While most of the players I go over in the Exit Interview series don’t really deserve an entire article on their future, a guy like Julio Teheran will get one because it deserves more than a simple thumbs up or down. The Braves carry a team option on Teheran for the 2020 season worth $12 million, an increase of one million over his 2019 salary and $4 million more than he earned just two years ago in 2018. Or they can decline the option, pay Teheran a million via his buyout, and move on with life.
Of course, Teheran is also a special case. After all, he has been with the Braves since 2007 and his 226 starts this decade are over a hundred more than any other Brave. He signed a contract extension with the team early in his career and while he never progressed into the star pitcher we hoped he would become, he has remained a staple through good times and bad. But he may not around for much longer despite the love and affection many Braves fans have for him.
Let’s get into the facts of the matter. What $12 million really means to the Braves? The guy who helped inspire me to write this article, Stephen Tolbert (a former writer here and current writer at 755 Battery Ave) posed the question, “can they commit ~10% of their payroll to a guy (Teheran) who provides nothing in October?”
How accurate is that number? Quite bloody accurate, actually. We don’t exactly know what the 2020 payroll will look like, but in terms of opening day payrolls over the last three years, $12 million is roughly 10%. Yes, the Braves often add on salary during the season, pushing the payroll a little higher, but Stephen’s estimate is a good starting point.
What would that mean in terms of potential money available for 2020’s roster for the Braves? Let’s assume a $120 opening day payroll. Such an assumption leaves wiggle room for in-season additions. To be clear, this payroll number could be significantly off. Back-to-back trips to the playoffs may give the Braves more financial room to add on salary.
Of that $120 million assumed payroll for 2020, roughly $51 million is already spoken for (salaries and buyouts for options). Let’s add to that arbitration totals for six players I expect the Braves to bring back of the nine they have eligible from MLB Trade Rumors (around $23 million). Just to fill out the roster, let’s suppose $6 million in minimum contracts.
The $120 million gets reduced to $40 million really quick. Adding $11 million from Teheran (a million of his salary was already included when we added in the buyouts) is a hefty price and puts a major dent in any offseason plans to make multiple splashes. Of course, this is a very quick and not overly detailed way of looking at payroll. I don’t want to get lost in the weeds and the Braves could easily free up salary if they deal away Ender Inciarte and his $7.7 million salary. But again, let’s try to focus on the main point here.
Is Teheran worth his salary to the Braves if they pick up his option?
I want to make note of the wording I used there because, in terms of value in a vacuum, it’s difficult to argue that Teheran isn’t worth his salary. If he simply replicated his average fWAR of the last three years (about 1.1 to 1.2 fWAR), that’s close to a $12 million salary. He’s a durable, smart pitcher who eats at least 175 innings and while he rarely *wins* games with his arm, he just as rarely leaves the game without giving his team a chance to win – assuming he’s being managed properly.
But, as I’ve already gone into, $12 million to the Braves isn’t the same as it might be for other teams. It’s a huge chunk of their available pool of cash to spend this winter.
And that’s where Teheran returning really becomes tough to support. Comparable pitchers over the last three seasons to Teheran is a little difficult to find. He has routinely outperformed his FIP and xFIP by wide margins. In fact, only three pitchers have done a better job of it since 2017. One name stands out and is our best comparable – Mike Fiers. He hit the market last winter after a 3.56 ERA, but 4.75 FIP and 4.51 xFIP. The A’s awarded his 1.4 fWAR season and 2.9 fWAR three-year sample with $14.1 million over two years. Teheran would make just $2 million less if his option was picked up.
At the end of the day, the money just doesn’t line up for Teheran’s option to be exercised. This doesn’t mean a relationship that began over 12 years ago must come to a close. The A’s non-tendered Fiers before re-signing him after all. But it does mean that the Braves need more value for that much money than the guy who, for the second consecutive October, was not considered good enough to start a playoff game by the team.