The Royals added to their bench depth last week adding right-handed hitting infielder Hanser Alberto, but that does not mean they have ended their search for a left-handed bat, something Alec Lewis echoed in a recent piece for The Athletic. Many of the top free agents have signed, but the Royals may still be able to find a complementary piece on a bargain. One veteran they may target is outfielder Nick Markakis.
Markakis has long seemed like a player built for Kauffman Stadium. The 15-year veteran was a solid defender in his prime, winning three Gold Glove awards in right field. He also brings a high-contact approach with good gap power that could take advantage of spacious Kauffman Stadium. He has been part of four post-season teams - including the Orioles team that lost to the Royals in the 2014 ALCS - and has 2,388 career hits to his name.
The 37-year old originally opted out of last season due to coronavirus concerns, but reversed his decision and played. He hit .254/.312/.392 in 37 games with the Braves, his worst offensive numbers since 2013. He was better in 2019, hitting .285/.356/.420 with nine home runs in 116 games, and was a 1 WAR player, according to Baseball-Reference.
Markakis could be the on-base hitter that Dayton Moore has been looking for with a career .357 on-base percentage. He has a healthy career walk rate of 9.6 percent, although that dropped to 7.1 percent last year. Markakis doesn’t whiff much, with a career strikeout rate of 13.2 percent. He has the sixth-lowest swinging strike rate and sixth-highest contact rate in baseball since 2017.
His high contact rate has typically come without sacrificing power, as he smacked 43 doubles and 14 home runs as recently as 2018, when he won a Silver Slugger award and received MVP votes. But he hit just one home run last year, and his hard-hit rate fell dramatically. He also had one of the lowest percentages of barrels last year, but again, it was a shortened season that he got a late start in and missed time due to potential exposure to COVID-19.
Despite being pretty athletic, Markakis has not been much of a basestealer since very early in his career. He is slightly-below average in sprint speed, but has performed quite poorly in Ultimate Base Running over the last five seasons.
Defensively, the metrics are a mixed bag on Markakis. By Statcast’s Outs Above Average he is still an average defender, and he fares about the same in Defense Runs Saved. But by Ultimate Zone Rating, he is among the worst outfielders in baseball. Markakis has generally looked like a good defender throughout his career, despite the metrics disagreeing. He is probably still average to slightly below-average on the corners, but the metrics may give you pause, and his age should also be a factor.
Markakis doesn’t have a huge platoon split - walking a bit less against lefties while striking out a bit more - but he’s not a liability against southpaws. He has generally been a consistent presence in the lineup - he played in 155 games in all but one season from 2007 to 2018. But he has had a late season swoon in the last few years, and at his age he should probably be splitting time more.
Markakis is a quiet team leader - he is known for being stoic and unemotional - but is well respected and considered a true professional who goes about his work. He could be a good example for younger players coming up. The Georgia native may be looking to return to the Braves or may even be contemplating retirement. But if he is looking to be a semi-regular on an up-and-coming team, he could be a good fit for the Royals.