ATLANTA -- A week after being surprised by Nick Markakis’ decision to not play this year, the Braves are now attempting to replace him with Yasiel Puig, who has the potential to be more productive than Markakis would have been.
While Markakis has always been considered to be a clubhouse favorite, Puig has often drawn the ire of his previous teammates and employers.
But as Braves manager Brian Snitker recently said regarding an unrelated matter, “This is not a game played by choir boys.”
Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos understands the value of clubhouse camaraderie. At the same time, the two years he recently spent with the Dodgers gave him a better understanding of what kind of player and person Puig truly is.
Whatever trepidation might have existed didn’t stop Anthopoulos and Puig from reaching an agreement that, as of Wednesday afternoon, was still pending the results of a physical and a COVID-19 test.
If Puig passes his physical and tests negative for the coronavirus, he will join what will immediately become an improved Braves roster.
Here are a few reasons Puig could clearly be a better option than Markakis:
Recent offensive production
When Puig hit .267 with 24 homers and a .785 OPS over 611 plate appearances with the Reds and Indians last year, he experienced a down year. His 100 OPS+ was the second-lowest mark of his career, sitting ahead of only the 98 OPS+ he constructed in 2016.
As for Markakis, his OPS+ exceeded 100 just once over the past four seasons. That occurred in '18, when he hit .297 with 14 homers and an .806 OPS.
Over the past two years, these two outfielders have created very similar value. Puig produced a 3.1 fWAR (FanGraphs) and a 108 OPS+. Markakis had a 3.0 fWAR and a 109 OPS+.
But being seven years younger, Puig has the power, speed and defensive range no longer possessed by the 36-year-old Markakis.
Among the 177 outfielders who garnered at least 200 attempts last year, Puig ranked 106th with 0 Outs Above Average and Markakis ranked 125th with -2 OAA. Neither has great range. But both would be a better option than Marcell Ozuna, who ranked 163rd with -8 OAA.
Puig still has one of the game’s top arms and he will provide more range than Markakis would at both corner-outfield spots.
Before it was determined National League teams could use a designated hitter this year, there was reason to question how Markakis was going to draw plate appearances beyond those as a pinch-hitter.
With Snitker now given the option to use Ozuna as his primary DH, it looked like Markakis might at least draw a handful of starts in left field. But this would have likely highlighted his decreased range.
Truist Park’s dimensions led the Braves to spend much of the past two seasons sticking Markakis in right field and positioning Ronald Acuña Jr. in left field, which is the more spacious of the two corner outfields in Atlanta.
With the five outfielders the Braves had at the start of Summer Camp, they possessed two (Ender Inciarte and Markakis) who struggle against left-handed pitching and another (Ozuna) who should be used sparingly on defense.
Johan Camargo and Austin Riley could have played left field when necessary. But Riley is slated to play first base until Freddie Freeman is cleared to return after testing positive for COVID-19.
Though Puig had reverse splits in 2018, he has shown the ability to handle right-handed and left-handed pitchers in similar fashion. His ability to play on an everyday basis at either corner-outfield spot makes him a better fit for this roster.
If this deal is completed, Snitker will then discuss how he might use his outfielders. These are possible options.
vs. right-handed pitchers: LF Puig; CF Inciarte; RF Acuña; DH Ozuna
vs. left-handed pitchers: LF Adam Duvall; CF Acuña; RF Puig; DH Ozuna
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.