Braves: The legacy, possible future of Nick Markakis

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By the time Nick Markakis originally signed a free-agent contract with the Braves back in December 2014, he had already established himself as a consistently solid MLB performer over nine seasons in Baltimore. While in an Orioles uniform, Markakis grabbed a couple of Gold Gloves (2011, 2014) and hit his way to a nice .290/.358/.435 slash line across nearly 6,000 plate appearances. 

Markakis has largely maintained his reputation as a reliable producer during the past six years with his hometown team. In that span, he has hit .283 with 162-game averages of 41 doubles, 80 RBI, and 76 runs scored. 

2018 saw Markakis put together his best season in a Braves uniform. After serving as a veteran team leader that showed up to work virtually everyday for three years during a total rebuild, he finally got the chance to be an integral factor for a contender as the franchise ended a four-year playoff drought. Markakis made the most of it, as he earned his first All-Star selection and third Gold Glove Award while batting .297 with 14 homers, 43 doubles, and 93 RBI – just five less than Freddie Freeman’s team-leading 98. 

Even with the strong overall numbers from ‘18, Markakis began to show wear from a long season and the many miles on his career odometer down the stretch and into the playoffs. He remained a tough out for opposing pitchers in 2019 but was only able to get into 116 games. For a guy that had taken the field at least 155 times in each of the previous six regular seasons, that was a definite warning sign. 

Markakis originally decided to opt out of the pandemic-shortened campaign of 2020, but ultimately entered the mix for the team albeit a little tardy. He made his first appearance in the starting lineup on August 6 and proceeded to immediately contribute his biggest hit of the season via a walk-off shot to defeat the Blue Jays.

That was indeed a great moment last year. However, by the time the Braves exited the postseason, fans, even though most hold high regard for him, had grown weary of seeing Markakis as a starting-lineup fixture. 

Markakis managed a pedestrian .704 OPS and 15 RBI in 37 regular-season games in 2020. On top of that, last fall’s playoffs were basically a lost cause for him on an individual basis. Over 38 postseason plate appearances, the now 37-year-old turned in a meager .216/.237/.324 slash line with zero RBI. Perhaps most alarming was his very uncharacteristic 13-to-1 K/BB ratio.

Understandably, following that performance, speculation that Markakis would call it a career this offseason has increasingly popped up. The fact that he is now a free agent with big question marks as to what he can actually provide an MLB club aside from locker-room leadership only makes retirement seem like an even more rational choice. 

It probably all boils down to the question of Markakis’ desire to continue playing. If he does want to keep going, is it Braves or bust for the native of Woodstock, GA? The Braves do have a need for outfield depth with their current roster makeup and rumor has it that they are definitely in the market. If all else fails, it is easy to envision the two sides coming to a single-year agreement given Markakis’ history with the team and valuable veteran presence. 

The Braves obviously have Ronald Acuna entrenched in the outfield and young Cristian Pache is poised to be the Opening Day centerfielder. The timetable is uncertain for top offensive prospect Drew Waters, but it is a virtual certainty that he makes his MLB debut in 2021. 

That’s where the idea of bringing Markakis back makes some sense. He is no longer on the level of an everyday player for a contender, but deploying him on the strong side of a platoon to bridge the gap to Waters could prove to be a decent, cost-efficient plan for the first few months of the upcoming season. 

Again, the question is whether Markakis is even interested in finishing out his solid big-league career as a part-time placeholder. No one could really fault him if he does not wish to do that. However it turns out, Markakis deserves plenty of praise and respect around Atlanta for being a consummate professional and steady contributor through the team’s ups and downs over the last half-dozen years.

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