Gold Glove. Silver Slugger. All Star.
Only four players in all of the majors last season were able to claim all three of these awards. Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals, Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies, Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox, and Nick Markakis of the Atlanta Braves.
Markakis had a great season at the right time. Now, none of his statistics were career marks by any means. It was very encouraging to see a player that’s turning 35 in a couple weeks, improve when it’s perfectly acceptable to be declining in productivity. I say that, to say that the Cardinals have no reason to add Markakis as a free agent.
The 2018 campaign at the plate for Markakis was his best since joining the Braves before the 2015 season. His 114 wRC+ and .345 wOBA were his best since the 2012 season with the Baltimore Orioles when he had 126 and .359 respectively. Nick’s 2.6 WAR was his best since all the way back to his mark of 6.0 in 2008. A huge positive gain was also seen in his 17.2 wRAA which is also the best it’s been since 2012. That 17.2 is double his highest marks of any season in between 2012 and 2018.
In the field, when slotted against other qualified right fielders, Markakis is decidedly average. That to me, is why the Gold Glove award is slightly perplexing. In most basic or advanced stats, he sits between 10th-15th among rightfielders that played 700 innings.
When it comes to money, it also gets a bit murky. The Braves didn’t submit a qualifying offer for Markakis that would have been almost $18 million and rightfully so. The market for a player of Nick’s age and skill set would most likely have him due to earn a bit less than his previous salary of $11 million per season. I would think something a little closer to $7 or $8 million for only one or two years. $9-$10 million wouldn’t shock me, but at 35 years old, teams will look to minimize their risks.
From there, it’s a simple question: Does Markakis fit in to what the Cardinals are trying to do in right and should they pursue him if Bryce Harper isn’t an option?
So far, one thing we know mostly for sure is that Dexter Fowler should get the chance at redemption in the lineup to start the season. All that comes from an interview that KMOX Radio did with John Mozeliak in late September, that I referenced in a past column. That scenario leaves Jose Martinez or Tyler O’Neill pushed either down the depth chart or possibly out the door as valuable pieces used to acquire something else.
In fact, if you compare their 2018 seasons, Nick Markakis is essentially a much older, better fielding, more expensive Jose Martinez. The two put up very similar numbers at the plate in 2018. Martinez had an 11 points higher wRC+ at 125. Markakis had a very slightly higher 2.6 WAR. Martinez had a .356 wOBA which was 11 points better than Markakis.
If you’re going to make some big changes to the roster, and bring in a free agent outfielder, go get Bryce Harper. Otherwise, it may be smart to stay where you are. Markakis is the best non-Harper outfield option that’s out there, and he’s not that much better than what the Cardinals currently have on their roster. Especially when it’s a player turning 35 this month. Markakis isn’t the type of “older” player that teams usually look to as a big splash type of signing.
When you take a look around you’ll see the names of guys like Andrew McCutchen or Gerardo Parra out there, but they’re both 32 years old and on the downswing of their careers. It’s not much brighter if you just look at outfielders in general. Lonnie Chisenhall is the probably the best outfielder available “on paper” after that, but it’s yet to be seen if the calf issues that kept him out most of last season have gotten any better. Michael Brantley would be an intriguing option, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30.
In this writer’s eyes, it’s Dexter Fowler’s job to lose in right field. Unless Bryce Harper walks in the door to start spring training, Fowler is probably going to be the guy heading into camp. If Harper doesn’t end up in St. Louis and Fowler is a bust, you could be in a much worse situation than having Tyler O’Neill and Jose Martinez playing in right.