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Nick Markakis Second Braves Player to Opt Out of 2020 MLB Season

As major league baseball looks to steam toward the start of their abbreviated 60-game season, there remains plenty of questions that are still to be answered. It’s an ongoing, shifting trend as coronavirus cases have spiked again in the United States, more in some places than others. We’ve seen players excited about the return while others are cautiously optimistic. Then there are those who, for various reasons, have made the decision that they want no part of the season in the middle of a pandemic, more intent on saving their health and well-being as opposed to chasing after the almighty dollar.

That onslaught started with Mike Leake of the Diamondbacks, along with Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross of the Nationals. Since that point, the list has grown to include names such as Dodgers’ pitcher David Price, Nationals’ catcher Welington Castillo and Rockies’ outfield Ian Desmond. In the last couple of days, the Atlanta Braves have been the latest team to take a hit as far as their pool of available talent to opt out of playing in 2020.

The first player to opt out was pitcher Felix Hernandez. King Felix, who had spent his entire 15-year big league career with the Mariners before becoming a free agent in the offseason, was going to be in the mix for a starting role for the Braves. He is 169-136 with a 3.42 ERA, a 1.206 WHIP, 805 walks and 2,524 strikeouts over 2,729.2 innings in 419 career appearances, 418 starts, at the major league level but he is coming off his worst season by far as a pro. Last year, he went 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA, a 1.535 WHIP, 25 walks and 57 strikeouts over 71.2 innings in 15 starts while battling injuries. With Hernandez turning 35 next April, one has to wonder if he’s going to get another chance to pitch in the big leagues after a disappointing 2019 and then not pitching at all in 2020.

On Monday, the Braves took another hit as outfielder Nick Markakis informed the team that he was opting out of the season. He was uncertain about whether to play with no fans in attendance but said that his decision was sealed after speaking with teammate Freddie Freeman, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week and is currently quarantining in an effort to get back to full speed. "Just hearing him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough. It was kind of eye-opening. With everything that's going on, not just with baseball but all over the world, it makes you open your eyes.''

Markakis hit .285 with 25 doubles, two triples, nine homers and 62 RBI over 116 games spanning 469 plate appearances (414 official at-bats) last season. He has spent five years with the Braves after playing the first nine years of his career with the Orioles. Markakis owns a .288/.358/.424 slash line over 8,172 at-bats spanning 2,117 games at the major league level with 499 doubles, 22 triples, 188 home runs and 1,031 RBI along with 2,355 hits. Admittedly, it was going to be a crowded field for playing time in the Atlanta outfield with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcell Ozuna two entrenched players. Throw in Ender Inciarte and Adam Duvall along with rookies like Cristian Pache plus Drew Waters and it was a crowded outfield situation for Braves manager Brian Snitker.

Like Hernandez, it’s tough to gauge whether Markakis will end up calling it a career at this point or not. He turns 37 in November and there might not be a major market for an aging veteran outfielder who will be coming off a season where he didn’t take the field. The decision to opt out is a tough one for any player, even more so for a guy that is near the tail end of his career. We wish both Markakis and Hernandez well and hope that, should they decide to return to the majors in 2021, that they have an opportunity to catch on somewhere to go out on their own terms.

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Chris Kubala

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