Braves face tough arbitration-eligible decisions

November 28th, 2018

ATLANTA -- The Braves' search for a closer will not be influenced by whether they opt to tender a contract before Friday night's deadline.
All Major League teams have until Friday at 8 p.m. ET to decide which of their arbitration-eligible players will be tendered a contract. appears to be the Braves' most likely non-tender candidate, but Vizcaino might be the most intriguing.
The Braves have eight arbitration-eligible players -- Duvall, Vizcaino, Jonny Venters, , Mike Foltynewicz, Sam Freeman, Dan Winkler and Charlie Culberson. Players tendered a contract will become eligible to have their 2019 salary determined by the arbitration process. Those not tendered a contract immediately become a free agent.
There could be some movement on the trade front as teams attempt to at least gain some value for fringe-tender candidates like Vizcaino, whose troublesome right shoulder has created understandable doubt about his durability.
Potential non-tenders: Duvall and Vizcaino
When Vizcaino converted 14 of 17 save opportunities and posted a 2.83 ERA over 57 1/3 innings in 2017, it marked the only time he exceeded 40 innings in his career. Right shoulder discomfort limited him to 38 1/3 innings in 2018, just 8 2/3 innings after June 17. September's expanded roster and the postseason schedule allowed the Braves to use him without having to deal with the potential effects of him pitching on consecutive days. MLB Trade Rumors projects the 28-year-old reliever could make $4.8 million via arbitration. That cost might stand as a gamble the Braves aren't willing to take.
Duvall was acquired from the Reds in exchange for two pitchers ( and ) who were no longer fits in Atlanta and an outfielder () who ended up back with the Braves in September. In other words, Cincinnati wasn't likely surprised when Duvall hit .132 and tallied just one extra-base hit (a double) in 53 at-bats with Atlanta.
Given Duvall hit .249 when he recorded a second straight 30-homer season in 2017 and Atlanta's system is void of MLB-ready outfield prospects, there might be reason to think about rolling the dice on the 30-year-old outfielder. But the $3.1 million MLBTR projects him to receive might also be spent more wisely to fill other needs or acquire an outfielder capable of providing greater value at a lesser cost.
Locks to be tendered: Gausman, Foltynewicz and Culberson
Not quite a lock: Venters, Winkler and Freeman
Venters was named National League Comeback Player of the Year in 2018, when he returned to the Majors for the first time since 2012 and posted a 3.67 ERA over 34 1/3 innings for the Rays and Braves. The late-July return to the Braves organization enhanced the feel-good story for the 33-year-old southpaw, who has battled back from 3 1/2 Tommy John surgeries. Many Braves fans would be outraged if the reliever doesn't return. But at this point, it doesn't seem he's a lock to be tendered a contract.
Winkler was one of the game's top relievers early in 2018, posting a 0.74 ERA and limiting opponents to a .200 on-base percentage through June 3 (26 appearances and 24 1/3 innings). But the 28-year-old right-hander fatigued as he totaled 69 appearances during his first full Major League season. He posted a 5.25 ERA and allowed opponents to produce a .360 OBP over his final 43 appearances last season. Durability is a concern for this reliever, who has battled back from two major elbow surgeries. But his cost might be minimal enough for the Braves to take a chance on his promising upside.
Freeman overcame his control issues during a strong 2017 season and then encountered them again throughout much of this past summer. He was more effective after returning from a disabled list stint in August, but the Braves still opted to keep him off their postseason roster.