With the non-tender deadline set for 8 p.m. ET on Friday, the Atlanta Braves have some interesting decisions to make in regards to their eight arbitration eligible players. Those players include outfielder Adam Duvall, starters Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman, utility man Charlie Culberson and relievers Arodys Vizcaino, Jonny Venters, Sam Freeman and Dan Winkler.
For this exercise I am going to consider Foltynewicz, Gausman and Culberson as locks. Both Folty and Gausman are penciled into the rotation for next season. Foltynewicz took a huge step forward last year and emerged as the team’s best pitcher. Gausman was acquired before the trade deadline and pitched well down the stretch.
Culberson’s status isn’t quite as clear cut as that of Folty and Gausman but I think he sticks around. His projected salary through arbitration is still low so there isn’t a lot of harm in tendering him now and parting ways at the end of spring training if there is a roster crunch. He is coming off a career-year at the plate and improving the bench is a key area for the team. It would be surprising to see him cut loose at this early juncture.
Duvall seems like the most likely non-tender candidate among the group considering how bad his 2018 season ended in Atlanta. Duvall went just 7-for-53 in an Atlanta uniform albeit in a reduced bench role which he wasn’t accustomed to after playing primarily everyday with the Reds. He combined to hit 64 home runs in 2016-17 and had 15 while with Cincinnati last year while playing above average defense in the outfield. With a full spring training, he could be a bounce back candidate however he is projected to make $3.1 million in arbitration next year and that may end up being more of a risk than Atlanta is willing to take.
For a team with a stated offseason goal of improving the bullpen it may be surprising to see Vizcaino’s name here as a non-tender candidate. Viz was effective when healthy last year but had two stints on the disabled list due to shoulder problems. He is projected for a $4.8 million salary in arbitration and that could be a number that the Braves are more comfortable spending somewhere there isn’t as many question marks.
Venters was a feel good story in 2018 fighting his way back to the big leagues and then returning home to Atlanta in a trade with Tampa Bay. He pitched well with the Braves but it feels like his status is tied to what the team’s plans are for the rest of the offseason. I will be surprised if he is non-tendered as he has shown he can still be effective out of the pen but I can’t place him as a lock.
Winkler was another redemption story as he has battled back from several injuries and established career-highs across the board out of the pen last season. He was mostly effective averaging just under 10.3 strikeouts per 9 innings and was worth 1.2 fWAR which is a solid total for a reliever. However, he wore down as the season progressed and was left off the postseason roster. This is another instance where who the Braves are looking to bring into the bullpen will play a factor in the decision on Winkler.
Freeman was a feel good story in 2017 but the storybook closed in 2018 as he struggled through the first half of the season. He pitched much better after a mid-season trip to the disabled list allowed him to reset mentally but he didn’t regain enough of the team’s confidence to be part of the postseason roster. Of this group of relievers, it appears (to me at least) that Freeman is on the shakiest ground.