Nick Markakis is opting back in
Getty Images

Of course the Braves brought back Nick Markakis

11 Comments

The Braves made two, basically, identical moves today with two different players: they declined the $6 million option on both outfielder Nick Markakis and catcher Tyler Flowers, paid each of them a $2 million buyout on their declined options, and then immediately signed them to one-year $4 million deals.

There are only two logical reasons to do that from what I can figure.

The first reason is — for all intents and purposes — a salary cap move. Yes, I know baseball technically doesn’t have a salary cap, but it practically does in the form of the Competitive Balance Tax, which used to be called the “Luxury Tax.” These moves with Markakis and Flowers could be to keep the Braves’ payroll number for Competitive Balance Tax purposes down. For CBT purposes the buyout is attributed to 2019, see, and the $4 million salary is attributable to 2020’s payroll. As such, they’re $4 million cheaper for CBT purposes while each player still is, basically, making the $6 million between now and this time next year that he would’ve made had his option been exercised.

The problem there: the Braves are nowhere near the CBT threshold and are unlikely to be in 2020. They were close to $50 million below it in 2019 and even if they bring back Josh Donaldson back on a new deal and add a couple of top free agents, it seems highly unlikely that they’ll come close to it either. Maybe they set this up to give themselves an option to go haywire with the payroll this winter, but it just doesn’t seem like their thing. Especially when you consider that these deals — with unusually high buyouts as a percentage of total salary — were put in place last year.

Which makes me think it’s more about budget constraints handed down by the team’s owner, Liberty Media. If we assume that the Braves baseball operations department has a hard ceiling on its budget from above — and that that ceiling is considerably lower than the CBT — saving $4 million on 2020 salaries might’ve been a necessary move. I guess we’ll get more clarity on this as the offseason goes on of course.

In the meantime: meh.

Nick Markakis is beloved by the Braves and the media which covers the team. He’s a “professional hitter,” and “a competitor” and insert whatever other adjective you prefer for “player who is not as good as people like to pretend he is yet still feel the need to talk about him as though he were.”

Markakis, who turns 36 this month, hit .285/.356/.420 with nine homers and 62 RBI over 116 games. As has become customary for him, however, he fell off in the second half and was terrible in the postseason. Normally you’d say, “hey, this is a low-money deal, he’s well-respected and can occasionally smack a key hit, so no problem keeping around as a bench guy,” but the Braves have yet to do or say anything to suggest that they will not, as usual, pencil him in as the starting right fielder before spring training begins. Guess we’ll see about that soon too.

Flowers, who will be 34 by the time spring training rolls around, hit .229/.319/.413 with 11 homers over 310 plate appearances while sharing playing time with Brian McCann in 2019. While he was below-average as a hitter — and while he had an alarming passed balls habit this year — he is considered one of the better pitch-framers in the game. Again, if he’s paired with a better hitter and isn’t playing full time, cool, nice guy to have around. If he’s the main guy, it’s not so good.

It’s painfully early in the offseason and I have all winter go get cranky about the Braves, so let’s just leave it at that.

Rays beat Mets 8-5, clinch 1st AL East title in 10 years

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) Confetti instead of champagne. Silly string instead of beer.

The Tampa Bay Rays, long accustomed to doing more with less, figured out a way to maximize the division-clinching celebration they were allowed to enjoy during a 2020 season shortened by the coronavirus.

Randy Arozarena homered twice and the Rays clinched their first AL East title in 10 years Wednesday night with an 8-5 victory over the New York Mets.

“I’m completely dry right now, which I’m not a huge fan of,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Rays player, said with a grin. “But you have to adapt to what we’re asked of.”

With teams instructed to celebrate in a muted and socially distant style, the Rays went old school – or maybe elementary school – with their clinching party.

The team filed slowly onto the field after Nick Anderson fanned Andres Gimenez for the final out. A couple of players shot off canisters filled with confetti that eventually dotted the grass and dirt at Citi Field. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged before the Rays doused one another with silly string and lit some cigars in the visiting clubhouse.

Later, hooting and hollering could be heard from the visitors’ dugout.

“We’re little kids trapped in grown men’s bodies,” Kiermaier said.

Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe also went deep for the Rays to back Tyler Glasnow‘s six solid innings. Tampa Bay will be home at quirky Tropicana Field for a best-of-three first-round playoff series beginning next Tuesday.

It is the third division crown for the thrifty Rays, whose payroll this season is just over $28 million – more than only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. Tampa Bay, which began play in 1998, also won the AL East, home of two big-spending powers in the Yankees and Red Sox, in 2008 and 2010.

“It feels great to win the division, no matter what division you’re in,” Kiermaier said. “But especially the American League East – it’s just a different animal.”

After missing a chance to clinch Tuesday, the Rays went into Wednesday again needing just a win or a Yankees loss against Toronto to lock up the division championship.

The Rays (37-20) broke a 2-all tie in the sixth on Arozarena’s two-run homer off Michael Wacha and pulled away, taking care of business themselves while New York was routed 14-1 by the Blue Jays.

“At the end of the day, a clinch is a clinch,” said Wendle, who homered in the second. “But to do it on a win – everybody’s kind of riding the high of winning the game along with the division. We didn’t want to see it come down to them losing a game.”

Tampa Bay also is closing in on wrapping up the top record in the AL and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

Lowe, who had an RBI fielder’s choice in the third, hit a two-run homer in the eighth. Willy Adames added an RBI single later in the inning and Arozarena homered again in the ninth.

The insurance came in handy for the Rays when the Mets scored three times off Oliver Drake in the ninth – via an RBI groundout by Robinson Cano and a two-run homer by Todd Frazier – before Anderson closed the door.

“I think we had the game pretty much in control (and) certainly recognized what was going on in Buffalo, but I don’t know if you can ever prepare for a moment like that – it’s pretty special,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Glasnow (5-1) allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

Gimenez and Dominic Smith homered off Glasnow in the final home game of the season for the Mets, whose long-shot playoff hopes were further damaged with the loss. New York began the day 2 1/2 games out of an NL wild-card spot.

“We still have a shot with the four games left and we’re competing,” manager Luis Rojas said. “We’ve just got to do what we do – just keep fighting like we did in the ninth.”

Wacha allowed four runs on six hits and struck out four in six innings.

STABLE SHIRT

Rays pitcher Charlie Morton sported a T-shirt picturing a stable of horses as he spoke with reporters during a pregame Zoom call. Morton did little to discourage the notion the shirt was inspired by Cash’s viral rant earlier this month, when he declared the Rays have “a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph” after Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman threw near Mike Brousseau’s head in the ninth inning Sept. 4.

“The stable shirt?” Morton said. “It was in my locker last week and I like horses.”

With a grin obviously growing even behind his Rays mask, Morton said he rode horses as a kid.

“So I was ecstatic to see this shirt in my locker and I wore it,” he said.

As for the fireballers on the Rays’ pitching staff?

“We’ve got some guys that throw really hard,” Morton said.

ANOTHER LOSING SEASON

The loss guaranteed the Mets (25-31) will finish with a sub-.500 record for the ninth time in the last 12 seasons – a total matched or exceeded only by the Chicago White Sox (nine), Miami Marlins (10) and San Diego Padres (10). The White Sox and Padres have already clinched playoff spots and a winning record, while the Marlins are in second place in the NL East.

New York made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2015 and 2016 and went 86-76 last year.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: LHP Jose Alvarado (shoulder, lat) is scheduled to throw batting practice to 3B Yandy Diaz (hamstring) and 1B Ji-Man Choi (hamstring) at Tropicana Field on Thursday. Cash said all three players are progressing and he hopes they are available for the playoffs. . Brousseau (oblique) missed a fourth consecutive game. Cash said he would have been available off the bench if needed

Mets: RF Michael Conforto (hamstring) returned to the lineup as the designated hitter after missing two games and went 0 for 4. . The Mets activated RHP Dellin Betances (lat), who last pitched Aug. 29, and optioned RHP Corey Oswalt to the alternate site.

UP NEXT

Rays: After a day off Thursday, Morton (2-2, 4.64 ERA) is scheduled to get his postseason tuneup in the opener of a series against the Phillies on Friday.

Mets: Rookie LHP David Peterson (5-2, 3.80 ERA) opens a four-game road series against the Nationals. Peterson struck out a career-high 10 against the Braves last Saturday.