The unfounded pessimism in Braves Country reached an all-time high when Atlanta announced the return of Nick Markakis on a two-year deal with $6 million in guarantees. Markakis, an All-Star last season who has accumulated nearly 700 hits in his four years with the Braves, will be making $4 million for 2019, but that won’t feed the hunger of this fanbase starving for superstar talent.
The reality is this move should not have much of an impact on Atlanta bringing in a marquee name. If they had the money to sign a Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado before Markakis, they would still have enough after this deal. And according to Jon Heyman, The Braves “haven’t ruled out signing one of the big stars.”
After signing Markakis, Braves have very solid team and no obvious flaws but still have some money to spend. They will be opportunistic, and while they can’t be considered favorites for Kimbrel, Keuchel, Harper or Machado, they haven’t ruled out signing one of the big stars.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 25, 2019
Sounds enticing, but I wouldn’t get too giddy. Signing one of these premier free agents still seems unlikely unless one of their markets drops significantly. However, it does tell us the Braves are far from done making moves. They still have at least one more noteworthy addition coming, and it could happen in a number of different forms.
Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, in particular, do not make much sense at all. After the Markakis signing, the Braves have a full outfield, and several reports have pointed to Atlanta not wanting to commit to the number of years Harper is demanding. The Braves are also loaded on the left side of the infield, where Machado plays. Not only do they have two high-quality starters (Swanson, Donaldson), they have two studs right behind them (Camargo, Riley). A move for one of these players would take a lot of maneuvering of pieces through trades, and a complete 180 in terms of the Braves’ mindset in regard to these lucrative long-term contracts.
Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are much more fathomable. Keuchel would fit nicely at the top of the Braves rotation filled with young and up and coming talent. Alex Anthopoulos has remained firm on the fact that if the Braves are going to add a starting pitcher, he must be a definite upgrade over what they already have. Keuchel would be just that.
Kimbrel also fits one of the Braves’ most noticeable needs. Atlanta has not found a reliable closing option since trading Kimbrel to the Padres back in 2015. They have some players that could occupy the role – like Arodys Vizcaino and A.J Minter – but adding one of the best closers of all time would instantly turn the bullpen from a weakness to a strength. Kimbrel’s market has been nowhere near what he expected and is dwindling by the day, perhaps a return to Atlanta benefits both sides.
Signing one of these superstar free agents is still unlikely. Financially, the Braves have been hesitant to hand out the lucrative contracts these players are demanding. However, it would shock me if Atlanta did not make a notable move before the start of the season. J.T. Realmuto is still in play. I’m sure they are in multiple conversations for a front line starter. The Braves still have money to spend, a bevy of prospects to deal, and contrary to popular belief, an ultra-aggressive general manager. The deal Braves fans have been waiting for since they signed Josh Donaldson two months ago may finally be around the corner.