ATLANTA -- As Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos maintained regular contact with Nick Markakis over the past couple months, he knew the veteran outfielder's preference was to continue playing for Atlanta.
But a reunion was not consummated until Sunday night, when Markakis' price dropped to a point that allowed Anthopoulos to maintain the financial flexibility necessary to potentially upgrade his rotation or bullpen.
Markakis will return to the Braves, agreeing to a one-year, $6 million deal that was announced Tuesday afternoon. The contract includes a $4 million guarantee for 2019 and a $6 million option ($2 million buyout) for 2020.
"Nick clearly wanted to be back," Anthopoulos said. "He made that evident throughout this process."
Markakis spent his high school years in the Atlanta area, played his college ball at north Georgia's Young Harris College and spent each of the past four years guiding the Braves through a rebuild and toward last year's division title. His parents attend most every home game, and most importantly his three sons have developed a love for the Braves.
"The tipping point was my kids," Markakis said. "I asked them where they wanted me to play, and they all said, 'Braves.' How could I say no to that, especially with the organization and the group of guys that are here? I'm extremely happy with my decision."
With Markakis back, Braves manager Brian Snitker is now leaning toward moving Ronald Acuna Jr. out of the leadoff spot to fill the void in the cleanup spot. This sets up the possibility that Atlanta's first five hitters would be Ender Inciarte, Josh Donaldson, Freddie Freeman, Acuna and Markakis.
As the Braves pursued and evaluated other available outfielders, it was assumed their fallback option would be Markakis. But the eventual cost proved to be far less than expected. The 35-year-old outfielder drew an $11 million salary from Atlanta each of the past four seasons.
"I'm not mad at all [about the pay cut]," Markakis said. "I play a kids' game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed in that? Everything works out for a reason."
Markakis earned his first career All-Star selection and won both a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Award after hitting .297 with 14 homers and an .806 OPS last year. Anthopoulos said Markakis declined more lucrative offers elsewhere while maintaining the hope he'd eventually strike a deal with the Braves.
While the two parties maintained regular contact over the past couple months, the Braves were not willing to sign Markakis until he agreed to account for just $4 million of this year's payroll. This deal, which draws comparisons to the $2 million contract Brian McCann signed in October, allows Atlanta to remain somewhat aggressive in its pursuit to improve the pitching staff and possibly add a bench player.
"This deal needed to come in at the right price for us," Anthopoulos said.
Other than saying there will be an increase, Anthopoulos has never provided a projected payroll for the 2019 season. But it appears he has the option to spend at least $15 million this offseason and still have some remaining funds that could be used for in-season moves next summer.
Markakis' market was adversely affected by the fact he hit .220 with a .565 OPS over his final 47 games. His desire to play in each of the regular season's 162 games seemed to create late-season fatigue. He batted .327 with an .899 OPS through the first 115 games.
As the Braves evaluated whether to re-sign Markakis, they accounted for him producing an average exit velocity of 90 mph and average launch angle of 9.3 degrees over those final 47 games. During his first 115 games, his average exit velocity was 90.8 mph and 10.4 degrees.
The launch angle difference accounted for a higher percentage of ground balls and seemingly supported the thought he might have tired down the stretch.
Markakis acknowledges his desire to play in every game may have hurt him. He plans to take some days off this year and do whatever he can to push the Braves even further past where they were when he arrived four years ago, at the start of a massive rebuild.
"You always hope there is a chance [to return]," Markakis said. "You can't predict the future. Anything can happen in this business and in this game. I'm happy with the way this turned out."