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Braves get their offseason underway with a series of crucial decisions

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So, we know for a fact that two Braves who weren’t under contract for 2020 are now going to be back with the team. Were the right choices made?

Divisional Series - St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves - Game One Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Yesterday was a busy day here in Braves Country, as the team ended up doing a little bit of shuffling as they had some crucial decisions to make. Once the Braves were done, we got some decisions that made sense from both a logical and cynical standpoint and we also got to see what happens when a front office has to get creative with how they save money for their ownership overlords. Here’s hoping that this won’t be the only interesting day that we have around here for months on end as the Hot Stove season gets underway.

Braves extend QO to Josh Donaldson

If you’ve ever seen the movie “SE7EN,” then you know that the ending of that movie is as disturbing as it is iconic. I’ll link you to the clip since the language is NSFW, but I’ll also do my best to describe it. Basically, the ending comes down to the two protagonist detectives William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt) and the rest of the police tracking down serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey) into a remote location. For “some reason,” a box gets delivered to Somerset, he opens it up and is spooked enough to go tell Mills about it. John Doe reveals that the box contains the grisly remains of Mills’ wife and Mills is incredulous about this to the point where he asks “What’s in the box?” repeatedly.

The crux of this is that Spacey’s character has been running down the seven deadly sins with his murders — the sixth one represented envy and now John Doe wanted Brad Pitt’s character to kill him so that he could represent the final sin of wrath. Freeman’s character knows what’s up and lets Mills know that if he does shoot and kill Spacey’s character, John Doe “wins.” Mills can’t let go of his wrath, kills John Doe and the movie ends with Mills being taken away by the cops.

MLB: NLDS-St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I’m telling this story because I think that it’s a big allegory for the current state of MLB’s Qualifying Offer. In this scenario, the Braves represent John Doe — the murder of Mills’ wife is the Braves extending the Qualifying Offer and killing John Doe is accepting the Qualifying Offer. If Josh Donaldson accepts the QO, then the Braves win because they get him for another season and for less money while Donaldson has to sit in the police car and think about losing out on some money had he not acted on Atlanta’s invitation.

That’s basically what’s going on with the Qualifying Offer all over baseball — teams are asking players of this caliber to basically commit the sin of wrath so that they can continue playing the game that they made the rules to. It sure doesn’t seem like Donaldson is going to pull the trigger in the desert. He’s definitely played his way into a multi-year deal and for all we know, the Braves could end up being the team that gives it to him at some point down the road during this offseason. It’s not like the Braves aren’t shy about returning to the well with veteran players they’ve had success with...

Braves bring Nick Markakis back again

...like Nick Markakis. Atlanta wasted no time making sure that the veteran outfielder would be assured of a return to the outfield at SunTrust Park for the 2020 season and I can absolutely understand if a lot of Braves fans aren’t particularly thrilled with having him back. On paper, bringing in a player like Nick Markakis on a deal that the Braves signed him to is actually pretty good! Every team could use a guy like Nick Markakis — it’s just how you use him. If Brian Snitker continues to play the soon-to-be-36-years-old Markakis in the outfield on an everyday basis and also continues to hit him in a prime position in the lineup like fifth, then this signing will not help the Braves one bit and they will continue to spin their wheels in the mud of the early postseason.

However, if they can utilize the aging outfielder in a proper manner, this could work and the Braves will be able to get what they surely want from Markakis when it comes to actual production. There’s actually signs that this could happen!

Putting Markakis in a platoon is actually not a bad idea at all. That way, he could get the rest that he needs in order to hopefully keep him from having another second-half swoon and keep him fresh throughout the season. Again, this is a good plan on paper but it comes down to Snitker sticking to it. If Markakis has a couple of good days in a row, that shouldn’t be the catalyst for leaving him in there for a long run of games because the manager “has got a feeling” about the guy. This may be an underwhelming signing, but it could still turn into something good with proper management.

Braves bring back Tyler Flowers

Tyler Flowers coming back is also interesting. There’s going to be a Brian McCann-sized hole at the catcher’s spot and Francisco Cervelli is also on the way out, so the Braves needed to bring in at least one MLB-caliber catcher and why not go to Flowers for one more season? I fully expect the Braves to be on the lookout for another catcher and I guess now is the time to dream about Yasmani Grandal coming to Atlanta for a while.

The Braves also did some interesting financial engineering in order to make this (and the Markakis deal) happen. Craig Calcaterra laid it out pretty plainly in his take on things:

[This] is — for all intents and purposes — a salary cap move. Yes, I know baseball technically doesn’t have a salary cap, but it practically does in the form of the Competitive Balance Tax, which used to be called the “Luxury Tax.” These moves with Markakis and Flowers could be to keep the Braves’ payroll number for Competitive Balance Tax purposes down. For CBT purposes the buyout is attributed to 2019, see, and the $4 million salary is attributable to 2020’s payroll. As such, they’re $4 million cheaper for CBT purposes while each player still is, basically, making the $6 million between now and this time next year that he would’ve made had his option been exercised.

Calcaterra also made the point that the Braves were nowhere near the CBT threshold last season and I also agree with him that we probably shouldn’t hold our breath to see the team get closer to it this year. It would be nice that would mean that Liberty Media is actually putting some significant financial investments into the team, but they very likely won’t. Instead, the Braves are doing their best to stay comfortably under the salary cap — I mean, the CBT threshold.

Braves decline option on Julio Teheran

This is very likely the end for Julio Teheran in Atlanta. There’s a chance that they could turn around and sign him on a free agent deal later on in the offseason but it’s also entirely possible that Julio may have been offered the same deal Flowers and Markakis got and just decided to accept his buyout and head on out the door. An eventual parting of ways seemed inevitable — Julio’s role on the team had waned to the point where he was basically an afterthought when it came to the past two postseason rosters and only got on the 2019 playoff roster when Chris Martin got injured.

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s sad that Julio’s last significant moment as a Braves pitcher came in a situation that he shouldn’t have even been in. He ended up going on record as the losing pitcher in Game 4 of the NLDS where the Braves squandered chance after chance to put away the game and the series. Julio deserved better than that and hopefully he’ll be able to find it somewhere else. His time in the big leagues isn’t over, but it’ll definitely be interesting to see where Julio ends up for 2020. Either way, it’s strange to think about a Braves team without Julio Teheran running out there every few days to gut his way through a few innings and I’m grateful for his contributions to the team over the years.