Two weeks after trading star right fielder Jason Heyward, the Atlanta Braves have dipped into the free agent market to find his replacement, reportedly signing Nick Markakis to a four-year pact, per Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan. Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun adds that the deal is worth $44 million. ESPN's Buster Olney was the first to report that talks between Atlanta and Markakis were "intensifying" and that a deal in the range of four years and $45 million was in play.
For the 31-year-old Markakis, the signing represents a homecoming of sorts, as the right fielder grew up just outside Atlanta. Markakis spent the first nine years of his big league career with the Baltimore Orioles, where he emerged as one of the best outfielders in baseball early in his career before settling in as a high-OBP, low-power corner outfielder over the past few years. For his career, he has hit .290/.358/.435 with a 113 OPS+ and 25.2 WAR. This past season, he hit .276/.342/.386 with a 107 OPS+, 14 home runs, and 2.1 WAR in 710 plate appearances.
Markakis is generally regarded as a strong defender in right, as evidenced by his two Gold Glove awards, including one from this year. However, defensive metrics seem to paint a different picture. Per defensive runs saved, he has been a -13 defender over the past three years, while UZR placed him at -9.0. Markakis's skillset as a whole also seems to be in decline, as he will be in his mid-30's by the contract's end. Markakis does add some value through his ability to stay on the field, having played at least 155 games in seven of the past eight years.
The Giants, Blue Jays, and Orioles were also rumored to be in the running for Markakis. Markakis was thought to be nearing a deal with Baltimore earlier this offseason, but talks stalled, leading to him exploring other options.
For the Braves, Markakis will be replacing Heyward, who was one of the best players in baseball last season. While he is a clear step down performance-wise from Heyward, Markakis $11 million average salary going forward will be significantly cheaper than Heyward's, as the latter is eligible for free agency next winter.
The addition of Markakis may also be a prelude to a bigger deal for the Braves. With Markakis now in right, one of Justin Upton and Evan Gattis is out of a starting job, meaning one of them is likely to be dealt. As Fangraphs' Dave Cameron speculates, the timing of this deal coincides perfectly with the Mariners' acquisition of J.A. Happ, which could free up Taijuan Walker for a trade. A Walker-for-Upton trade has been discussed in the past, when Upton was still in Arizona, and could still very well work out. It would also supply Atlanta with yet another young starting pitching option.