Two days after Braves officials flew to Maryland to woo a suddenly available Nick Markakis, they got their man Wednesday. They signed the veteran right fielder and Woodstock High graduate to a four-year contract for about $44 million, a person familiar with the situation said.
Markakis, 31, is a two-time Gold Glove winner who is expected to replace the traded Jason Heyward in right field and at the leadoff spot for the Braves. Although he’s played his entire nine-year career with the Baltimore Orioles, Markakis has a home in the Atlanta area and went to high school and college in Georgia (Young Harris College).
After negotiations with the Orioles stalled and Markakis made it known he would consider other teams, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant general manager John Coppolella traveled to Baltimore on Monday and had dinner with him near his Maryland home. The Giants and Blue Jays had also pursued Markakis.
Signing Markakis further increases the already-strong possibility that the Braves will trade corner outfielder Justin Upton or possibly Evan Gattis, the catcher who has been penciled in to move to left field next season. Trading Upton seems more likely, since he can be a free agent after 2015 while Gattis is under contractual control through 2018.
He’s not as sensational defensively as Heyward and doesn’t have the speed, power or upside potential as the former Braves right fielder, but the Braves view Markakis as a steadier, more durable player who was far cheaper to sign over the next four years than Heyward, who can be a free agent after the 2015 season.
Markakis is a .290 career hitter with the .358 on-base percentage, 141 home runs and 658 RBIs in nine seasons. Last season he hit .276 with a .342 OBP, 27 doubles, 14 homers and 50 RBIs, and won his second Gold Glove in four years.
Earlier Wednesday the Braves announced they had signed Markakis’ friend, former Orioles closer Jim Johnson, to a one-year deal.
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