This qualifies as a big surprise, especially given MLB's current circumstances.
Braves outfielder Nick Markakis, who opted out of the season on July 6 after an "eye-opening" conversation with teammate Freddie Freeman, has opted back in. Freeman tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of July and experienced "body aches, headaches, chills and a high fever," his wife Chelsea wrote on Instagram. Shortly after news of Freeman's bout with coronavirus broke, both Markakis and first-year Braves starting pitcher Felix Hernandez opted out of the season.
But Markakis has changed his mind.
"Sometimes in life you make rash decisions without thinking them through," Markakis said Wednesday.
"At the time, I thought it was the right decision and it still could be the right decision. But I'm going against my decision. I'd like to come back. Sitting at home watching these guys compete the last couple of days and all the risks they're taking going out there, I just in a way, deep down, the pit of my stomach, I felt like I needed to be out there.
"It was nice to be home with the family but I know my family, my wife and my kids wanted me out here more than anything. I know there's challenging times out there right now. ... But deep down it didn't sit well with me and here I am now."
"Sometimes in life you make rash decisions."— Justin Felder (@Justin_FOX5) July 29, 2020
Here's #Braves outfielder Nick Markakis moments ago on his decision to rejoin the team after opting out before the season started because of COVID-19 concerns. pic.twitter.com/FeU2H7XMwO
It's been a trying month for the Braves. Freeman, top left-handed reliever Will Smith, pitcher Touki Toussaint and utilityman Pete Kozma all tested positive for COVID-19. Markakis and Hernandez opted out. Yasiel Puig, brought in to replace Markakis, also tested positive so the Braves did not sign him.
Separately, Cole Hamels, signed to a one-year, $18 million contract in the offseason, is on the IL with a triceps injury and is not expected back soon.
Freeman was back in time for opening day last Friday, and Smith cleared COVID protocol over the weekend. Now Markakis is back. The Braves have begun the season 2-3 against the Mets and Rays.
The timing of Markakis' decision is surprising in light of 16 Marlins reportedly testing positive for COVID-19, with the Phillies off until Saturday and the Nationals off this weekend because they were scheduled to face the Marlins. The NL East has already been significantly affected by the realities of 2020.
Markakis, when ready, will likely slide back into right field for the Braves, pushing Ronald Acuña Jr. back to center and Ender Inciarte out of the starting lineup on nights they optimize for offense with DH Matt Adams. On other nights, Markakis could DH with Inciarte roaming the outfield.
In 14 big-league seasons, Markakis has hit .288/.358/.424 with 499 doubles and 188 homers. With 2,355 career hits, he's a longshot to reach 3,000 but it's possible. He turns 37 in November. His numbers in 91 games against the Phillies are similar to his career numbers, though he's homered just four times and has slugged about 20 points lower than against the rest of the NL East.
Markakis is the first player to opt back in for the season. In total, 14 MLB players have opted out of the season:
• Nationals catcher Welington Castillo
• Rockies reliever Tim Collins
• Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond
• Braves starting pitcher Felix Hernandez
• Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks
• White Sox starting pitcher Michael Kopech
• Diamondbacks starting pitcher Mike Leake
• Red Sox pitcher Collin McHugh
• Pirates reliever Hector Noesi
• Giants catcher Buster Posey
• Dodgers starting pitcher David Price
• Nationals pitcher Joe Ross
• Cubs outfielder Mark Zagunis
• Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman