Braves pitcher Minor becomes non-tendered free agent

Braves pitcher Mike Minor became a non-tendered free agent Wednesday after the team declined to offer the left-hander a contract. The move was not unexpected after Minor missed the 2015 season recovering from shoulder surgery.

Minor can continue negotiating a free-agent contract with the Braves in the coming weeks, but can also entertain offers from other teams. Veteran utility man Pedro Ciriaco and outfielder Eury Perez also became non-tendered free agents. Ciriaco was eligible for arbitration, while Perez was not.

The Braves offered contracts to their 0ther three arbitration-eligible players: starting pitcher Shelby Miller and relievers Arodys Vizcaino and Chris Withrow. Wednesday’s moves left 37 players on the Braves’ 40-man roster.

Teams had until an 11:59 p.m. deadline to offer contracts to their unsigned players or make them non-tendered free agents. Minor was far and away the most difficult decision for the Braves, given his shoulder situation and his high-level performance when healthy.

The team had concerns about the status of his shoulder since he wasn’t throwing yet off a mound, as they’d hoped he would be by this point. They will likely continue to monitor his progress in coming weeks.

Minor, who’ll be 28 on Dec. 26, was eligible for arbitration for the third time, after winning his arbitration case against the Braves in February and being awarded a $5.6 million salary. His shoulder pain returned just a couple of weeks after that ruling and he hasn’t pitched in a game since.

Minor was eventually diagnosed with a torn labrum that required arthroscopic surgery in May. A setback in early November forced him to shut down his throwing program for several weeks. He’s been concentrating on stretching and range-of-motion exercises since then and the Braves weren’t confident enough in his health to make what would’ve been at least a $4.5 million commitment if they’d offered arbitration.

If the Braves had gone through arbitration again with him, they would’ve been required to offer at least 80 percent of his 2015 salary. They had hoped to reach an agreement with Minor on a lesser contract and still could at any time.

For that reason it had long seemed doubtful the Braves would offer arbitration, a belief strengthened last week when the Braves signed veteran starter Bud Norris to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. That gave them another experienced starter to go with top-of-rotation returners Miller and Julio Teheran — provided neither is traded — and a bevy of promising young starters, most of whom debuted last season.

On Nov. 10, Braves general manager John Coppolella was asked whether the Braves needed to see Minor throw off a mound before the tender/non-tender decision that awaited in in three weeks.

“We want to see something, whether it’s off the mound or … we need to see something,” Coppolella answered that day. “We can’t just blindly tender him a contract and put the team at risk. Because every single dollar counts for us.”

Minor, the seventh pick of the 2009 draft out of Vanderbilt, has a 38-36 record and 4.10 ERA in 111 games (110 starts) over five major league seasons. He was arguably the Braves’ best pitcher in 2013, going 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.090 WHIP and 181 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings.

He struggled to a 6-12 record and 4.77 ERA in 25 starts in 2014 when hindered by recurring shoulder pain, which he pitched through at times without fully disclosing the level of discomfort.

Minor reported to 2015 spring training feeling healthy, he said, after a normal offseason and throwing regimen. But his shoulder began to throb two weeks into camp after he ramped up activities. An MRI showed no structural damage, but Minor missed all spring-training games while rehabbing.

The pain returned when he increased his throwing program in April, and a decision was made to have exploratory surgery, wherein the labrum tear was revealed and repaired through an arthroscopic procedure. Minor had hoped to throw off a mound by early fall, but there was still tightness or discomfort when he got to that point in his program.

He was shut down for the past few weeks, preventing the Braves from getting the gauge they said they needed to feel comfortable making a relatively big financial commitment to him again through the arbitration process.

“I mean, he felt happy last (spring training) and he got hurt, Coppolella said last month. “It’s tough to count on the health right now. So we’ll have to face a choice about whether or not we tender him a contract.”