What will Braves do with ‘Big City’ and other arb-eligibles?

 

The non-tender deadline is Friday and the Braves’ Matt Adams is among the more recognizable arbitration-eligibles around baseball whose immediate future will be shaped by his current team’s decision:  Offer a contract or make him a non-tendered free agent?

The Braves face a Friday deadline on whether to offer Matt Adams a contract or make the slugger a non-tendered free agent, if they don’t trade him first. (AP photo)

Or, go with the other option being explored by the Braves, which is to trade him before the 8 p.m. deadline Friday in order to get something now for “Big City” rather than risk paying him an arbitration-set salary that could top $4.5 million or see him sign elsewhere as a free agent if he’s non-tendered.

Adams is the primary tender/non-tender decision for new general manager Alex Anthopoulos, whose other Braves arb-eligibles – starter Mike Foltynewicz; relievers Arodys Vizcaino, Sam Freeman, Dan Winkler and Rex Brothers; utility men Danny Santana and Jace Peterson – include just one or two possibly difficult decisions, most notably Peterson, who could get more than $1 million in his first year of arbitration after hitting just .215 with two homers and a .635 OPS in 215 plate appearances last season and compiling a .234 average and .650 OPS in 383 games over parts of four major league seasons including three with the Braves.

As for Adams, he surpassed expectations as a fill-in first baseman after the Braves scrambled to trade for him in May when Freddie Freeman broke his left wrist. But Freeman returned in seven weeks and, after initially playing third base for a couple of weeks in order to keep Adams in the lineup at first base, Freeman moved back to his natural position and Adams’ lack of defensive ability or versatility was exposed.

Adams really can’t or shouldn’t play left field except in emergencies. His role is thus limited to backing up Freeman, who plays virtually every day when healthy, and pinch-hitting, which Adams does quite well, at least against righties (.295 average and .896 OPS with 17 homers in 304 total plate appearances vs. righties in 2017 compared to .180-3-.583 in 63 PAs vs. lefties).

If the Braves can’t get a decent deal for him now in a trade market that’s been stagnant thus far, they could tender Adams a contract and plan to keep him as a pinch-hitter until another team has a need, be it in the spring or in the summer when a contender might view him before the trade deadline as a piece that could help put that team over the top in a playoff race.

Or, who knows, perhaps the Braves could surprise folks and be at least on the periphery of the wild-card race themselves in July and just keep Adams for their own run. Hey, stranger things have happened, right? And you’ve got to admit, it’s fun having that big bat to bring off the bench late in close games, isn’t it? Anyway …

Besides Adams, the only arb-eligible Braves projected to get more than $1.2 million according to MLBTR’s Matt Swartz are Vizcaino, who could get about $3.7 million in his second year of arbitration, and Foltynewicz, who could get a five-fold raise to about $2.7 million as a “Super 2” (one who ranks among the top 22 percent of major leaguers in service time between two and three years).

Foltynewicz, 26, has been limited to 50 starts over the past two seasons due to injuries including an oddity in 2017, a cut finger that he said resulted from rubbing the baseball between pitches. It forced him to miss the last 2½ weeks of the season.

After going 9-5 with a 3.82 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) through July 25, Foltynewicz was 1-8 with a 7.27 ERA in his last nine starts.

Still, the hard-throwing right-hander had some dominant stretches when he was the Braves’ best starter, times when he seemed on the verge of taking the next step to becoming the top-of-the-rotation starter the Braves envisioned since trading for “Folty” in the deal that sent Evan Gattis to the Astros in January 2015. The Braves went to the offseason with Foltynewicz penciled in the 2018 rotation and presumably will keep that plan under the new front-office regime led by Anthopoulos, who has indicated a desire to get a good grasp of the talent the team has before making any abrupt changes.

The Braves will try to add a proven starting pitcher and possibly a power-hitting third baseman as a bridge until prospect Austin Riley is ready, but their first priority could be strengthening a bullpen that was erratic and disappointing in 2017, ranking 26th in the majors in ERA (4.58) and posting the eighth-fewest strikeouts. Given the state of their pen it might not be the time to consider trading Vizcaino despite his rising salary; he’s one of their only closer options unless and until they’re ready to thrust overpowering lefty prospect A.J. Minter into the role.

Veteran Jim Johnson lost the closer role last summer and is owed $5 million in the second year of a two-year deal, after posting a 5.56 ERA and allowing eight homers (matching the sinkerballer’s career high) with 25 walks in 56 2/3 innings. He’s 34 and the Braves will presumably keep Johnson and that big salary and hope he can regain command of his sinker this spring, although so far, former Braves pitching coach  Roger McDowell has been the only one who seemed capable of helping John harness his sinker when it abandoned him in the past.

The Braves haven’t said what their payroll will be, but assuming they’re going to maintain last year’s level or possibly raise it at least slightly – they’d be wise to raise it more than slightly, given their offseason scandal and the black eye it gave the franchise – they should have at least $25 million to $30 million to spend this winter on additional 2018 salaries.

They’re fortunate that an otherwise underwhelming free-agent class is particularly deep in relief pitching with proven arms including Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Addison Reed (he’s one who’s been connected with the Braves), Brandon Morrow, Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, Juan Nicasio, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Anthony Swarzak, Tony Watson and old friend Mike Minor, a former Braves injury-prone lefty starter who had a career-resurgent season as a Kansas City reliever in 2017, posting a 2.55 ERA in 65 appearances with 88 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings.

Anthopoulos is in his third week on the job since replacing John Coppolella, who was forced to resign nearly two months ago amidst the Major League Baseball investigation that culminated last week with severe penalties levied against the Braves – including the loss of 13 prospects who were declared free agents by MLB – and Coppolella, was slapped with a lifetime ban from working in baseball. (International scouting chief Gordon Blakeley was also forced to resign along with Coppolella on Oct. 2 and last week was banned from baseball for a year.)

Although Anthopoulos said he wouldn’t make any radical changes right away with the Braves, some observers believe he might be amenable to giving up a top prospect or two in a trade for an impact player or controllable starting pitcher such as Tampa Bay’s reportedly available Chris Archer, whose team-friendly contract (four remaining seasons, $34 million including two option years) is even more team-friendly than that of the Braves’ Julio Teheran (three years, $31 million including a $12 million option in 2020). Both pitchers might benefit from a change of scenery at this point of their careers.

And if the Braves could add a frontline starter like Archer to their inventory of young pitchers and elite power-armed prospects knocking at the door, it might be a wise move to consider parting now with Teheran, as the lack of free-agent starters available could make the former two-time All-Star a little more valuable to some suitors than he would be in an offseason with a deep free-agent class.

They probably should have traded Teheran two years ago after consecutive 200-inning seasons or last winter after his 3.21 ERA in 2016. But even coming off an 11-13 record and 4.49 ERA in 2017 — including 3-10 with a 5.86 ERA and 17 homers allowed at SunTrust Park – Teheran likely would draw decent offers this winter given his age (doesn’t turn 27 until January), lack of major injuries and relatively low MLB innings total (1,009 in parts of seven seasons).

Decisions, decisions. Matt Adams is the immediate one, but there will be plenty more facing Anthopoulos and his revamped Braves front office, and soon. Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings start in less than two weeks. Hang on to your seats, Braves fans. This eventful offseason has only just begun.

• The great George Harrison, my second-favorite Beatle (after John), died 16 years ago today. Here’s one of the many terrific, timeless tunes he wrote.

“WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS” by George Harrison

George Harrison

I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps.I don’t know why nobody told you
How to unfold your love
I don’t know how someone controlled you
They bought and sold you.I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps.I don’t know how you were diverted
You were perverted too
I don’t know how you were inverted
No one alerted you.I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
Look at you all
Still my guitar gently weeps.