Jason Heyward

Signed: Markakis Joins a Brave New World

markakis

Over the years Baltimore has lost a number of long-time Orioles to free agency. Guys like Mike Mussina who the fans hoped would spend their whole careers in the orange, black, and white uniforms. Right fielder Nick Markakis can now be added to the list, though he didn’t have much choice.

Markakis, who signed with the Orioles after they took him with the 7th overall pick in the 2003 MLB Amateur draft, has departed Baltimore to join the Atlanta Braves after the two sides agreed on a four-year deal. The money has not been officially announced,  but ESPN.com’s Buster Oleny estimates that the nine-year veteran will earn around a total of $45MM. That would represent a pay cut from the $15MM Markakis earned the last two seasons.

The 31-year old became a free agent after the Orioles turned down their portion of a mutual option that would have cost the club $17MM for the coming season. Instead the team bought Markakis out for a mere $2MM.

Though he holds a career .358 on-base pct. and a .436 slugging pct., Markakis’ never reached the offensive heights that the early part of his career might have indicated. Granted, he played on some awful Orioles squads, but Markakis averaged 20 home runs, 45 doubles, and 100 RBI from 2007 – 2009. He hasn’t reached 20 home runs since then and had the worst OPS numbers of his career (.685, .729) over the last two seasons.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Markakis’ superb defense and rocket-like arm. He won his second Gold Glove Award this season after he captured one in 2011. He did not commit an error in either of those two years as well as in 2013, and has made just 18 errors in his career to date. Markakis is expected to replace right fielder Jason Heyward, who was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Shelby Miller, in the Orioles outfield.

The Orioles have lost two outfielders to free agency, with Nelson Cruz having agreed to a deal with Seattle this past Monday.

Nick Markakis among the Orioles All-Time hitters

Hits – 7th
Games played – 13th
Home Runs – 15th
Doubles – 7th
Runs scored – 11th
RBI – 13th
Walks – 11th
At-Bats 10th

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TRADED: Cards, Braves Swap Former Top Prospects

heyward

The Atlanta Braves had high hopes for outfielder Jason Heyward, the 14th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur draft. Those expectations were wratched it up a notch three years later when Heyward finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting with an 18 HR, 72 RBI, .849 OPS campaign. But after belting 27 HR with 82 RBI in 2012, Heyward’s offense dropped, but Atlanta’s expectations did not, especially considering what they were paying Heyward. The Braves traded the 25-year old to the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday for right-hander Shelby Miller, the 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft.

The Cardinals also received reliever Jordan Walden, while minor league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins was sent to the Braves’ organization.

Miller was third in the National League Rookie of the Year vote in 2013 when he won 15 games with a 3.01 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 173.1 innings pitched. This past season, Miller’s ERA rose to 3.74 and his strikeouts per nine innings dropped from 8.8 to 6.2.

Heyward is due to make $8.3MM for the coming season and the Braves, apparently, are not willing to pay more than that for the future. Miller, by comparison earned $521K and is not arbitration eligible until 2016. He will earn substantially less in 2015 than Heyward.

The Braves outfielder posted .776 and .735 OPS the past two seasons and slugged a career-low .384 in 2014. He won his second Gold Glove this year and will join Matt Holliday as a corner (RF) outfielder in the Cardinals lineup. Considering the length of time (four years)  that the Cardinals had Miller under control, the deal had to come as much of a surprise to Cardinals fans as it did to Braves fans. Miller will replace Ervin Santana, a free agent, in the Braves’ starting rotation.

Though he has a propensity to walk too many hitters, Walden was solid out of the pen in his second season in Atlanta. The hard throwing righty struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings and held opposing hitters to a .541 OPS. Walden, who did not fare successfully as a closer in his younger days for the Angels, could have a chance to win the job in St. Louis from Trevor Rosenthal.

Jenkins was a supplemental pick (50th overall) by the Cardinals in the first round of the 2010 draft. The 6’4″, 22-year old right-hander missed the first half of the 2014 season with shoulder surgery. He finished the season 6-5, 3.28 in 13 starts for the Cardinals’ Palm Beach (Florida State League) affiliate.

MLB Preview: Injuries Could Haunt 2014 Braves

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Atlanta will need big production from the likes of Freddie Freeman to make up for a rash of injuries.

by Christopher Wenrich

Key acquisitions:  Ryan Doumit, Gavin Floyd, Mat Gamel

Key losses:  Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Paul Maholm, Luis Ayala, Eric O’Flaherty

Since the 1990s, the Atlanta Braves have always fielded a competitive team and shown the ability to overcome adversity.  But with the rash of injuries already taking a toll on the squad, the adversity may prove to be too much.  Pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen are out for the year and will be undergoing Tommy John surgery (Beachy’s second in three years).  Tim Hudson – formerly of the Braves – signed with the San Francisco Giants.  Pitchers Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd are also injured and may not be back until late April or early May.

THE LINEUP
C:  Evan Gattis
1B:  Freddie Freeman
2B:  Dan Uggla
3B:  Chris Johnson
SS:  Andrelton Simmons
LF:  Justin Upton
CF:  B.J. Upton
RF:  Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward should lead off for the Braves, as he is the only hitter they have – aside from Freddie Freeman – who can get on base consistently.  B.J. Upton is not qualified for the role, as he registered a sub-.300 on-base percentage in back-to-back seasons.  In 2013, Upton hit a paltry .184 and struck out 151 times in only 391 at-bats.  Justin Upton (161 strikeouts in 558 at-bats) and Dan Uggla (171 strikeouts in 448 at-bats) round out the Braves’ swing-and-miss brigade.  The threesome provide the Braves with plenty of potential for home runs; however, they swing more violently than a screen door in a tornado.  Their penchant for strikeouts render their offense inconsistent and unpredictable.

Freeman will provide consistency and all-star numbers.  Chris Johnson is a steady contact hitter.  Although it is unlikely that Johnson will repeat last season’s breakout .321 average, it would not be entirely surprising (.289 career average).  Outside of Heyward, Freeman and Johnson, there is little consistency in the lineup.  Andrelton Simmons is perhaps the best defensive shortstop in baseball, but he is not a spectacular hitter.  Simmons does have the potential to grow as a hitter and has decent pop in his bat.  Hitting 15-20 home runs is not out of the question for Simmons, and his average may improve as he gains more experience.

Catcher Evan Gattis is another feast-or-famine hitter in the Braves lineup.  Should Gattis struggle mightily or suffer injuries, Ryan Doumit could replace him in the lineup.  Doumit was a shrewd signing for the Braves, as he can catch, play first base and the outfield.

THE ROTATION
Julio Teheran
Ervin Santana
Alex Wood
David Hale
Aaron Harang

With Beachy and Medlen out for the year, Julio Teheran gets the nod for opening day.  Teheran struggled in his few Major League starts in 2011 and 2012, but he followed with a strong 2013 season and has secured his spot in the Majors.  Teheran posted a 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 30 starts last season.  The youngster has tremendous potential and will continue to grow as a pitcher.  In the wake of the Beachy/Medlen injuries, the Braves signed Ervin Santana to provide some semblance of stability in their rotation.  Santana has displayed bouts of both brilliance and ineptitude in his inconsistent career.

Alex Wood – the Braves’ second-round draft choice in 2012 – will start the season in the rotation.  Wood has looked impressive this spring, as he currently sports a 0.45 ERA.  Wood may be moved to the bullpen when/if Floyd and Minor return.  If Wood continues to impress during the regular season, the Braves may opt to keep him in the rotation and could move Floyd to the bullpen.  The Braves recently released Freddy Garcia and signed veteran Aaron Harang.

THE BULLPEN
Craig Kimbrel
Jordan Walden
Luis Avalan
David Carpenter
Anthony Varvaro
Cory Gearrin

Craig Kimbrel – widely regarded as the best closer in baseball – will again serve as closer.  Jordan Walden will likely serve as the setup man.  The Braves had perhaps the best bullpen in baseball for years, but it looks like it may be a shadow of its former self now.  Jonny Venters will start the season on the disabled list and may be out until late May or early June.  Eric O’Flaherty is now with the Oakland Athletics.  An inconsistent lineup combined with a lack of proven depth in the bullpen may add up to many losses for the Braves this year.  The injuries to the starting pitchers  may also lead to the bullpen being overworked.

THE BENCH

Despite the injuries, the Braves will not be lacking catchers.  Doumit can catch, play first base and the outfield and Gerald Laird will serve as a backup catcher.  Ramiro Pena will back up Uggla at second base and may steal the job if Uggla has another challenging season.  Tyler Pastornicky – who tore his ACL last August – will back up Simmons at shortstop.  Mat Gamel provides a power bat on the bench and can play first base and the outfield.  Gamel was once a top prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization, but he struggled with injuries and was an underachiever.

Outfielder Jordan Schafer will likely start the season on the bench.  If B.J. Upton underperforms, he may lose his starting job to Schafer, who hit .247 last season but registered a respectable .331 on-base percentage.  Despite appearing in only 94 games and 234 at-bats as a part-time player last season, Schafer led the Braves with 22 stolen bases and was caught six times.

The Braves could finish second in the National League East if their offense shows more consistency and if they get another Herculean effort from Freeman, but a fourth place finish is more likely.  When top relief pitchers like Venters go down with an injury, O’Flaherty signs with another team, and Gamel is a key acquisition, all signs point to a troubled season.  Look for the Braves to be surpassed by the New York Mets this season and battle with the Philadelphia Phillies for third place.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).