|By Keith Allison on Flickr |
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I despise the label “professional hitter.” Aren’t they all? Even Julio Teheran is a professional hitter since he gets paid to do it. And even if you roll your eyes at taking the literal meaning of the phrase, it’s an entirely misapplied and pointless phrase that is often handed out as a consolation prize.
One Brave who receives the phrase is Nick Markakis. He is a career .290 hitter so I guess it’s not the worst example. Nevertheless, even if Markakis is a “professional hitter” on a team that struggles to hit, the Braves ought to seek out a team that needs more “non-amateur batters.” If Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo is to be believed, the Royals and Phillies might be interested. If they are, the Braves should be doing whatever they can to trade the right-fielder there.
It’s not that Markakis is terrible. Granted, his fWAR has traveled south of zero this season, but he’s a better hitter than he has shown so far and when he gets going on a hot streak, he’ll have that WAR back over one in no time. The problem is that it won’t go much higher. The other problem is the same problem that has been attached to Markakis since he signed with the Braves. Does he really even fit what this team is trying to do?
This is the right-fielder’s Age-32 year. The smart money says that we have seen the best of Markakis already and can only expect a decline or stagnation if we are lucky. Markakis, for his part, has added some of the best walk rates of his career to supplement the lost power, but can the Braves expect more than they got last season (.296/.370/.376)? And let’s be honest – Markakis didn’t sign here with the expectation that the Braves would go belly-up and not even put together a competent ballclub. When he came to the Braves, they still had Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons, and had just added Shelby Miller. Sure, there were holes, but Markakis was a better match for that team. He’s a complimentary player after all. He can help a team not have a weakness where he plays, but he won’t do much more.
Let’s not forget that this is Year 2 of a 4-year contract that runs through 2018. The Braves should be better in 2017, though it’s unlikely they put it all together in one year to go from league laughingstock-to-contenders. 2018 is a much more reasonable expectation, though even it requires some of these young players to “get it” pretty quickly. It took the Royals’ young nucleus time to start producing up to expectations after all. Markakis will be around for *maybe* one good year for the Braves and by that time, he’ll be 34. He’s a nice role model for the youngsters and a hard worker who can show the ropes to the kids, but so is Kelly Johnson or any number of veterans that have been around for awhile in the majors. Those type of players typically get one-year pacts for $2-$5 million, not 4-year, $44M.
Markakis might be a fit for a team trying to win right now. I say “might” because if I’m that team, he’s not a target for me. Still, Markakis might make sense for a young team under the leadership of a traditional mindset of grabbing a #2 hitter with excellent bat control. Markakis is a constant. What you get might not excite you much, but he gives a team some leeway. He won’t embarrass you in right field, though his range makes him a better fit for left. His power is non-existent partly because he doesn’t pull the ball anymore, but he’ll likely post a good average with a strong on-base. Those qualities fit a team with a hole, not a team looking for a difference maker. They certainly don’t fit a rebuilding team.
If Atlanta receives an offer for Markakis, they ought to seriously consider it. If the other team will take on all of the remaining salary with no added salary beyond this year coming back for the Braves, done deal. If the Braves have to cover some salary, a prospect exchange can be considered. Either way, Markakis is not Chris Johnson or Melvin Upton Jr., two salary dumps by the Braves over the last 14 months. Markakis is still useful for one thing. If there is a team out there entertaining the thought of adding Markakis, Atlanta better be ready to pounce. Markakis makes a terrible Braves team a tiny bit better in 2016 and could help improving Braves’ ballclubs in 2017 and 2018 be a wee bit better as well. However, consider how much better the Braves could be if they re-purpose the $21M remaining on Markakis’ deal after this season.
Trading Markakis makes a bad team likely worse in 2016, but does that really matter? The Braves would have to go 20 games over .500 the rest of the way to finish 81-81. While they did that, they would sacrifice at least a dozen spots in the 2017 draft and still have an aging and replacement-level right fielder. They might not be any better at all with Markakis (they haven’t set the world on fire with him after all) so it might be a moot point, but they could be better in 2017 and 2018 and have added payroll flexibility.
Signing Markakis in the winter of 2014-15 didn’t make a lot of sense then. Keeping him if other teams want him now? That makes zero sense. If another team sees a better fit, make it happen, John Coppolella.