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Vizcaino out for '19; Braves quiet on Kimbrel

@mlbbowman
April 17, 2019

ATLANTA -- When Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos heard some “We want Kimbrel” chants after his bullpen faltered during Tuesday night’s 9-6 loss to the D-backs, he playfully asked one of his staff members if they had gone out in the stands to join in the chorus. Still, even after

ATLANTA -- When Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos heard some “We want Kimbrel” chants after his bullpen faltered during Tuesday night’s 9-6 loss to the D-backs, he playfully asked one of his staff members if they had gone out in the stands to join in the chorus.

Still, even after announcing his closer Arodys Vizcaíno underwent season-ending right shoulder surgery to clean his labrum and remove scar tissue from his shoulder joint on Wednesday, Anthopoulos did not provide reason to think Kimbrel may sign with the Braves any time soon. The club still has interest in a short-term deal, but the free agent closer seems intent on waiting for a team to give him the longer-term commitment he is seeking.

“I think it goes without saying that we’re going to do what we can [to improve the bullpen] both internally and externally,” Anthopoulos said.

The Braves certainly aren’t alone as each of their primary division rivals -- the Mets, Phillies and Nationals -- are also dealing with bullpen concerns. Yet while relief corps are being maligned throughout the league, Kimbrel remains unsigned.

With approximately $15-20 million left to spend, the Braves have the financial flexibility necessary to afford Kimbrel if he’s willing to accept a short-term deal. But many clubs have expressed interest about committing to the 30-year-old reliever, who produced two of his three highest walk rates in two of the past three seasons. His postseason struggles also heightened concerns about his four-seam velocity. But if the drop from 98.3 mph in 2017 to 97.1 mph is not the start of a trend, then this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem.

If the Braves were to sign Kimbrel before the MLB Draft, held June 3-5, they would lose their third selection (60th overall selection) and the $1,157,400 bonus pool allotment attached to that pick.

Because the Braves are facing strict international market limitations until 2021 due to violating the international signing rules back in 2017, the loss of the slot money could be more detrimental as there is added importance to them gaining value with both the ninth and 21st picks of the Draft.

Still, if the Braves get a sense Kimbrel has lessened his demands, there is certainly reason to believe the two parties might at least begin discussions. But the addition of the veteran right-hander who is Atlanta’s all-time saves leader will not completely fix a bullpen that was struggling even before Vizcaino's season-ending surgery.

Instead of taking a chance on providing a multi-year deal to David Robertson, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino and some of this past winter’s other free agent relievers not named Kimbrel, the Braves took what proved to be a $4.8 million gamble by tendering Vizcaino a contract in December.

While most of the free-agent relievers not named Ottavino have struggled, the shorter-term gamble placed on Vizcaino fizzled as he entered the regular season still bothered by the right shoulder inflammation that forced him to miss most of last season’s final three months. The veteran closer was not going to be available on consecutive days, and after just four appearances, he was placed on the injured list.

“For a long time, every time he swung his arm, there was some discomfort,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I think he feels good he finally got it taken care of and now he can get on with it. When he’s right, he’s one of the best there is.”

The presence of a healthy, durable and dependable Vizcaino would have helped the Braves’ bullpen. But it certainly would not have served as an immediate fix. A.J. Minter will now serve as the primary closer, but he has retired just 14 of the 24 batters he’s faced since overcoming the left shoulder ailment that shortened his Spring Training.

Chad Sobotka has the stuff to be a closer in the future, but he has not yet established the consistent command necessary to be deemed a reliable option. As for veteran relievers Darren O'Day and Jonny Venters, they are currently on the injured list.

Once Mike Soroka makes his season debut in Thursday’s series finale against the D-backs and Mike Foltynewicz returns from the injured list next week, the Braves may begin more seriously looking at the possibility of using Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson or some of their other starting pitching prospects in the bullpen.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.