Markakis, 34, is three years older than Flaherty but has played in the majors twice as long – 12 years, including nine with the Orioles and three with the Braves. The bearded right fielder, a Woodstock High School graduate and quintessential veteran leader-by-example, is entering the final year of a four-year, $44 million contract and is glad to have Flaherty on the roster of a Braves team that believes it can take significant steps forward this season.
“Just from talking to some of the guys, it’s a young team,” Flaherty said after joining the Braves before Monday night’s exhibition game against the Yankees at SunTrust Park. “When you’re playing with a young team it’s fun. They’ve got guys that are energetic. I’m starting to learn everything, learn everyone’s name and stuff like that.”
After six years with the Orioles, Flaherty changed teams for the first time when he signed a minor league deal with the Phillies this year. He had a clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent if not added to the Phillies’ major league roster by the end of spring, and the Braves lured him with a major league offer after the Orioles tried to re-sign him to a minor league deal.
The Braves also signed outfielder Peter Bourjos to a one-year deal, another defense-first player who thrives defensively at all the outfield spots. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has put a premium on defensive improvement to assure the Braves’ deepest commodity – top-flight pitching prospects – has the best opportunity to thrive. The Braves might not score a ton of runs, but they want to make sure the opponent has a tough time scoring.
“It’s huge,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the late additions. “I think we saw that in spring training. It’s kind of where the game’s going. Flaherty is a really solid defensive player. Bourjos is a really above-average defensive outfielder. And the 27 outs will be huge for us and not giving them more. With these acquisitions we’ll be able to stick to that because with the pitching, where we’re at with that, we need to make all the plays that need to be made.”
Flaherty has never been much of an offensive presence, but is a strong defensive player who has experience at every infield position as well as the corner-outfield spots. He even pitched an inning for the Orioles in 2016 and was manager Buck Showalter’s emergency catcher, though he never had to be used behind the plate.
“Very versatile,” Markakis said. “I always said he should be in the National League. In Baltimore, I don’t know if it was last year or the year before, but he sat 43 days without even playing. American League’s a lot tougher, too. It’s good he’s here. I think he’s going to help us out, for sure.”
Flaherty was a mere .215 career hitter with a .639 OPS and 35 home runs in 1,270 plate appearances over six seasons with the Orioles, though he had 10 homers in 271 plate appearances in 2013. In Markakis’ final season with the Orioles in 2014, Flaherty filled in for injured shortstop Manny Machado late in the season and playoffs, coming up with some defensive gems the postseason and going 4-for-12 with a homer and three walks in a four-game American League Championship Series loss to the Royals.
Flaherty hit well this spring, batting .351 (13-for-37) with three doubles, one homer, a .390 OBP, .514 slugging percentage and only three strikeouts. The Orioles tried to bring him back on a minor league contract before the Braves entered the picture with a major league offer. Now he’ll be playing in the league that he’s been told he belonged in. The league without the designated hitter, where double-switches are used and bench players don’t go days or even weeks without playing.
“Over the years when I was there in the American League people always joked that you’re more suited for the National League,” Flaherty said. “You know, we’ll see. I just talked to the manager (Snitker) briefly. We’ll see what happens. Do whatever they ask me to do. But I’ve heard that over the years.”
He's an amiable sort who was a first-round draft pick by the Cubs out of Vanderbilt University in 2008. Flaherty was just getting to know his Phillies teammates after spending all of his major league career in Baltimore.
“I guess the team I was with in camp had some similarities (to the Braves) as far as being young,” he said. “But yeah, just come here and try to help the team win. That’s what I’m prepared to do.”
He said it helped to know a few Braves coming in.
“Dansby (Swanson) went to Vanderbilt; I was there a ways before him,” Flaherty said. “But I knew Charlie (Culberson) coming up. Obviously Nick’s my brother-in-law, so I know him. I know Freddie (Freeman), played golf with Folty (Mike Foltynewicz). So I know some of the guys.
“But yeah, it’s new to me too, so just catch it in stride and go with it.”