All-Star outfielder Nick Markakis took a significant pay cut to remain with the Atlanta Braves, even coming off one of the best seasons of his career.
Markakis and the Braves agreed Tuesday to a deal that is worth a guaranteed $6 million and includes a club option for 2020.
Markakis became a free agent after completing a $44 million, four-year deal that he signed with the Braves for the 2015 season when he left the Baltimore Orioles.
In another sign of the dwindling demand for veteran free agents, Markakis generated only minor interest on the open market. His deal includes a $4 million salary this season, and Atlanta has a $6 million option for 2020 with a $2 million buyout.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos said Markakis did have better offers but was intent on remaining with the Braves, who won the NL East title for their first playoff appearance since 2013 and have one of baseball’s most exciting young rosters.
“He was clear that we were his first choice,” Anthopoulos said. “I’m glad we got to this outcome. This is where he wanted to be. We’re very excited to have him back.”
The agreement solidifies the lineup for the defending NL East champions, whose major acquisition of the offseason was free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson. It also gives the Braves the financial flexibility to pursue other deals, something they were insistent on in their negotiations with Markakis.
“Nick coming back on these terms allows us to potentially do other things,” Anthopoulos said. “This needed to come in at the right number for us.”
A Georgia native, the 35-year-old Markakis is coming off the first All-Star appearance of his 13-year career. He earned both Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honors last season, hitting .297 with 14 homers and 93 RBIs while starting all 162 games in right field.
The Braves will look to cut back on Markakis’ playing time after he tailed off badly in the second half of the season. He was batting .323 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs at the All-Star break, but hit just .258 with four homers and 32 RBIs over the final 68 games.
That is not a huge concern, according to Anthopoulos.
“Nick was still hitting the ball extremely hard,” the GM said. “The numbers are what they are, but really what we’re talking about is the last six weeks. All the other underlying factors point to someone who was still playing well.”
The bargain signing secures a Braves lineup that is counting on Donaldson to add more power. The former AL MVP signed a $23 million, one-year deal with Atlanta, which is confident that the 32-year-old will bounce back from two injury plagued seasons.
The Braves are planning to turn Johan Camargo into a super sub who will get extensive time at second base, shortstop and third base, with perhaps an occasional start in left field. The Braves will likely shift NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. from left to right field for some games, allowing Markakis to take time off with an eye toward being stronger late in the season.
“He’s still going to be an everyday player,” Anthopoulos said. “We don’t expect him play 162 games … but we’re not committed to a number. We just know it’s not optimal for everyone to play every single game from a recovery standpoint. You’re best served by giving guys a day off here and there.”
With the reporting day for spring training less than a month away, Atlanta might still be in the market for another starting pitcher. Anthopoulos is looking for additional depth in the bullpen and on the bench.
But the GM acknowledged that the roster is largely set, and any further moves might not come until after the start of spring training. The team already has been discussing potential lineups now that Markakis is back on board.
Manager Brian Snitker is leaning toward moving Ender Inciarte back to the leadoff spot, where Acuna thrived last season, which would allow the rookie star to drop down into the cleanup spot. Donaldson would hit second, followed by Freeman, Acuna and Markakis, setting up an order that goes back and forth between left- and right-handed hitters. Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and whoever is catching — either Tyler Flowers or Brian McCann — would fill out the bottom of the lineup.