Every year, it always seems like the MLB non-tender deadline becomes a bigger story than it should be. The overwhelming majority of players who become free agents due to their teams no longer viewing them as worth their price tags are usually correct calls. However, a few become worthwhile stories or targets for other teams. Some are obvious bounce back candidates, while others were productive but were cut due to their former teams needing to create room in their budget. It seems the main reason why this deadline has relevance is because it typically is a productive source of the thing every team wants in roster construction: low cost value.
Last offseason, the White Sox were a fun story to follow for multiple reasons regarding the non-tender deadline. Avisail Garcia struggled quite a bit in 2018 trying to sustain the success of his 2017 breakout season; as a result, was not tendered a contract for 2019. He would catch on with the Rays, and would play a big role in their return to the playoffs last year. Though letting go of Garcia may have been questionable, the White Sox somewhat made up for it by signing James McCann, who had been non-tendered by the Tigers following a forgettable 2018 season of his own. McCann would turn in a stellar first half of 2019 and received an All-Star nod. He will now remain with the White Sox to form one of the top catching tandems in the league with Yasmani Grandal.
The White Sox example shows that teams can both regret and benefit through non-tender decisions. While “lottery ticket” may not be the best term for a player, that is the general idea of what several of these players are. Many have had success in the past, but due to injury or ineffectiveness, could not find success the previous year. However, with a return to health or a needed correction in their approach, some of those that were non-tendered could return to their previous states of being significant contributors.
Furthermore, as a result of already being let go by one team, the cost to acquire these players’ services likely will not cause too much issue with a new team’s budget. Atlanta has made several moves that indicate they prefer having as much money available as they can. However, while a big and costly acquisition may be in the works, the Braves could also simply feel that there are more productive options to fit into the budget than the players they already had.
With that in mind, I feel there are a few intriguing names on the list of new free agents from yesterday who could make sense for the Braves. I do not feel as if any of these names should be priorities, nor do I feel there is a huge chance they could become an All-Star like McCann. I do feel that Atlanta has a very creative front office and coaching staff, and is a franchise that can extract value at a level other teams may not be able too. With names such as Ron Washington, Kevin Seitzer, and others offering tutelage on a daily basis, the Braves could be a desired destination for someone hoping to get their career back on track. The fact that Atlanta will likely be a contender for the foreseeable future also helps matters.
Here a few players that could make sense for Atlanta in 2020:
A favorite of the Pitching Ninja himself, Blake Treinen fell into a downward spiral in 2019 after his breakout and dominant showing in 2018. In 2018, Treinen produced a 1.82 xFIP, 11.20 K/9 rate, 2.35 BB/9 rate, and 51.9% GB Rate. In 2019, those numbers regressed to a 5.01 xFIP, 9.05 K/9, 5.68 BB/9 and 42.8% GB rate. His hard hit rate also increased from 29.2% to 36.7%.
Obviously, Treinen’s struggles were across the board, and the Athletics felt he simply was not worth his projected price tag. However, there is still plenty of intrigue in Treinen’s profile. He possesses one of the fastest fastball-sinker combinations in the game, as both averaged more than 96.5 MPH in 2019. Furthermore, Treinen had not produced an xFIP above 4 since 2015 before last year.
The ability for him to return to being a dominant reliever is certainly there. However, every team in the majors knows that, and few of them have put the money into bullpen that the Braves have. As a result, while Treinen would make sense for the Braves in an effort to truly form the best bullpen in the game, his high demand and the Braves needed funds to fill needs elsewhere could price him out of Atlanta’s budget.
Though the Braves will be spending quite a bit on their pen in 2020, they still could add pieces to it. And while Treinen may be too expensive, there could be a few options that were non-tendered yesterday who could make sense. This is especially true in the case of a second southpaw out of the bullpen. If Sean Newcomb is destined for the rotation (or perhaps another team), and the Braves do not have faith in A.J. Minter (though they should!), another low cast left-handed relief option could come on the radar.
Ryan Buchter had another solid showing in Oakland in 2019. While he has had four consecutive seasons with an ERA under three, his underlying stats do show concerns. Over the past four seasons, his line-drive% and hard-hit% allowed have both increased significantly, resulting in an xFIP increase from 4.33 to 5.08 since 2016. Buchter is also becoming more and more of a liability against right-handed batters. However, he still is quite effective against lefties. If Atlanta feels they can manage his appearances as a late inning neutralizer against left-handers, he could make some sense, similar to Jerry Blevins last year.
The 2019 leader in appearances, Claudio may have been one of the more surprising players not to be tendered a contract. Though his effectiveness may have fallen off a bit last year, Claudio has been both durable and reliable for the past few years. A big reason for his struggles last year was a BB/9 rate that skyrocketed to 3.48 after being below 2 in each of the previous three seasons. However, both his LD% and HH% allowed regressed in 2019 compared to 2018, and he still produced a 57% GB rate.
The fact that Claudio is only 27 and can be controlled beyond this year adds to his intrigue as well. While he would make good sense for the Braves, he would make sense for any MLB club. Similar to Treinen, other teams with bigger bullpen needs that could provide better opportunities for Claudio may price him out of the Braves comfort zone.
Walker is one of those names that seems like he has been around for a decade, but in reality is still only 27 years old. The former top prospect had some decent success between 2015-2017 in Arizona. However, injuries have basically derailed his promising career over the past two years, as both elbow and shoulder woes have limited him to just four starts in 2018 and 2019.
The Diamondbacks simply did not feel Walker would be worth his projected cost in 2020. However, with indications that he is finally healthy, Walker could be an ideal comeback, and perhaps even breakout, candidate for 2020. The Braves could use another arm in the rotation, and few arms with Walker’s potential will come at his low cost. However, the Braves likely need more of an innings eater than another high risk, high reward arm, and Walker may have a better shot at a rotation elsewhere, as many teams will be interested. In the end, Alex Anthopoulos is always a good source for surprises, and Walker is a sensible option who could pay off huge dividends.
A personal favorite of mine that I would love for the Braves to target in the right situation, Nelson, similar to Walker, has been working back to his previous from from shoulder surgery over the past two years. Between 2015-2017, Nelson threw 175 innings or more each season, and finished in the top ten of the Cy Young voting in 2017. SInce then, Nelson has thrown only 22 innings, all of which came in 2019.
Much like Walker, Nelson has plenty of potential in his arm. The key seems to be getting his velocity back on track , though he did produce a 10.64 K/9 rate in his limited appearances last year. The Braves have shown the ability to help pitchers right the ship, much like they did with Anibal Sanchez and Kevin Gausman (though briefly) in 2018. However, Atlanta may feel the need to invest money in a more certain option. In the end, interest elsewhere and a bigger opportunity for innings may make Nelson an unlikely fit. However, if Atlanta fills needs elsewhere and has a need for an intriguing rotation option as the offseason progresses, Nelson could be an attractive choice to consider.
What a difference a year makes? Last offseason, Shaw was coming off a two year stretch in which he was 9th in fWAR, 5th in home runs, 8th in OPS, 8th in wOBA, and 10th in wRC+ among all qualified third baseman in the major leagues. However, due to the Brewers crowded infield, he did not have a clear path to playing time and was a logical trade candidate.
In the end, Milwaukee decided to keep him, and unfortunately for Shaw, he would be the odd man out in 2019, and his production plummeted. Shaw went from a .862 OPS in 2017 to a .551 OPS in 2019. A big reason for his significant regression was a K rate that nearly doubled from 18.4% in 2018 to 33% in 2019. However, there were still a few encouraging parts of his game despite his subpar 2019 campaign. He was a bit unlucky, as his BABIP was .216 in 2019 instead of .280 in his career. He also maintained his impressive 13.3% BB rate from 2018. Furthermore, he improved both his FB% and LD% rates in 2019.
Though it would be unwise to expect Shaw to return to his 2017 form immediately, he could be one of the better bounceback candidates in 2020 from this non-tender list. If the Braves were to invest in their other needs and not have a viable third base option (i.e. Donaldson signs elsewhere), Shaw could make a lot of sense. He could be a platoon option with Austin Riley, and a valuable left-handed bench option when he does not start. Furthermore, he can be controlled for two more years. Shaw may have the most productive recent track record of any player not tendered a contract yesterday. If other plans fall through, adding Shaw to the third base mix could provide a major boost to the lineup (especially if upgrades are added elsewhere.)
I do understand that we have moved on from the 2018-2019 offseason when “value” and “Financial Flexibility” were the preference of the front office to having money to spend now. However, there still is plenty of value in low cost production. With multiple areas still needing to be filled, Anthopoulos may feel that prioritizing value over dipping into the future more to fill a need makes sense.
As a result, while none of the players listed above should be expected to have the impact that Josh Donaldson did last year, they could certainly play a significant role on the level that Anibal Sanchez or Matt Joyce did. Anthopoulos has excelled in finding minor additions for the roster that played significantly roles effectively for the team. Each of these players likely will interest several teams around the majors, but as Dallas Keuchel showed last year, the Braves ability to contend could make them an attractive destination. If the Braves feel they can find a valuable addition to fill out a 2020 roster they hope will make a World Series run, a player or two that were released yesterday could easily contribute to the cause.