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.