From 2015-17, the Atlanta Braves embraced a rebuild, tearing down what had been a division winner in 2013 to build a farm system that would soon become the envy of baseball. As prospects like Ozzie Albies and Max Fried developed, someone had to play for the major league team. This special group of players is known as The Rebuilders. These are their stories.
Number one in your program and…well, that’s about it because, for the most part, Aardsma’s career is defined by the weird oddity of being the first major league player alphabetically in history, an honor he took from Hank Aaron when Aardsma debuted in 2004.
Like a number of veteran arms who pitched for the Braves during the rebuild, Aardsma was at the end of the line when he signed with the Braves in June of 2015 a few days after opting out of his minor league deal with the Dodgers. Los Angeles was his tenth organization during his dozen years in organized ball. There were some highlights – namely 2009-10 when he saved 69 games over two fairly nice seasons as a Mariner. But injuries often kept him out of action during his prime money-making years.
After 35 games in the Cardinals’ organization in 2014 – none at the major league level – Aardsma landed the aforementioned deal with the Dodgers. He had a solid run with Oklahoma City, pitching to a 2.41 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 18.2 innings as the Dodgers’ primary option in the ninth inning. The success led to 15 saves, but he was routinely passed over when opportunities opened up in the big league Dodgers’ pen.
Completely desperate, the Braves pounced and signed Aardsma to a minor league deal just three days after he opted out. After one appearance in a Gwinnett Braves uniform which happens to be his only one with Gwinnett, Aardsma was promoted to the majors to replace Cody Martin, whose early-season success had left him in a big way. Aardsma hadn’t pitched in a major league game in just over 20 months so getting back to the show on June 9, 2015, was a big deal.
Aardsma’s first outing was pretty good. He faced one batter, got a flyout, and stranded a runner. He wouldn’t be so lucky his next two outings as he allowed an inherited runner to score in both games and got his first blown save. For a while, though, his numbers looked pretty decent. From his debut until the end of July, Aardsma had a 1.80 ERA and 21 K’s in 20 innings. Sure, the nine walks were suspect, but the fact that the Braves didn’t find an interested party in Aardsma at the deadline was a minor surprise. Not that he would have fetched much on the market, but it seemed like someone could use him.
His first appearance in August went, well, badly. He gave up five runs, which include a three-run bomb by Braves killer, Freddy Galvis. His ERA quickly climbed two runs. In regular action, he’d give up another seven runs in August before the Braves decided to release him at the end of the month. Over 33 games, Aardsma’s career with the Braves was fairly typical for his entire career. He got plenty of K’s – 35 in 30.2 innings. But he also gave up too many dingers and walked far too many batters to be reliable.
Aardsma would try to extend his career in 2016 as he pitched for his 15th organization, the Blue Jays. But after a couple of months in the minors, they moved on. In 2017, he took the ball 23 times with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League, playing on the same squad as another former Brave in Ruben Gotay. Aardsma did well, saving nine games with a 2.01 ERA, but the offers to rejoin a major league roster never came and he retired the following winter.
His time in baseball didn’t end, however. He immediately took a job with the Blue Jays as a coordinator of player development. He has since moved to a new job as a Rehab Pitching Coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays of Buffalo.
For his career, Aardsma had a 4.27 ERA, including 4.70 as a Brave. He got plenty of strikeouts, but his inability to limit baserunners (4.9 BB/9 in the majors), nor keep the ball in the yard – plus a number of injuries along the way – led to only the briefest success and a journeyman career that included a stop with the 2015 Braves. Of course, that last fact doesn’t make him very unique. That 95-loss team used 37 pitchers. I’m betting we’ll look at a bunch of them the longer this series goes.