The Braves tendered contracts Friday to all their eligible players, with some choices clearer than others.
Starters Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman, along with utility extraordinaire Charlie Culberson. Each was a lock to be retained.
Somewhat tougher decisions were whether to tender contracts to closer Arodys Vizcaino, outfielder Adam Duvall, and relievers Sam Freeman and Dan Winkler. The Braves chose to tender all four.
The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players was 8 p.m. Friday. Any player not tendered a contract would have become a free agent.
The team also announced that free-agent reliever Jonny Venters agreed to terms on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract worth $2.25 million.
Foltynewicz is due for a raise after his first All-Star campaign. The hard-throwing righty posted a 2.85 ERA with 202 strikeouts.
MLB Trade Rumors projects $5.5 million for Foltynewicz in 2019. Gausman, whom the team acquired at the trade deadline and produced a sub-3.00 ERA with the Braves, is the most expensive projection at $9.2 million.
Vizcaino is due a healthy raise, creating questions if he’d be tendered a deal. In reality, the Braves could ill afford to cut him lose, even if they’d hoped to retain him at a lower cost.
The right-hander is the team’s best current option at closer. He produced a 2.11 ERA with a career-best 16 saves last season. While he’s never been a posterchild of health, the Braves are already searching for bullpen help. Even Vizcaino above perceived financial value for a season isn’t the worst result.
Winkler and Freeman were non-tender candidates after being left out of the postseason bullpen. Winkler appeared in 69 games before getting burned out by September’s end. Freeman had a season below his standards but improved after returning from left-shoulder inflammation.
Duvall’s tendering comes as somewhat a surprise. The Gold Glove finalist struggled after the Braves acquired him for a trio of spare parts at the trade deadline. The Braves cleared the spots of pitchers Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler, along with outfielder Preston Tucker (who’s since been re-acquired) while adding a player whom they hoped would help the bench.
That never materialized. Duvall, 30, played in 33 games, hitting .132 with one extra-base hit, a double, and no RBIs. He struck out in 17 of his 53 at-bats. The Braves left him off the postseason roster.
Team officials defended Duvall due to his inconsistent playing time. He hadn’t been used in a pinch-hit role previously and clearly didn’t adapt to it. But the Braves didn’t have enough at-bats available, with Ronald Acuna’s stardom, Nick Markakis’ every-day presence and Ender Inciarte hitting better against lefties.
Duvall’s track record suggests there’s more than he showed down the stretch. His theoretical power and plus defense holds value. Duvall hit 64 homers across 2016-17, earning an All-Star appearance for a 33-homer, 103-RBI performance in 2016.
His contract will be non-guaranteed until opening day, meaning the Braves can use spring training as a minimal-cost evaluation period as Duvall better acclimates himself with the organization and continues working with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.
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