Twenty-four years ago, John Schuerholz was in his first offseason as Atlanta’s general manager. He had a young core, but the team needed a veteran player to bring stability to the clubhouse and a solid player with experience to the lineup.
Schuerholz signed 31-year-old free agent Terry Pendleton, who became Atlanta’s team leader and won the 1991 NL MVP award. Pendleton became a symbol of the new Braves that started a tremendous run of success.
John Hart is in his first offseason as the Braves’ general manager. He has a young core, but he needed a veteran player to bring stability to the clubhouse and a solid player with experience to the lineup.
That’s exactly why Hart signed free-agent outfielder Nick Markakis this past week to a four-year contract. Like Pendleton was many years ago, Markakis is 31 years old. He’s a nine-year veteran with a great reputation as a clubhouse leader, which is something that was sorely missed on the Braves’ roster the past two years.
There is skepticism for this deal, and it is understandable. Markakis might soon have neck surgery to repair a herniated disc, but the Braves believe this will only keep him healthier for the duration of the contract.
Markakis is not a power hitter. That’s why he is getting only $11 million per season. But he is consistent. Markakis is a career .290 hitter, and he avoids swoons his predecessor, Jason Heyward, had. Plus, Markakis hits left-handed pitchers almost as well as he hits righties. Again, that’s an area where Heyward struggled.
Markakis is like Heyward in that he plays great defense in right field. He won a Gold Glove in the AL this past season, so while he might not make as many dynamic diving plays as Heyward, Markakis will still be an above-average player at the position.
At $11 million per season, Markakis is more affordable than what Heyward will command next year in free agency. The Braves were obviously not comfortable with the thought of paying Heyward between $15-$20 million per season for a player who does not have much power and has yet to completely live up to his high expectations.
For the Braves’ limited payroll, Markakis just fit better.
But the Braves really needed a veteran presence. The oldest player in the starting lineup last season was B.J. Upton, who turned 30 during the season. Upton, of all people, was unqualified to be a leader with his pathetic performance at the plate and in the field.
So with the young group that will make up the future years of this team -- Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Christian Bethancourt and future second baseman Jose Peraza -- the Braves needed a veteran player like Markakis. He’s coming home, playing for a team he grew up watching, so there will be pride for him to wear the Braves uniform. And from all reports, Markakis will embrace the role as a veteran leader.
The Braves have more work to do. As they arrive at the winter meetings in San Diego this weekend, the Braves will field offers for Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. Trading both players could be crucial in remaking the roster for next season and the next five years. The return for Upton could be larger than what the Braves got from St. Louis for Heyward, and then they’ll have to decide whether to take advantage of Gattis’ value or keep him around for his power.
Who knows if the Markakis signing will be as successful as the Pendleton acquisition before the magical 1991 season. But his type of player was desperately needed, and it’s a great continuation of what has been a successful offseason so far for the Braves’ new front office.
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