Evaluating Braves' outfield options for 2019

January 2nd, 2019

ATLANTA -- Adding a frontline starting pitcher might be the most influential move the Braves could make this winter. But like with its bullpen, Atlanta has the internal options available to form a rotation that could be at least as effective as the one that brought the Braves last season's National League East crown.
Sticking with the current internal options in the outfield would essentially mean would be a regular within Atlanta's lineup. So, it can be argued adding an outfielder actually stands as the Braves' most definitive need.
Looking ahead, it's feasible to believe the Braves could enhance their rotation via a trade this winter and possibly wait until July's non-waiver Trade Deadline to strengthen their bullpen. But beyond possibly re-signing or taking a chance on , it's not clear how they might fill their outfield need.
Free-agent outfield options 
A.J. Pollock
Pollock has not played more than 113 games in any of the three seasons that have followed 2015, when he won an NL Gold Glove Award and earned down-ballot NL Most Valuable Player Award consideration. The 31-year-old outfielder homered once every 19.6 at-bats and produced an adequate .800 OPS over 460 plate appearances (113 games) in 2018. He's still an above-average defender, but his recent health history creates understandable concern.
The Braves have said they won't be deterred by the Draft pick compensation attached to signing any player (Pollock included) who declined a qualifying offer. But unless Pollock's market drops to the point where he's willing to take a contract of less than three years, he shouldn't be considered a realistic option for Atlanta.

Jones has made it clear he would like to play for the Braves. But given the focus Atlanta places on on-base skills and defense, it's understandable why it has focused its attention on other potential targets. Jones ranked 63rd among qualified outfielders with the 4.3 fWAR (Fangraphs' WAR Model) he produced from 2016-18. The 0.5 fWAR he produced this past summer ranked 52nd out of 56 qualified outfielders.

Playing off that last bit of info regarding Jones, it's important to remember Markakis ranked 47th among 52 outfielders with the 0.5 fWAR he produced in 2017. Improved positioning transformed Markakis from a below-average defender to a NL Gold Glove Award winner who ranked 37th among 56 qualified outfielders with 2.6 fWAR this year. The Braves love Markakis as a person and appreciate all he provided over the past four years. But last season's first- (.871 OPS) and second-half (.701 OPS) splits have led Atlanta to continue exploring other options before possibly creating a reunion.

Had the Braves been successful with any of their multiple attempts to trade Markakis last winter, there's a chance they may have ultimately signed Gonzalez, who expressed interest in Atlanta, as he spent all of last season working out with at the Braves' Spring Training complex. The 33-year-old outfielder ended up producing a .941 OPS at Coors Field and a .663 OPS on the road. If given a choice again this year, the Braves would be more comfortable reuniting with Markakis.
Trade Options
Though many were excited about the possibility the Mariners were going to complete a full liquidation sale, there has never been any indication that Seattle is interested in dealing Mitch Haniger, who would fit exactly what the Braves need to complete an outfield that will include and Inciarte.
If thinking about the possibility of the Yankees including in a deal that might include , it does not currently seem like New York is looking to move Hicks. As for those interested in the possibility of , the Braves' emphasis on defensive value still seems to dim the chances of Castellanos' bat joining Atlanta's lineup.
The Braves discussed the possibility of acquiring , but there was some hesitance about adding the outfielder, who has since been sent to the Reds.
With their prospect riches, the Braves might eventually be able to tempt the Mariners to deal Haniger or perhaps Atlanta can snag an outfielder who becomes expendable to the team that signs . But for now, it does not appear a trade for an outfielder is imminent.