December 04, 2014

Markakis Signing Signals Braves Looking for Depth Over Star Power

On Wednesday the Braves announced they signed former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis to a four-year deal.  Reports are the total value could be in the $45 million range, which would make the average annual value around $11.25 million.

When deals are signed, I like to look at Fangraphs’ dollars per WAR calculations from the player’s past.  This is essentially an estimate of how much the player’s contributions were worth in terms of the cost of a win on the free agent market.

In 2007, Markakis was a $17.5 million player, according to Fangraphs’ estimate.  In 2008 he was worth $27.5 million.  But from 2009-2013 he was never worth more than $9.4 million in any season.  The low point was 2013 when he was a replacement-level player.  But he bounced back in 2014, and was worth an estimated $13.6 million.

To put Markakis’ performances in terms of WAR (Fangraphs version), in 2007 he was worth 4.3 WAR.  In 2008 he was worth 6.1 WAR.  Then from 2009-2014 he was consistently in the 0-2.5-WAR range.  So unless Markakis bounces back to his ages 23-24 performances (which seems unlikely at ages 32-35), he’s merely a decent outfielder that isn’t going to be any kind of a difference maker.  The good news, however, is that he’s fairly low risk and is likely to add a bit of win value over replacement level.  He’s only had one terrible season.

Markakis is not nearly the player Jason Heyward is or could become.  Heyward is around a 5-WAR player whereas Markakis is somewhere around a 2-WAR player.  But the Braves would have had Heyward for just one more season.  After that, Hewyard was likely to command a contract at least in the $20-million-a-season range for a good 8-9 years.  Markakis’ deal could be less than half of Heyward’s next deal, and Markakis will still provide some positive win value.  For those who don’t like the deal, they may be focusing too much on the differences between Heyward and Markakis as baseball players and not enough on the differences between Heyward and Markakis’ contracts and contract demands.  Markakis is just cheaper, and will perhaps be a better value in terms of dollars per win.

That said, the Markakis deal (and trading Heyward) might not mean the Braves are going cheap.  The Braves lacked depth last season.  Their bench was terrible.  When their starters didn’t perform, got hurt, or needed to be subbed, there were not enough quality extra players to fill in.  There weren’t even that many extra players who worth worth anything.  The Heyward trade and Markakis signing may be an indication that the Braves are looking to spread their resources to try and build a deep team full of quality players, rather than relying on a few stars and trying to figure out the rest on the fly.  And unless you’re the Yankees, Red Sox, or teams with that sort of budget, it’s tough to both build a deep team and acquire and keep star players.

The gap between what a star player gets paid and what a solid player gets paid is fairly large, often larger than the gap between the performances of a star player versus a solid player.  If a team with a limited budget, like the Braves, wants to pay star players, it needs to churn out cheap, young players from its farm system.    If the farm system looks rather barren and a team with a limited budget expends its resources on stars, it is going to be forced to fill in the gaps with cheap, bad veteran players.  With a barren farm system, it’s wise for the Braves to limit the gaps it has to fill by acquiring a lot of solid players, rather than paying for a few star players and creating gaps where they don’t have star power.  If this is a plan, this approach may buy them some time to replenish the farm system while still contending.



Leave a Reply