So we're in that part of the season that's kind of a holding patter. Only a few teams are playing games that still mean anything in terms of this season's outcome; some teams are getting themselves pruned for the playoffs, while others are busy setting up their post-season tee times. So, while things on the trade front are pretty quiet, now is a good time to look at some of the decisions the Braves front office needs to make shortly after the end of the season. For one thing, teams have only five days after the end of the World Series to make qualifying offers. For another, they have to make room on their roster for players coming off of the 60-day DL, and get the 40-man roster set up for the winter meetings and the Rule 5 draft.
Here are the Braves' pending free agents:
- Brian McCann
- Tim Hudson
- Paul Maholm
- Scott Downs
- Eric O'Flaherty
- Reed Johnson (club option for 2014)
- Kameron Loe
- Luis Ayala
- Freddy Garcia
- Fredi Gonzalez (club option for 2014)
Which of these will recieve qualifying offers? Almost certainly, McCann will and no one else. McCann is being ranked by nearly everyone as one of the top players in the pending free agent market, and he almost certainly will be offered silly money by someone, much more than the $14M or so that the qualifying offer will evaluate to. We've already had a lot of discussion about the Braves' odds of re-signing McCann, which IMO don't look good. Between the fact that he'd fit in perfectly with the Yankees in particular, and the fact that he really needs to go to an AL team where he can DH and cut back on catching, I don't think Mac will have much motivation to remain in Atlanta.
The hardest decision is going to be Hudson. Although he hasn't been the Braves' best starter for the past couple of years, he's still regarded by a lot of people as the heart and soul of the pitching staff. And based on his last contract he'd likely be willing to give the Braves a hometown discount. However, two big questions arise: (1) How will Huddy's broken leg heal, and (2) do the Braves really need a free-agent starting pitcher who, although priced below market, will still be very expensive compared to the rest of the rotation? Especially if he displaces a young pitcher who might be ready to step up, like Alex Wood?
Scott Downs is an interesting case too. Although he has filled his role well for the Braves, $5M a year is a lot for a LOOGY. Will he be willing to to sign for less? Will another team offer him a contract comparable to his last one? I can see the Braves offering him something like one year at $2M. I have no idea if he will sign for that. Assuming that Alex Wood will remain in the rotation next year, the Braves need a left-handed option in the pen other than the over-worked Luis Avilan.
The rest of the pitchers are more straightforward. Maholm and Loe won't be re-signed. We might offer Ayala something like $1M, but he's kind of an interchangeable part; if he doesn't sign we can find someone else similar. I could see the Braves making an effort to retain Garcia as a long reliever and spot starter, especially given the ongoing problems with Christian Martinez' shoulder. As for O'Flaherty, given that he won't be ready until after the break due to his TJ surgery, the Braves will likely offer him a minor league deal with incentives, which he will probably sign.
On Reed Johnson, the Braves have a $1.6M option with an inexpensive $150K buyout. Taking the buyout is tempting, given that there are guys like Terdoslovich and Cunningham who could fill the role of utility outfielder. But neither is as good a defender as ReJo, and Johnson did well coming off the bench this year before he was hurt. Plus, over his career he's notable for his splits against LHP.
Notable arb cases:
Jonny Venters (year 2) will probably be non-tendered. He had his second TJ surgery this year, which probably means that he is out for all of 2014, and recovery from a second TJ at all is far from assured. It's a real shame, but that's baseball. The Braves may offer him something like a two-year minor league deal with incentives, basically paying him to rehab in 2014 with the hopes of returning to form in 2015.
Cristhian Martinez (year 2) is another pitcher with a career-threatening injury. The Braves might offer him a minor league deal. I'm not sure what his prognosis is at this point. The Braves appear to have several other options at long relief (Garcia, Anthony Varvaro, any of several minor leaguers), so I'm not sure they will make an effort to re-sign Martinez.
Jordan Schafer (year 1), who just missed the Super Two cutoff last year, is going to be a tough decision. As everone knows, he's out of options, and he has had a surprisingly good season -- enough to possibly have some trade value. Can the Braves afford to pay his arb raise? On the other hand, can they afford not to, especially since as things stand right now, he might be the only left-handed bat on the roster?
Brandon Beachy (year 1) is a situation to keep an eye on, as he continues to try to come back from his TJ. If the prognosis is bad, he may be a non-tender.
Mike Minor (year 1) will be a Super Two. He is one of several Braves who are going into year 1 arb and stand to receive substantial raises, along with Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman. Not that the Braves are going to non-tender any of them, but their arb raises will be eating up a significant piece of the payroll, which will impact other signing decisions.
And lastly, there's that final name on the pending FA list: The Braves have a club option on manager Fredi Gonzalez. I've heard no talk that the Braves might not pick up the option. I will note, however, that GM Frank Wren's contract is up at the end of 2014. Hmm.