the arguments against re-signing him at this price tag held no weight. The ageless wonder wakes up to prove his doubters wrong, and he’s well on his way to being an All-Star again in 2019.
Death, taxes, and Nick Markakis hitting a double off your favorite pitcher: those are the three things guaranteed in life. The man who racked up 184 hits a year ago already has 34 in the first month of the season – nine of them being doubles along with two home runs. His average sits at .330, the highest among everyday starters, and he has 18 RBIs. The 35-year-old is as reliable as they come, and now that he is out of the cleanup spot, his value has only increased. Even though this should have been an obvious move, Alex Anthopoulos deserves a lot of credit. He held off the pressures of the fan base and went with the undisputed best value, and it’s paying substantial dividends.
Ronald Acuña, Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson, Ozzie Albies, and even Dansby Swanson are going to receive all the kudos for the Braves being among the top offenses in the National League. It’s understandable – they are the faces of the franchise. But the lineups that end the season on top are the ones that give pitchers no breaks from one to eight. That is what these bargain bin signings have provided – they are the grease that comes with every finely-tuned machine, and the Braves are fortunate to have them.
(Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire)