Waiver claims are Frank Wren’s calling card. In recent years, we’ve seen Wren construct bullpens almost single handedly out of them. No other player best represents Wren’s ability to turn coal into a diamond than Eric O’Flaherty.
In his first 4 seasons in Atlanta, Eric O’Flaherty pounded traditional statistics to the tune of a 1.95 ERA, with a 7.3 K/9 compared to a 3.0 BB/9. Numbers like this made it all but apparent Eric O’Flaherty would cash in on his first foray into free agency, and at over $4MM in his final arbitration year, was likely to not return to Atlanta after this season. That of course was pre-Tommy John surgery.
It’s no secret this surgery cost Eric O’Flaherty several million dollars, and 2-3 years of security, given the ridiculous amount of multi-year deals given to relievers of various roles since the 2011 off season (over 20 by my count!). What he faces now is the “prove I’m healthy” contract. And I for one think the Braves should be first in line to hand him the deal. And here’s why.
No matter if you’re a straightforward guy when it comes to statistics, or if you’re sabermetrically inclined, it’s very clear that O’Flaherty has been a quality middle relief pitcher despite a relatively modest average velocity.
These are the average velocities of his fastballs over his Braves career, via Fangraphs. This is an encouraging stat to look at, because as we all know, Tommy John zaps a bit of your velocity until about 18 months after, despite recovery being about 12 months. These velocity numbers combined with solid strikeout and ground ball numbers show that O’Flaherty has never relied on overpowering hitters, and theoretically could be less immediately affected by the surgery than say, fellow southpaw on the mend, Jonny Venters.
O’Flaherty, like Venters, would seemingly not be ready until around mid-May at the earliest. The most troubling part, of course, is the uncertainty of their recovery time. Setbacks occur all the time and it could be early July before O’Flaherty is ready.
The Braves left-handed relief options at the moment;
Don’t get me wrong, Avilan has been nothing short of a wizard in his 1 ½ years in Atlanta, but he showed signs of fatigue down the stretch in 2013, and I don’t think relying on him to be a setup man all year is a smart move. Especially once you take a hard look at the numbers, as they reveal quite a bit of luck is on Avilan’s side. Some could argue Alex Wood is an option, but I realistically expect him to start the year in some form of a rotation, that being either in Atlanta or Gwinnett.
Recently, Ryan Butcher, a career minor’s southpaw was added to the 40 man roster to prevent him from reaching Minor League free agency. This move shows the team regards him in some way, and he could get some long looks in the spring. The Braves certainly have their way of working magic with guys like this, but I think buying low on an incentive laden deal with O’Flaherty is smarter than putting faith in a rookie who will be 27 years old before next season begins.
All in all, I believe O’Flaherty would be most comfortable back in Atlanta, where he has spent the bulk of his career, and despite many arbitration cases to handle, he could fit into the budget. I’m always a fan of bringing back Braves, but I genuinely believe the situation caused by O’Flaherty’s injury and the lack of budget quality LH relievers on the market makes a reunion make a lot of sense. The potential reward outweighs the potential risks in this situation, and one would expect O’Flaherty to be interested in returning to Atlanta since a multi-year deal anywhere is pretty much off of the table. I expect him to land a 1 year/$2MM base deal somewhere. If I’m playing hypothetical GM here, I offer him 1 year/$2MM, with incentives based on time spent on the active roster that could bring it up to $4MM.
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