Nick Markakis might hit .180 this year. He also might hit .290. Oh dear God, I just used batting average.
Listen, as I’ve said several times on the podcast before, Yasiel Puig was my first choice for a right field option in Atlanta for 2019. I even wrote about this two years ago. Puig, in my opinion, would have been a perfect fit for this Atlanta Braves squad. Put Yasiel Puig‘s personality and energy in this Braves’ clubhouse with Camargo, Ronnie, Albies, Dansby and Brian Snitker, and I’ll show you a World Series contender. But, to no avail, Yasiel went to the Reds and I was sad.
Michael Brantley would have also been a great fit for the Atlanta Braves. In many ways, right fielder Michael Brantley is similar to Nick Markakis. But, he’s slightly younger and has more power. But, Michael Brantley and his agent took an offer from the Houston Astros. Can you blame them? Google the Houston Astros. Then Google income tax in Texas. Then get mad that “the Braves didn’t land Michael Brantley” and delete your account.
Then, after some of these guys landed elsewhere, the most controversial thing in Braves history happened. The Atlanta Braves announced that they had signed Nick Markakis, out of Young Harris, to a one-year $4 million guaranteed deal and Twitter melted.
Before I explain why bringing back Markakis was a pivotal move for the Atlanta Braves, I feel like I need to give you my history with the extremely controversial political figure we know as Nick Markakis, out of Young Harris.
There’s this interesting hate, mainly on Braves Twitter, aimed at Nick Markakis. I discovered this back in 2016 when I wrote this article for Tomahawk Take. This was back when I approached Braves Twitter in an honest way. Back when I was a good person. Back then, I still wanted to have relatively serious baseball discussions with folks – share my thoughts, debate, learn, disagree, and have fun. But, then I wrote “the article.” When I wrote it and shared it on Twitter, you would have thought I wrote something about abortion or “the wall.” The advanced metrics folks came at me with pitchforks like I was Dracula himself and I loved it.
That’s when I became Nick Markakis’ biggest defender on the Twitters. It was an accident, I swear. I didn’t become his biggest defender because I thought he was the best right fielder in baseball. It was simply because I found it humorous that so many people hated him just because he hit singles and doubles and drove in runs. (And, because I’m immature and enjoy attention.) So, because I am a giant child, I began mocking the Markakis hate. I began tweeting about him like he was Hank Aaron. Most folks “got it” but many analytical goobers who have no sense of humor would take serious offense to my loud claims that Nick Markakis was the greatest of all time. For good or bad, I digressed from an aspiring baseball writer to a guy who mocked advanced metrics. I know, I’m terrible. There was no money in baseball writing anyway.
Then, 2018 happened. Most Braves bloggers spent the entirety of last off-season talking about Nick Markakis like he was a replacement-level player. Many of them literally said that he was a replacement-level player. The guys over at Talking Chop vehemently said that the Braves should release him and talked about how the Braves should start Preston Tucker in right field. I would hear and see these things and laugh. Not because I thought Kakes was Mookie Betts, but because, even at his worse, he wasn’t a replacement-level player (at least not yet). I mean, “Nicky Singles Kakes” actually had the second-most doubles in baseball, behind Robinson Cano, since 2010. Was he Trout or Betts? No. Good grief, he wasn’t even Michael Brantley. But the man could still hit, and I knew this. Then, while these folks were raking ole Kakes over the coals, the craziest thing happened. Nick Markakis, out of Young Harris, hit a walk-off home run on Opening Day. My Twitter mentions exploded. People were tweeting at me like I had just won the lottery after I had defended this guy. I had to remind folks that I wasn’t actually Nick Markakis.
Then, Kakes proceeded to play out of his mind. From Opening Day thru May 31st, Nick Markakis threw up a 142 wRC+ HITTING IN THE CLEANUP SPOT. It made no sense.
Now, let me clarify. Up until this point, I was a Talking Chop listener. I genuinely enjoyed their podcast. While I didn’t agree with everything they said, I listened and enjoyed it. They followed us on Twitter and we were buds. I think. Then, one day in April, I tweeted this video. I thought it was funny and I expected a re-tweet or maybe some jovial trash talking banter. Instead, Talking Chop blocked myself and the podcast, and even my podcast co-host, Ken Hendrix, who never said anything to them. We even received a long email about how we disrespected them. This was when I realized that there is a subset of people, mainly Braves bloggers (it’s not limited to a few individuals at Talking Chop) who took this stuff way too seriously. And because I’m extremely immature, I had fun with it. We broadcasted that TC had blocked us and people loved it. We began getting tweets and DMs from random Braves fans thanking us and telling us that they’d also been blocked by TC because they disagreed with one of their baseball takes. We (Knockahoma Nation) were like the Robin Hood of Braves Twitter and we accepted these outcasts with open replacement-level arms.
The reason that video was funny was because Nick Markakis didn’t have any business throwing up those numbers. He actually wasn’t that good. Everyone knew it. Hell, he probably knew it! For about two months in 2018, he played like he was Mookie Betts. So, because Nick Markakis was an average offensive guy, and because Brian Snitker was hellbent on hitting him in the cleanup spot (a spot that he had no business hitting in) his out-of-this world performance was hilarious. The old guy with no power was throwing down a 142 wRC+ IN THE CLEANUP SPOT. How is that not funny? However, some folks didn’t think it was funny. They hated it. They hated it because (believe it or not) they find their identity in their baseball takes. So, when the guy who they’ve hated on for two years plays out of his mind, then makes the All-Star team, then wins a Silver Slugger AND a Gold Glove, they get angry and personally offended.
I’ve watched baseball long enough to know that the chances of Nick Markakis, out of Young Harris, repeating what he did last year are almost impossible, and there’s no shying away from how bad he was the second half of last year. (Although, he he did have a 147 wRC+ with RISP and and a 194 wRC+ with 2 outs and RISP in the second half. No one wants to talk about that, tho. I’m sorry. Don’t get triggered.)
But here’s why bringing him back is good for the Atlanta Braves:
First of all – It’s a cheap deal. It’s $4 million. So, even if he’s terrible, and he might be terrible, in the world of baseball it’s not a big loss. It’s barely a loss at all. Should the Braves have gone after a different guy for right field? Probably. But, Brantley picked the Astros, Puig was traded to the Reds, and Pollock picked the Dodgers. This left the Braves with Bryce Harper. Would Bryce Harper serve the Braves better in 2019 than Nick Markakis? Hell yes. But, should the Braves give Bryce Harper (who had a lower WAR than Dansby Swanson in 2018) a 10-year $330 million deal? Hell no. No one should. (Yes. I, too, think that Harper is better than his 2018 WAR, so settle down. But 10 years is stupid.) My co-host, Ken Hendrix, and myself would be all about the Braves giving Harper a super strong/high AAV 4-5 year deal. We’ve made this known on our replacement-level podcast. But, I think he’ll get 10 years somewhere else.
Secondly – It’s fantastic for the young players. Some fans think Nick Markakis is nothing but a bump on a log. Kakes makes it very easy to perceive him this way, so I get it. His interviews are relatively emotionless and he rarely smiles on camera. But, players, coaches and the beat writers who cover the team will tell you that the players love him. And (this is a very controversial opinion) leadership matters in a clubhouse. Hell, the man threatened to kick John Hart‘s ass, and if you don’t love that, you’re a communist.
As David O’Brien wrote
No moment was more a microcosm of the Braves’ crumbling fortunes and front-office dysfunction in the third season of their rebuild than the night in late August when deposed closer Jim Johnson blew an eighth-inning lead and then-president of baseball operations John Hart dressed down manager Brian Snitker. Shouting at him so loudly in the manager’s office that some players heard from the clubhouse.
And perhaps nothing better exemplifies Nick Markakis and what he stands for than the veteran right fielder’s reaction upon hearing what Hart said to Snitker, who appeared almost ashen and uncharacteristically sullen minutes later when reporters entered the office, and really was never quite himself again the rest of the season.
Markakis made it known, had the message sent up the chain, that if Hart ever treated the manager that way again that Markakis would, in so many words, kick his ass.
Finally – As a fan, I think it’s fun to have a familiar face on the team, someone who’s been part of your respective team for years. Let me explain. Baseball, in many regards, has become this rent-a-team sort of thing. To me, that’s no fun. At some point, you’re just rooting for clothes. Retaining your players is a beautiful thing and it’s something that has been lost these days. Personally, I love it. I recently joked on the podcast that I’d love to see Dansby Swanson stay with the Braves until he’s 40 no matter how good or bad he is. Because, dammit, he’s ours.
There’s this notion that the Atlanta Braves have lied to their fans and haven’t spent any money. Listen, I heard what the front office said last year. I talked to my friend Jeff Schultz about it on the phone earlier this week. The constant whining from Braves bloggers on Twitter about how the Atlanta Braves haven’t spent any money this off-season is lazy and ignorant. Up until yesterday there were 75 free agents left on the market. 11 of them were worth more than 1.0 fWAR last season. 28 of them were at least 35 years old (37%). Shout-out to Matt Chrietzberg over at Outfield Fly Rule for that info. Did the Atlanta Braves say that they’d be able to “shop on any aisle” in 2019? Yes. But, besides a few at the very top, this has been one of the weakest free agent classes I’ve seen in years.
Have other teams in the NL East made more additions in this off-season than the Atlanta Braves? Yes. But they also don’t have Touki Toussaint, Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, the return of Mike Soroka, and Josh Donaldson. The Braves also outbid 12 other MLB teams for Mike Fast, the guy who made the Houston Astros who they are today. Do I think the Braves still need a corner outfielder? Yes. Do I think they need a bullpen arm? Yes. I think they’ll actually get a starting pitcher before Opening Day. But this young team will be better than they were in 2018 just by showing up.
So, even if good ole Nick Markakis takes a nose dive, it’s still a fantastic signing for the Atlanta Braves. If he’s terrible they’ll find someone else to play RF every day and the world will go on. I actually think he’ll start off ultra hot and then crash back down to Earth, at which point I’ll still tweet about him like he’s Hank Aaron. But for now, I’ll have my Kake and eat it too as I root for the ageless bearded wonder while many of you are crying about his wRC+ from your mother’s basement.