Non-Tender Round-Up for the Braves

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Cincinnati Reds

A surprising thing happened Friday in that not much at all happened. The Atlanta Braves, faced with a deadline to tender offers to their players under team control or set them free as unrestricted free agents, extended offers to every one of them. They even took care of some business, signing lefty Jonny Venters to a $2.25 million contract for 2019. This sheer lack of any non-tenders went against the expectation that guys like Sam Freeman, Adam Duvall, or even Arodys Vizcaino, may have played their last game with the Braves.

Other organizations were far more active. Here’s a list of non-tenders and any possible interest the Braves may have.

Starting Pitchers

RHP Mike Fiers – A lot of people were shocked by Oakland’s decision to non-tender Fiers after a year in which he had a 3.56 ERA. Seems like the modern Godfathers of how to apply analytics saw an opportunity to save money on a player they probably felt would be too much. MLB Trade Rumors projected Fiers was going to get nearly $10 million in arbitration. This was despite a career ERA of 4.04 and ERAs of 4.48 and 5.22 in the two years before 2018. But the A’s also saw a 4.75 FIP, a 4.51 xFIP, and 4.75 SIERA last season. Actually, they probably have their own brand of metrics that they were going with. Regardless, they were convinced Fiers’ success in 2019 couldn’t be counted on to continue or they could replace that production for much less with a similar pitcher. Some have already pushed for the Braves to sign Fiers, but once you take him out of the cavernous confines of Oakland, his propensity to give up homers (second most since 2016) should take away much of your expectations for another season at his 2018 level.

Relief Arms

LHP Luis Avilan – Heavily disliked during his time with the Braves, Avilan is a solid arm for any team – especially if used properly as a left-hand specialist. In 399 career games, he has a 3.09 ERA and 3.25 FIP. Specifically against left-hand hitters, he’s held them to a 3.01 FIP and .262 wOBA. But the Braves already added a former arm to be their left-hand specialist in Venters.

RHP Brad Boxberger – Drafted to be a relief ace, Boxberger has pitched for three major league teams since breaking in during the 2012 season. He has a 3.42 ERA and a 4.03 FIP, suggesting he’s a guy who will often out-pitch his FIP. You get a solid strikeout rate, but Boxberger walks a lot of guys and serves up too many homers to be reliable in high leverage innings. That said, he will turn just 31 next season and has the best Players Weekend jersey in baseball. Not sure if that is or should be a deciding factor, though.

RHP Matt Bush – Of course, Bush’s history is that of a former first overall pick as a shortstop who runs into legal problems and later becomes a reliever. His current story, though, is of a guy who underwent elbow surgery back in September and won’t be a factor until mid-2019 at least. Bush was excellent in 2016 with a 2.74 FIP and 1.6 fWAR, but his follow-up campaigns haven’t been nearly as good. While the flame-throwing righty is worth consideration as a low-cost, medium-reward option, it would be difficult to find room on the 40-man roster until spring training for Bush’s hurt arm.

LHP Xavier Cedeno – What does a 2.43 ERA get you that is supported by good-to-great metrics across the board? Apparently non-tendered. While the left-hand reliever market is flush with options, it’s still surprising to see Cedeno hit the market after having a FIP under 3.00 in his last two full seasons (ignoring his nine-game 2017). Cedeno does pretty much everything you want to see – good strikeout rate, decent enough walk rate, keeps the ball in the park, gets grounders, and did I mention a career .261 wOBA against left-hand hitters? Only problem for the Braves is that they could easily put together an eight-man pen consisting entirely of left-handers already.

RHP Cory Gearrin – Originally a Braves farmhand who pitched in nearly 80 games with the team from 2011-13, Gearrin has had some success since leaving Atlanta – especially a 1.99 ERA with the Giants in 2017. However, the sidearmer has long struggled against lefties far more than righties and will need to throw more strikes in order to avoid being a problem moving forward. Gearrin can fill out a bullpen as a reliable low-to-medium leverage innings guy, but the Braves may already have too many of those guys.

LHP Dan Jennings – While not a left-hand specialist, Jennings does a good enough job against lefties and isn’t completely vulnerable to right-handed hitters. Like his now former teammate, Xavier Cedeno, Jennings was somewhat surprisingly non-tendered compared to the value he brings to the table. While his metrics will never impress, he has made a nearly 400-game career out of out-pitching his FIP with a career 2.96 ERA and 3.83 FIP. But again, Atlanta already has so many southpaws.

RHP Blake Parker – It was a bit shocking to see Parker reach the free agent market after an ERA a tad under 3.00 over the last two seasons, but it’s also easy to see why the Angels cut bait rather than spend $3 million or so in arbitration on Parker. After a high quality 2017 season, Parker’s strikeout rate fell, his homer rate ballooned, and his groundball rate tumbled. His velocity also fell in the season’s final three months, which probably concerned the Angels as well. Also worrisome was that his splitter was hanging around the middle-of-the-strikezone, where hitters were hammering it.

RHP Hunter Strickland – Known more for a fight with Bryce Harper than his pitching ability, Strickland was a very good reliever for the Giants in 2015-16. Follow-up campaigns haven’t been nearly as impressive as first his control failed him and then his strikeout rate tumbled. With it, Strickland’s velocity has declined from the 97 mph heat he regularly flashed two years ago to 95 mph last season. He did try to utilize a changeup a bit more last season, though the results were poor. He has a good slider, but with his fastball losing both velocity and quality, Strickland is more of a risk at this point.

Depth Plays

1B Justin Bour – Signing Bour would help out the Braves only because he personally puts a negative dint in the Braves’ pitching stats. Over his career, he has hit .286/.410/.565 against the Braves with 13 homers against the team. Bour carries heavily impressive numbers against righties throughout his career (.271/.355/.500, .360 wOBA, and a 129 wRC+). That would appear to make Bour a solid fit for the Braves, who could use a big bat in late innings off the bench. However, his limited defensive versatility with a short bench since the Braves typically carry an 8th reliever makes it difficult to find room for Bour.

2B Jonathan Schoop – Nobody could have predicted this after 32 homers and a 3.8 fWAR with the Orioles in 2017, but after a down year that included a trade to the Brewers, Schoop will be a free agent for the first time. Schoop hits plenty of homers, but is hyper aggressive and doesn’t walk. That means he needs to find holes in the defense and hit the ball extremely hard. He did just that in 2017 with a hard hit% of 37.2. It was 7% lower in 2018. Whoever signs him will have the fix that. It won’t be the Braves, though. Schoop doesn’t bring the kind of defensive flexibility you’d want and his bat is a bigger risk than Bour’s right now.

IF Tim Beckham – A year removed from a 3.4 fWAR, Beckham took a giant step back in 2018. He has good power and hits lefties decently, but his struggles with contact and frequent grounders into the shift make Beckham a very flawed player.

IF Yangervis Solarte – In 2016, Solarte maxed out with a .346 wOBA over 443 PA with the Padres. That included 15 homers and a 2.6 fWAR. However, Solarte’s numbers would fall the following season and after a trade to Toronto, he bottomed out in 2018 with a .284 wOBA over 506 PA. He hit 17 homers, but had a -1.3 fWAR. That ranked third-worst in baseball. Solarte can play all over the infield, but isn’t particularly gifted at any position.

IF Wilmer Torres – A Mets lifer since signing before 2008, Torres’ time with the organization likely has come to a close. Flores does bring value as a durable option off the bench with pop, though most of his offensive ability comes from his work against left-handers. He plays all over the infield, though his range and arm strength is an issue. Florres is essentially a worse Johan Camargo.

IF Ronald Torreyes – Two days after acquiring Torreyes, the Cubs non-tendered him. Torreyes may have lost his spot once the Cubs made a decision to offer the embattled Addison Russell a contract for 2019. A solid glove, Torreyes gives you a decent average and not much else.

OF Gorkys Hernandez – Briefly a Braves farmhand back in 2008-09 when he came over with Jair Jurrjens in the Edgar Renteria trade, Hernandez struggled to find a spot in the bigs until landing in San Francisco where former Braves outfield farmhands go to die (see Blanco, Gregor). Hernandez has been utilized for much of the last two seasons as a fourth outfielder with fairly substandard results. He still has good speed, but not a whole lot else.

UT Chris Owings – Your typical Swiss Army Knife, Owings does a lot of things and none of them particularly well. He plays all over, has good speed, and a decent amount of pop. That said, he is also a career .250/.291/.378 hitter coming off a pretty bad season. Owings isn’t much of a fit for the Braves with the current roster.

OF Avisail Garcia – Long known as a kid that, if the light switch turned on, watch out. In 2017, the light switch burned bright as Garcia hit .330/.380/.506 with 18 homers. He’d set a new high with 19 in 2018, but the year was marred by injuries and a .236 average. The White Sox cut their losses instead of hope for a return to the 2017 form and they had reasons to do just that. In 2017, Garcia’s BABIP was .392. In 2018, it was .271. In both cases, we’re talking about extreme cases of BABIP. Too high and you get an inflated offensive season. Too low and you get the opposite. In a sense, Garcia is neither the guy of 2017 not the one of 2018. So, what is he? Probably closer to his career norms of .271/.321/.420. Maybe a bit better. He’s also a poor defensive player. Garcia makes for a nice low-investment, high-reward player, but expecting a return to his 2017 levels is a bit too much.

Interesting Bench Options

C/OF Chris Herrmann – Great walk rate, but has never been able to make solid contact as a major leaguer. However, what is slightly interesting about him is that he can catch for you while providing depth in the outfield and at first base. With a career wOBA of just .284 against right-hand pitching, the lefty-swinging bench player might not be worth the intriguing defensive capability.

1B/OF Jordan Patterson – If you are looking for a left-hand bat off the bench, perhaps Patterson is the guy. He only has a 19-PA run in the majors during the 2016 season, but has a minor league career slash of .285/.365/.504. Certainly, some of that comes from the offense-rich Pacific Coast League, where Patterson has hit 66 homers over the last three years with a .879 OPS. He’s never been able to turn that success into a significant look with the Rockies. Perhaps the Braves give him his next shot.

OF Robbie Grossman – At first glance, Grossman looks like an ideal fourth outfielder with his switch-hit bat and career .355 OBP – a mark he beat in each of his three seasons in Minnesota. But that’s the extent of what Grossman does well. He has a decent-enough hit tool, but won’t bring you much in terms of pop off the bench and is a fairly bad outfielder.

OF Billy Hamilton – He remains one of the fastest players in baseball and he’s an excellent center fielder to boot. But, in case you weren’t aware, you simply cannot steal first base and when it comes to reaching first base, Hamilton has always struggled. His career-high OBP is .321, set in 2016. The problem is that is the only instance in five full seasons that Hamilton has reached base 30% of the time. Hamilton is the kind of player teams should add in July and August for a playoff stretch run as a bench piece with amazing speed and great defense. But he’s not the kind of player any team should have starting and it’s difficult to keep him for a full season without an expanded roster because of his limitations.

Invite to Spring Training

RHP Justin Hancock – A groundball artist with good strikeout numbers since a move to the bullpen in 2017, Hancock finally made it to the majors for a ten-game run with the Cubs last year. He kept a good ERA in limited action, but his FIP was three runs higher at 4.62 largely due to an terrible walk rate. His lack of control has long limited his potential. Still, he has upper-90’s heat and a good slider. Might be worth a long look with the still unnamed pitching coach of the 2019 Braves.

RHP Shelby Miller – And with that, Miller’s 139-inning disappointing run as a Diamondback came to a close. Over parts of three seasons, Miller was worth 0.9 fWAR. In his breakout season with the Braves back in 2015, he had a 3.4 fWAR. Miller will require a long look at his medicals, though he did pitch once out of the bullpen for Arizona in late September. Just 28 years-old, Miller could still be a find, though with the crowded picture in Atlanta, Miller might opt for an easier path to a team’s rotation.

RHP Ricardo Rodriguez – You could invite him to spring training for the sole purpose of having a battery that consists of two people with the same name as the Braves have a Ricardo Rodriguez in rookie ball who will probably get an invite. That said, Rodriguez has had a minor league FIP under 3.00 the last two seasons with pin-point control. His stuff isn’t great and the results in the majors are, in a word, ugly.

RHP Matt Shoemaker – Injuries limited Shoemaker to just seven games in 2018, though he did make his final half-dozen starts to finish the year. Shoemaker had a pair of pretty good seasons in 2014 and 2016 – the only two years he kept his BB/9 under 2.0 and his HR/FB under 1.1 at the same time. That’s a tough thing to repeat yearly. Shoemaker could turn into a very good buy, but it’s hard to think the Braves would be able to compete for his services if they wanted to considering that Shoemaker would be competition for a fifth spot in the rotation. He can do that elsewhere in rotations that are easier to crack.

RHP Alex Wilson – Solid in his first two seasons in the majors, Wilson has struggled the last two years with control that isn’t quite a pin-point as it was back in 2015-16. Wilson relies on soft contact to make up for a substandard K% and his homer rate has been on the rise.

1B/3B Matt Davidson – Looking for power? Davidson has plenty. A year after getting way too aggressive at the plate, Davidson got back to walking 10% of the time in 2018. The problem is that’s about all he can do. He’s a career .226 hitter and not much of a defender.

OF Aristides Aquino – He will probably need another year in the minors at least, but Aquino has hit 60 homers over the last three seasons, including 20 last year while hitting .240/.306/.448 in Double-A. The on-base issue is worrisome, but there’s some real potential here.

Minor League Filler

RHP Jason Adam – The 27-year-old appeared in 31 games last year for Kansas City with a strong strikeout rate, but prone to an onslaught of walks and homers surrendered.

LHP Zac Curtis – Some lefties get their manager in trouble because they want to use the pitcher as a left-hand specialist. Curtis has shown no ability to get lefties out in the majors. It’s a small sample size, but because his managers often want that from him, it has a chance to be a big issue.

RHP Kendall Graveman – In nearly 450 innings in the majors, Graveman has a 4.38 ERA and a 4.54 FIP, largely because he lacks a strikeout pitch nor the ability to limit homers surrendered. He’ll miss at least most of 2019 after going underneath the knife for Tommy John surgery.

LHP Sam Howard – Got to imagine Howard would love to play for the Braves after graduating from Cartersville High School an hour away Cobb County and attending Georgia Southern University. I’m sure Atlanta will consider it, but Howard wasn’t much of a prospect.

RHP Andres Machado – He pitched twice for the Royals back in 2017, but other than that, has spent his career in the minors with little fanfare.

RHP Adrian Sampson – He’s just a guy. Gives you decent control, can start games, and not much else.

RHP Allen Webster – A long, long time ago, Webster was a big prospect. Now, with just over 120 innings in the majors, Webster is a guy with career 6.13 ERA. He turns 29 right before pitchers and catchers report.

C Juan Graterol – He’s been at it since 2006 and has logged 61 games in the majors over the last three years, but is Quad-A material at best.

C Caleb Joseph – It’s not that he’s a terrible option. He’s a good defensive catcher and though he struggled last year, he’s historically a solid framer. It’s just that Joseph has no real place with the Braves either in the majors or at Gwinnett.

C James McCann – Outside of trading Tyler Flowers to set up a McCann & McCann Law Firm behind the plate, there is little reason to sign McCann and his career .285 wOBA.

1B Samir Duenez – Signed out of Venezuela back in 2013, Duenez has been a slow climber for the Royals, but hit extremely well for Northwest Arkansas in the Double-A Texas League last year to the tune of .282/.352/.464. However, it was his second season at the level and he has a career .724 OPS in the minors.

OF Bubba Starling – The fifth overall pick of the 2011 draft has spent the the last four seasons hurt and ineffective when he has played. The Royals are expected to try to re-sign him.

Do any of these options interest you? Let me know below! As for me, the only ones that really interest me are Bour, Patterson, and Aquino. If Shelby Miller was willing to go to the minors for a few months, I’d add him to the list as well.

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