The other day, I started a series focusing on “Exit Interviews” with the active Braves roster. Essentially, a look at their 2019 season with a peek at what 2020. What role could they play? Do they have salary obligations? And so on and so forth. Today, I’ll get into another group of players – seven, to be exact. They run the gamut of potentially non-tendered to franchise cornerstones.
As I said before, I am utilizing the arbitration estimates recently published by MLB Trade Rumors for any arbitration-eligible player. So, they are kind of guesses, but educated ones.
2020 Salary: $800,000 (arbitration estimate)
Team-controlled through at least 2022
2019 Salary: $300,000 (rough estimate based on a split contract)
2019: One of “Alex’s boys” who the Braves picked up after the Dodgers tried to sneak him through waivers while injured following the 2017 season, Dayton finally was healthy enough to contribute in 2019. Well, when he wasn’t fracturing his big toe while playing catch with Chad Sobotka. Which, yes, was a thing that happened this year that you probably forgot by now. In the majors, Dayton often got left-hand specialist jobs. The southpaw had a 3.00 ERA during multiple stints in the majors. Multiple stints, but just 12 innings total as he shuffled on-and-off the roster. Homers were a big problem as he gave up four of them including one on the last pitch of the regular season for the Braves.
2020 At A Glance: As I talked about with Jerry Blevins, left-hand relievers face an uncertain future with the new three-batter minimum that is coming next year. It’s not a very huge sample size because Dayton hasn’t thrown that many major league innings in general, but he’s kept righties at a respectable .300 wOBA during his career in the majors to go with a .257 wOBA while facing lefties. For context, righties have a .321 wOBA against Blevins including .340 in 2019. My gut feeling is, despite being cheap, Dayton will be non-tendered this winter. His fastball velocity, which was never elite, declined another tick this year. While he has another option remaining, he’s a replaceable part. The Braves are flush in left-hand arms who are a lot like Dayton right now, but much higher ceilings. He was worth a look, but it might be time to move on.
Pending Free Agent
2019 Salary: $23 million
2019: Signing Donaldson was a shrewd move by the front office. A former MVP, Donaldson was, for a time, the best hitter in the American League not named Mike Trout. But the Braves looked like they didn’t need a third baseman with Johan Camargo in the fold and Austin Riley on the way. Atlanta went for the dynamic superstar and took a one-year gamble. It paid off tenfold. After a slow start that renewed criticisms that Camargo should have kept his job, Donaldson found his groove. Maybe he’s no longer the MVP candidate he once was, but he still posted a near-5 win season. He eliminated any concerns that his power was starting to fade, finishing with 37 dongs and a .262 ISO. His .377 wOBA was excellent and defensively, he was as good as he has ever been. And the injury concerns that plagued him last offseason were removed as he played nearly 1,300 innings in the field. An argument can be made that was too many as he struggled in the playoffs.
2020 At A Glance: The future is very up-in-the-air for Donaldson and I don’t mean simply because he makes it rain. The one-year gamble – both made by the Braves and Donaldson – paid off, but now he’s seeking out one last multi-year contract for his Age-34 season and beyond. If he returns, it’ll likely be for more than $23 million as well unless the market lags once again. What might benefit the Braves is the pending free agency of Anthony Rendon. Rendon is younger and a better player than Donaldson, which might limit Donaldson’s suitors early on. The Braves want him back and could be aggressive while Rendon’s market is figuring itself out. I say it’s 50/50 that Donaldson returns. Alex Anthopoulos has shown a reluctance to step outside of his comfort zone when making offers. If Donaldson wants a guarantee of more than two years, I would be somewhat surprised to see Anthopoulos match it. There’s some debate whether the Braves made a handshake deal to not offer Donaldson a qualifying offer after this season. Not doing so would be idiotic, but if we don’t hear that they did, it certainly is because of a pre-2019 agreement.
2020 Salary: $3.8 million (arbitration estimate)
Team-controlled through 2022
2019 Salary: $2.875 million
2019: It was a surprise that the Braves brought back Duvall after his horrible 2018 campaign – especially considering he didn’t have an obvious spot once Nick Markakis was re-signed. The Braves aren’t a team that has nearly $3 million invested in a bench player. It was an even bigger surprise when they demoted him to Gwinnett last spring – not because he didn’t deserve it, but doing so guaranteed the full amount of his salary. Duvall was wonderful for Gwinnett, bashing 32 homers with a .397 wOBA. Brought up at the end of July, Duvall homered five times in his first six games. He’d hit five more homers after that, finishing with a .267/.315/.567 slash. But wait – there’s more! He was one of the few Braves who remembered to hit in the playoffs, smacking a huge two-run homer and delivering a second big hit off the bench.
2020 At A Glance: This one is tough to predict because, this time last year, I was damn convinced Duvall had already played his final game as a Brave. Now, he’s entering the offseason in a much better place. A postseason hero, 42 combined home runs during 2019, and still a solid defender. You can see a pathway back to Atlanta – especially as the Braves have ultra-cheap options like Cristian Pache and Drew Waters on the way. Paying nearly $4 million, though, is a big price and the Braves may also have Riley in the mix depending on what happens at third base. I’m going to say there’s a 50/50 chance Duvall is still in the organization come January.
2020 Salary: $6 million or $2 million buyout
Pending Free Agent if option not exercised
2019 Salary: $4 million
2019: I would suggest reading my previous article from September on Flowers because I think it’s a fun look into the dynamic of how one camp overvalues Flowers while the other camp undervalues or, to be more accurate, hates Flowers. Me? I find myself in the middle which is what often happens when you don’t buy too much into or hate on a role player. Flowers is coming off his sixth consecutive 2 fWAR or better season if that means much to you. He hit 11 homers this year, four off his career-high, and his .185 ISO was his best total in a year he reached 175 PA.
2020 At A Glance: If you’re going to tell me that Flowers isn’t worth $6 million next year, I’m going to nod sarcastically and laugh at you. Even with the problems that come from overvaluing framing in Fangraphs’ new algorithm that computes WAR for catchers, Flowers is a relative bargain at $6 million. That doesn’t mean, however, that I am advocating picking up the option. Still, it would be a bit of a shock to me if Flowers isn’t back. You’re going to pay him $2 million regardless because of his buyout. Why not get value for that money and pay him $6 million? Sure, fans will scream about passed balls, but until baseball goes to an automated umpire, Flowers is almost always going to be a good return on investment.
2020 Salary: $7.5 million
Team-controlled through 2021
2019 Salary: $5.475 million
2019: Ladies and gentlemen, sit right down and appreciate the rollercoaster that was Folty’s 2019 season. After bone spurs led to elbow soreness in his first start of the spring, the “ace” of the Braves missed the beginning of the season. Returning to make one start in April, he struggled through two months of action before a demotion to the minors in June. A month-and-a-half later, he returned and after a few uneven starts, got into a roll down the stretch. His most dominant start of the regular season came on September 20 as he shut down the Giants with zero runs allowed in eight innings and 7 K’s. After a tune-up vs. the Mets, he threw the game of his life in Game 2 of the NLDS. Foltynewicz tossed seven scoreless innings on just 81 pitches plus 7 K’s. And then he threw the worst game of his life in Game 5 as the only out he recorded of the eight batters he faced came from a sacrifice bunt.
2020 At A Glance: Honestly…who knows? Foltynewicz is an emotional and inconsistent force on the mound and the NLDS was truly a microcosm of his career. He can be outstanding and one of the best pitchers in the game when he’s on. The infrequency of that happening makes him difficult to count on. He can be Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde and you quite rarely get anything in between. We thought that had come to an end in 2018. No such luck. At 28 years-old, Foltynewicz is hard to write off. Again, he can be so good. Remember how good he looked in Game 2? But if you’re putting together your Braves rotation for 2020 and Foltynewicz is your #2 or #3 starter, you need to have higher expectations.
2020 Salary: $22 million
Signed through 2021
2019 Salary: $21 million
2019: The franchise cornerstone has been through the rise of the young core of Jason Heyward and Mike Minor, a rebuild with Drew Stubbs and Rob Whalen, and now the resurgent Braves with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka. While there are some negative feelings aimed at Freeman, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Freddie Freeman had a wonderful 2019 before bone spurs seemed to limit him for the last month-plus of the season. He still finished with a .295/.389/.549 slash – a career year for many, but just a regular old season for him. He did set new highs in homers and if this is your thing, RBI and runs scored.
2020 At A Glance: But Freeman’s 2019 won’t be remembered for what he did in the regular season, but in the postseason. After comments highly critical of Acuña for failing to reach second base on a long single, Freeman was held hitless in Games 2, 3, and 4. His failures in Game 4 were especially crushing because he twice could have added to the Braves lead before the Cardinals came back and eventually won. His legacy right now is at a bit of a crossroads. He plans to go under the knife soon to deal with the bone spurs that plagued him down the stretch. Some have suggested that Freeman is an extension candidate, though I doubt it. Not that he’ll definitely be somewhere else in 2022, but his status is likely not a priority right now. A number of people blame Freeman for the Braves failing to advance to the NLCS. Most of those feelings will go away by the time the 2020 season kicks off. But recently-retired Brian McCann, another franchise cornerstone, never saw the NLCS with the Braves. It would be a shame if Freeman doesn’t as well. Hopefully, this time next year, we won’t be mentioning that again.
2020 Salary: $600,000 (renewal estimate)
Team-controlled through 2024
2019 Salary: $565,000
2019: Is it a little weird that the two pitchers who finished 2019 with a fWAR above 2 didn’t even start either of the first two games of the division series? And one, Fried, didn’t start a game at all? I think it is. After two years in which he saw some action, but mostly struggled to get established in the majors, Fried started 30 games, appeared in three more, and had a 3.72 FIP along with a 3.32 xFIP. He led the team with 173 strikeouts and his 165.2 innings were nearly 50 more innings than he ever tossed in a single season.
2020 At A Glance: There were some suggestions that Fried should get moved to the bullpen after dropping sexy-ass curveballs through the zone during his first couple of appearances in the playoffs. Such a move would be ridiculous in my mind. To me, Fried opens next year as the #3 starter and you run with that belief. That means adding a guy to share the top of the rotation with Soroka, of course. But you don’t ignore that Fried posted a 3-win season during the first year as a full-time starter. The kid might just be getting started, too. He’s a perfect fit for a great defense that utilizes analytics as he gets a ton of groundballs. He’s a big part of the 2020 picture in my mind.
Now, I want your thoughts. Do you bring back Duvall? What should be done about Foltynewicz? Has your view of Freeman been tainted by this year’s NLDS? Let me know belong and thanks for reading.