It was Options Day for the Atlanta Braves. Having already declined Billy Hamilton‘s option, the Braves still had three option decisions to make on pitcher Julio Teheran, catcher Tyler Flowers, and outfielder Nick Markakis. They also had to decide whether or not to extend Josh Donaldson a qualifying offer.
I’m just kidding – that required zero thought. There is a sub-1% chance Donaldson takes the offer, but the Braves cover themselves if the slugging right-handed bopper leaves town.
Let’s look at the options, though, and let’s start with who we found out about first – Flowers. The Braves carried a $6 million option on Flowers and he’ll get every bit of that promise, but with a slight alteration. The Braves technically declined Flowers’ option, paying him a $2 million buyout – which gets grouped in with their 2019 payroll. They then re-signed Flowers for one year and $4 million for 2020. The penny pinching here was a little interesting, but for the third consecutive season, Flowers’ gets a $4 million base salary, the same as his salary in 2018 and 2019.
As I said a few months ago, Flowers is that weird example of a player who gets overrated by many, underrated by maybe even more, and rarely accepted for the player that he is. What’s not up for debate is whether or not Flowers is worth the salary he’ll receive. If you think he’s overpaid, your opinion on baseball, its salary structure, and just life in general needs to be evaluated. Yeah, I said it.
Speaking of ways to shove a little more salary to the 2019 payroll through a buyout, the Braves did the exact same thing with Markakis, who also gets $4 million to return in 2020. On the surface, like with Flowers, Markakis brings good value for the money. He hit .285/.356/.420 in 2019, a minor fallback from his numbers from the previous season and an improvement over his 2014-17 stats. Of course, he also missed time with a wrist injury.
The problem for many fans, myself included, is the fear that Markakis will continue to be utilized as starter. Even if you platoon him, he’ll receive 2/3’s of the starts as a quick estimate. Markakis fits better on a team where he’s your 7th or 8th-best hitter rather than hitting fifth. Bringing back Markakis means the Braves must bring in at least one big hitter for third base or catcher. Preferably, they’d bring in two.
On the subject of Markakis, it’s worth mentioning that the Braves might be avoiding a long-term commitment in the outfield to keep their future open in regards to Drew Waters and Cristian Pache. Both of the outfielders could be in the majors before the end of the 2020 season.
That said, I’ve said before that I prefer Matt Joyce over Nick Markakis. According to Alex Anthopoulos, the team has talked to Markakis about returning in a platoon role. But Markakis isn’t exactly a great option versus right-hand pitching. Since 2017, 52 outfielders have a better wRC+ against RHP than Markakis. That includes guys like Joyce, who ranks 35th.
But Markakis returns nevertheless. Not returning – at least not at $12 million – will be Julio Teheran. I covered this subject before, but declining his option was the only sensible move the Braves could make here. Like with Flowers and Markakis, Teheran has value. The problem for Teheran is that the pay for the value that he provides was a little too much. Anthopoulos says the door to return remains open, but I would be fairly shocked.
And with that, free agency begins. The Braves saved roughly $17 million today by pushing $5 million in buyouts to the 2019 payroll along with the $12 million salary Teheran was set to make. It should be a bit more active offseason this time around and the Braves might not be effectively done by the end of November like they were last year. Strap in. It’s about to get fun.