Toronto Blue Jays could look to Atlanta Braves for outfield help

With the Blue Jays set to possibly lose Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders from their outfield, they’ll likely look to add at least one starting outfielder this offseason

The Blue Jays have been one of the better teams in baseball for the last two seasons, losing out in the ALCS in consecutive years. With a solid core coming back for 2017, there’s reason to believe that the Jays could contend again next season. They are potentially losing Jose Bautista and fellow slugger Edwin Encarnacion in free agency, so the decisions made in the next few months will be crucial for the Jays’ short and long term success.

The front office and manager John Gibbons have expressed a desire to become less reliant on the “all or nothing” offence, and would like to have better balance with more speed. While Bautista and Saunders are both popular players north of the border they are both largely one-dimensional players at this stage, so it’s possible, if not likely, the Blue Jays move on this offseason.

With that in mind, the Blue Jays will be one of many teams looking to the free agent market for outfield help, and unfortunately the market is fairly underwhelming. The Blue Jays could explore names like Mark Trumbo, Ian Desmond, Matt Holliday, or Carlos Gomez, but they all hit right-handed and come with downsides, whether it’s decline or skill redundancy (see: “all or nothing”).

It’s entirely possible the Jays could show interest in Josh Reddick, or Dexter Fowler, who would fit the profile of a more rounded skill set, and bringing balance to the lineup card. However, it’s expected both players will be highly coveted, so the Jays will have stiff competition if they want to bid on either lefty swinger (Fowler is a switch-hitter). Yoenis Cespedes, while enticing, will be expensive and seems destined to return to New York anyway.

With limited options, the Blue Jays may turn to the trade market to help fill their outfield needs, and there are a couple teams that could line up well. One team, the Blue Jays made a trade with on May 31st of this year bringing Jason Grilli into the bullpen, a badly needed shot in the arm for a struggling Toronto bullpen. Could the Blue Jays look to the Atlanta Braves again this offseason?

Atlanta enters the 2017 season set to open their new ballpark, SunTrust Park. The Braves’ front office would love to have a competitive team to open their new digs, but that’s looking about as likely as Pablo Sandoval winning a triathlon. They finished the 2016 season last in the NL East at 68-93, and it would take a minor miracle for them to overtake the Nationals and Mets next season.

Currently, the Braves are set to roll with a veteran outfield of Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis, with youngster Mallex Smith waiting in the wings. It’s doubtful the Braves would deal Inciarte, and Kemp would be redundant for the Blue Jays… but what about that other guy?

Markakis will be 33 when the 2017 begins, and has two years remaining on a four-year, $44 million contract he signed in 2014. There was concern when he joined the Braves because he had to undergo a neck fusion surgery, but he has since bounced back and continued to post positive numbers.

The 2003 7th overall pick finished last season with a line of .269/.346/.397 including 13 home runs, 89 RBI and 38 doubles while playing in 158 games. He’s a two-time gold glove winner, and is nominated again this season alongside Jason Heyward and Carlos Gonzalez. He didn’t rate as highly as he has in the past, but he’d be a sure-fire defensive upgrade over Bautista and/or Saunders.

Markakis is also very familiar with the AL East, having spent nine seasons with the Baltimore Orioles from 2006-2014 where he was a consistent force on both sides of the ball. He would bring a left-handed bat to a lineup, and one that has hit at or near the top of the lineup, bringing a solid OBP to the fold. The former Oriole grew up and graduated in Georgia, which contributed to the him switching teams and heading home to play for Braves.

It’s possible that neither he nor the Braves are willing to part company, but it’s also possible the Braves could shop an outfielder this offseason, especially with the talented Smith waiting for an opportunity. It’s unlikely the Braves will be playoff bound before Markakis’ deal is up in two seasons, so it could be appealing for the veteran to join a contender as he enters the twilight years of his career. His AAV of $11 million is reasonable, and the Blue Jays could be willing to pay most, or all of that salary depending on what the return ends up being in any trade.

The Braves don’t have to move on, and won’t just give away the talented outfielder, but his price tag shouldn’t have to include multiple, elite prospects. He might not be the first choice for the Blue Jays, but his skill set checks off several boxes, and he could end up a viable option later in the offseason.

The Blue Jays showed some interest back in 2014 when he was a free agent, and it’s possible they could circle back and explore a deal for the talented veteran.

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