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The Braves have a Minor dilemma on their hands

Atlanta is in a bit of an uncomfortable position with its rotation's longest-tenured member. Where do they go from here?

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

After this winter's flurry of activity, the Braves are in a bit of an unfamiliar position, having a re-stocked pool of Minor League talent, but without much reason for optimism on the big league side of things for the next couple of seasons, at least. John Hart and John Coppolella have decided to ship off much of the team's talent, such as Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, in the hope of acquiring younger, cost-controlled talent for the future.

It may seem, then, that Mike Minor is incongruous with the current composition of the team. Minor struggled through early-season shoulder soreness and ineffectiveness after his return to the rotation. The lefty joined the big league rotation at the start of May after recovering from shoulder trouble related to an off-season urinary tract surgery and couldn't replicate the success that he found during the second half of 2012 and 2013, in which he was one of the most effective left-handed starters in baseball. Minor dealt with mechanical problems related to his release point and posture (detailed here) and limped to a 4.77 ERA (4.39 FIP), along with a dip in strikeouts and a bit of an increase in walks. During a season wrought with disappointment, Minor's performance was one of the most discouraging developments of the season.

Let's fast forward to today: the Braves have traded away the lion's share of their offensive talent and have gotten worse defensively in the process. They may have a vastly improved farm system, but in the meantime, no one is bullish about their chances in 2015. In fact, Fangraphs' projections go so far as to suggest that the Braves will be one of the worst teams in baseball. I'm not sure that I agree with the notion that the Braves are set to be the second-worst team in the Majors in 2015, but regardless: it would be a shock to see them contend this season. Nor would I bet on the Braves being competitive in 2016, as much of the talent acquired in trades is more than a year away from contributing in the Majors, and the common wisdom is that the front office will be gearing up to field a competitive team in 2017 for the opening of SunTrust Park.

So, with that in mind, let's look at how Mike Minor fits into this context. Minor turned 27 last month, and has three arbitration years left until he it set to become a free agent after the 2017 season. It's notable that Minor was a Super Two player, meaning that his first year of arbitration eligibility was actually 2014, and that he'll have four arbitration years in total instead of the customary three. This means that Minor's salaries are likely to rise above the typical player's under team control, and that he could be making a pretty penny by 2016 and 2017, provided that he stays healthy and pitches well. I'm almost sure that the Braves won't be competitive in either of the next two seasons, and even if the Braves are competitive in their first season in Cobb County, Minor won't be cheap by 2017.

Minor and the Braves are currently in the midst of an arbitration dispute. After settling with the Braves on a $3.8 million salary last season, Minor and the Braves are currently $500,000 apart in salary negotiations, with Minor filing for $5.6 million in 2015, and the team offering $5.1 million. As of now, the two parties are set to head to an arbitration hearing next month. The Braves haven't actually gone to one of these hearings since they beat John Rocker in 2001, preferring to settle outside of the hearing (like they did with Jason Heyward last year) and not leave a bitter taste in their player's mouth. Arbitration hearings are ugly processes--you can imagine the problems that arise when a team is forced to argue about why one of their players doesn't deserved the amount of money that they requested in front of an arbitrator.

It wouldn't surprise me to see the Braves settle with Minor, either on a one-year deal or a buyout of further arbitration years, before the hearing date, but regardless of what happens, he'll be under team control for another three seasons. Minor will play those seasons between the ages of 27 and 29, which are some of the prime years for starters, if you consider a typical aging curve.

It appears to me that the Braves have two options: keep Minor for the long haul, or opt to trade him. If they keep him, 2015 and 2016 could essentially function as wasted years, and they'll be banking on Minor's final, likely expensive, year to coexist with the team's return to contention. It's a bit of a gamble, and the team could opt to trade him later down the road if they begin to realize that he won't be able to help a contending team in Atlanta, albeit for a diminished return considering the value of lost years of contractual control.

They can either do this or begin to consider trading Minor. Trading him this offseason, in my opinion, would make very little sense. He's coming off of a poor season, in which he also dealt with shoulder problems, and while he still has some value on the market, the Braves would probably be selling low if they were to pull the trigger on a deal now. Ideally, Minor would return to be at least somewhat similar to the previous, effective version of himself, which would entice more teams to look to deal for his services.

I'm not going to get into the specifics of how Minor's arbitration dispute could play out. Frankly, I think that guessing is a fruitless exercise, and while the previous front office was notably averse to avoiding hearings, we don't know what Hart's preference is. I also don't think it's likely that they'll come to an agreement to buy out arbitration years, as there's some uncertainty about Minor's production and value going forward. No matter what happens (unless the Braves decide to offer Minor a 4+ year extension, which I highly doubt), he'll be under team control for another three seasons.

With all of this being said, I think the most sensible option for Atlanta would be to allow Minor to attempt to rebuild his value in 2015 and then ship him off in exchange for young talent, preferably offensive talent, either at the trade deadline or next off-season. Minor will still have 2+ years remaining of team control if they opt to do this, which would certainly be attractive to teams provided that he's able to pitch well this season. I think that the primary reason for Minor's rough season last year was his shoulder injury, which threw him off of a normal routine in preparation for the season and also could have bothered him after his return. He did, if you'll recall, miss his final start of 2014 with shoulder inflammation.

Minor is currently undergoing a more typical offseason, and isn't experiencing any of the ailments or scheduling changes that threw him off in 2014. I'm willing to bet that a healthy Minor, after a normal offseason routine, will produce numbers more similar to the 2013 iteration of himself than last season's. Hopefully, he'll be able to correct the arm slot and posture ailments that threw him off of his game. It seems like a long time ago, but Minor produced a 3.21 ERA (3.37 FIP) in 200+ innings that year, and arguably the team's top starter. A left-handed starter who's under team control through 2017 and could settle in as a #2 or #3 starter in most rotations would be, needless to say, an attractive trade option for many teams. It would certainly fetch more than dealing Minor at this point in time would.

While it wouldn't be easy to deal a pitcher of Minor's caliber in this situation, if I were John Hart, I'd be able to come to terms with it knowing that he'd be dealing from a position of relative surplus in future seasons (Wood, Teherán, Miller, and then prospects such as Foltynewicz, Banuelos, Sims, Jenkins, et. al.) and that the Braves might not even be in much of a position to compete during his remaining team control. This is all speculative in nature, but knowing what teams tend to give up for mid-rotation starters with more than a year of control left, I'd be okay with making the right deal.

In short, the Braves shouldn't be looking to deal Mike Minor before this season begins, but if he's able to rebound in 2015, he could fetch a significant haul, and I think the current composition of the organization would make him a prime candidate to be traded. John Hart's modus operandi throughout his tenure this far has been to re-stock the organization's pool of young, cheap talent, and moving Minor over the course of the next year could serve to further this goal.

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