Nick Markakis seems like a favorite to return to the Braves

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The Braves have to add another outfielder before the start of the season, and with every passing day, the market continues to shrink. Ken Rosenthal reported that Michael Brantley signed a two-year deal with the Houston Astros yesterday.

Brantley was the best remaining outfield option on the open market, making him an obvious target for the Braves. Following the signing of Andrew McCutchen by the Phillies, several reports suggested that Atlanta was not looking to ink veteran players to long-term deals. While that might be the wise course of action, two years for a player of the caliber of Brantley appears to be a quality deal for an Astros team that was also in need of outfield help.

Perhaps Brantley’s injury history deterred the Braves from offering that high of an AAV. Rosenthal reported that rival executives believe the deal to be worth around $32 million total. Prior to 2018, Brantley played in 101 games combined between 2016 and 2017. Then again, they signed Josh Donaldson coming off a significant injury for $23 million.

With Brantley off the board, Nick Markakis appears to be the favorite if the Braves opt to go the free agent route. It surely wasn’t the sexiest option before the start of free agency, but Markakis is a safe bet for the Braves to receive a solid return on their investment. As a 34-year old last season, he played in all 162 games, hit a hair under .300 and knocked in 93 runs. He’s not the perfect option to bat behind Freddie Freeman, but with Donaldson now on the roster, it’s easily possible for the Braves to switch around their lineup so that is no longer the case.

While Markakis is the obvious choice, there are still a couple of other free agent routes the Braves could go if they want to go in a different direction.

A.J. Pollack is a name that has been attached to the Braves this off-season. Although, it seems unlikely given the Braves unwillingness to offer a long-term deal and significant AAV. Atlanta would also have to feel extremely comfortable with Pollack’s extensive injury history going forward.

The Braves could even try and chase some pop by signing Adam Jones or Marwin Gonzalez, but neither look to be obvious upgrades over Markakis and could potentially even be downgrades. Plus, the clubhouse presence that Markakis brings would probably edge out a slight upgrade that players like Jones and Gonzalez might provide. You could also argue that the Braves have a younger version of Gonzalez on the roster in Johan Camargo.

Of course, Anthopoulos doesn’t have to find an outfielder through free agency. Atlanta has the luxury to pull off any trade they feel will improve the team, and there are many more quality outfield options in that market.

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi has linked the Braves a couple times to Nick Castellanos. Castellanos is an ideal fit behind Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson. In 157 games for the Tigers last season, he hit .298 with 23 homers and 89 RBIs. Although, his defense is a liability, which isn’t typical for a player on the Braves roster. He’s also only under control for one season, which will keep Atlanta from offering quality prospects in a potential deal.

Maybe the Braves could blow the Mariners away in a deal to acquire Mitch Haniger. That’s what it would take according to Seattle’s general manager Jerry Dipoto. However, he hasn’t been hesitant to deal anyone so far this off-season. The Braves have also attempted to contact the Diamondbacks regarding David Peralta and were turned away, according to Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

That doesn’t mean things can’t change. The Braves are active and they’ve been active since the beginning of this process. For now, it doesn’t appear any trades are close, and as January approaches, free agents, like Markakis, are going to be itching to sign.

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