If you believe all the reports, Eric O’Flaherty has had a contract offer from the Braves in hand for close to two weeks now.
As of this writing, he hasn’t signed it.
The Nationals seem to have thought it was a forgone conclusion, and thus acquired reliever Jerry Blevins from Oakland in exchange for prospect Billy Burns. Or perhaps they wanted someone who could contribute to their club sooner. Or maybe Blevins was just plain cheaper. Either way, they opted to go in a different direction.
The Braves, of course, completely understand the value that O’Flaherty brings… when healthy. But having a Tommy John procedure performed in the middle of May in a “walk” year is probably the worst thing that can happen to a pitcher – especially a non-closer reliever . It tends to stifle your income-producing potential.
Ah, money… it often comes down to that with the Braves. In 2013, EOF earned $4.32 million for his services, abbreviated as they turned out to be. That would have put him in line for something in the $5.5-$6.5 million range as a 2014 free agent, which is pretty stout for someone in his role. Being a southpaw would not have hurt. Being available during this particular free-spending off-season would not have hurt, either. Being hurt this off-season, though… that hurts.
So now he is ‘damaged goods’ with some risk involved to the buyer – regardless of who ultimately signs him. Never mind that Eric may not be able to pitch at full strength until May… June… possibly July.
There are a couple of likely scenarios at work here:
- The Braves clearly didn’t give him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. Thus he is waiting out the market… which he can probably afford to do all the way into April or even May. Players get hurt, teams have immediate needs, pitchers aren’t necessarily effective. Things happen. And if no team is willing to take an early risk, then he could simply wait until That Need arises – at a time in which he’s ready to go.
- EOF may also be waiting to see if someone offers him more security… a multi-year deal. He will be 29 in February on the same day Hank Aaron turns 80, so he clearly still has multiple years left in that surgically-repaired left arm. I seriously doubt that Atlanta would offer that kind of a deal – it’s simply not the way they usually handle relievers… at least the non-closers.
The upshot is that the only way EOF returns to The Ted in 2014 is if he wakes up one morning and decides that money aside, he really, really wants to be with the Braves, as media reports suggest may be the case. Certainly, that would offer him a level of insurance in the unlikely event that his arm falls apart. But the reason for this general pessimism is because Frank Wren just does not have any reason to raise his offer at this point.
Why is that? Well….
- The bullpen is actually full at the moment. Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Ryan Buchter (maybe), David Carpenter, Cory Gearrin (maybe), Wirfin Obispo (maybe), Jordan Walden, and Jonny Venters (who was the first of the arb-eligibles to sign – well played, there, Jonny).
- I left out a name from that list: Luis Vasquez. You may recall that we picked him up for free from the Dodgers’ dumpster just after the season ended. All he’s done since is gone down to the Dominican Winter League and thrown 17 innings (21 games), giving up just 4 hits, 3 walks, and 2 earned runs (1.06 ERA) with a 0.41 WHIP and 19 strikeouts. He’s been compared to Peter Moylan… with about 5 mph more speed. Vasquez could turn out to be… well, the Eric O’Flaherty find of 2014.
- Oh, by the way: Obispo has been no slouch in Winter Ball, either: almost 20 innings, 1.02 WHIP and 2.29 ERA with 21 K (though 11 walks). Atlanta does seem to know how to pick ‘em.
So there’s plenty of arms to once again field a fairly formidable flotilla of fastball flingers in support of our young gun starters. Even without O’Flaherty. But the silence and general lack of specific news since the Winter Meetings is growing louder by the day. Certainly it is an invitation for other clubs to jump in… but then others are running short of funds at this point of the off-season as well.
I would miss Eric if he ends up in another uniform next year. I would certainly hate to see the Braves have to compete against him.
But the Braves bullpen probably won’t miss a beat if he opts out.