Braves keep seven players, let Duvall become free agent

The Braves kept seven of their eight arbitration-eligible players ahead of Wednesday evening’s deadline. They non-tendered outfielder Adam Duvall, who’s now a free agent.

The team retained infielders Dansby Swanson and Johan Camargo, starters Mike Soroka and Max Fried, and relievers Luke Jackson, A.J. Minter and Grant Dayton. The Braves reached agreements with Camargo ($1.36 million), Jackson ($1.9 million) and Dayton ($900,000). They can still avoid arbitration with their other players; those individuals just had to be tendered contracts before the 8 p.m. deadline Wednesday.

Non-tendering Duvall surprised some. The 32-year-old is coming off his best season with the Braves, hitting 16 homers with 33 RBIs. After the Braves acquired him at the 2018 trade deadline, Duvall couldn’t find consistent playing time in the majors. That came in 2020, when he appeared in 57 of 60 games.

Duvall was projected for a sizable raise from his salary of roughly $2.8 million last season. MLB Trade Rumors projected him to earn anywhere from $4.4 million to $7.1 million in arbitration, depending on the formula.

The Braves are interested in re-signing Duvall, but he’s now free to explore the market. Duvall is a highly respected teammate, who’s reliable in the field and possesses enormous power. Losing Duvall weakens the Braves’ outfield, though they were expected to add to that group with or without Duvall.

It was a mild surprise that the Braves reached an agreement with Jackson. He was considered their most likely non-tender candidate. The right-hander struggled mightily last season, posting a 6.84 ERA in 19 games. He allowed 23 runs on 39 hits in 26-1/3 innings, and the Braves left him off their postseason roster.

Jackson was an effective reliever in 2019, however, earning a 3.84 ERA with 106 strikeouts against 26 walks in 70 appearances. Jackson even closed games for a stretch, accumulating 18 of his 19 career saves that season. He’ll go to spring training to compete for a bullpen spot.

Dayton, a 33-year-old southpaw, had a 2.30 ERA and 32:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27-1/3 innings (18 appearances). He likewise will compete for a roster spot in spring training, but at worst Dayton would provide solid bullpen depth.

Camargo was projected to earn around $2 million in arbitration, making him a non-tender candidate, but the sides reached an agreement at a lower price. Camargo, who turns 27 next week, hit .200/.244/.367 in 35 games last season. He’ll compete for a bench spot in spring training.

The Braves will work to avoid arbitration with Swanson, Fried, Soroka and Minter. Swanson, who turns 27 in February, hit .274/.345/.464 with 10 homers and 35 RBIs during the shortened season. He showed spurts of offensive brilliance, as he has throughout his career, and provided solid defense. Unless he’s extended, Swanson will be arbitration eligible for the third and final time next winter.

While Soroka’s season ended after only three starts because of a torn Achilles, he’s one of baseball’s more promising young right-handers. In 2019, his first full season, he posted a 2.68 ERA across 29 games. He earned All-Star honors and finished sixth in Cy Young voting. Soroka, 23, qualified as a Super Two player, meaning he’ll be eligible for arbitration four times.

Fried is coming off the best season of his career, posting a 2.25 ERA across 11 games. He emerged as the Braves’ ace, seemingly carrying a dwindled rotation by himself at times. The lefty turns 27 next month. Fried, Soroka and Swanson are logical extension candidates in the coming seasons.

Minter was one of the franchise’s more pleasant surprises last season after a disappointing 2019. Once considered the closer of the future, he entered 2020 with little outside expectations. Minter answered with a phenomenal bounce-back season, cementing his role in as a high-leverage option in the bullpen. The lefty had a 0.83 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 21-2/3 innings (22 appearances).

The Braves’ 40-man roster stands at 38 following Wednesday’s moves.