April 5, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Eric O

Eric O'Flaherty: A Big Fish Allowed to Swim Away

The Brian McCann signing ached – but it was widely expected.  Tim Hudson to the Giants?  Outbid in part; low-balled in part.  That hurt, too.  But this news today is just annoying.

A variety of sources have reported this morning that free agent lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty has signed a two-year deal with the Oakland Athletics for $7 million.

EOF began in the Mariners organization before he was stolen by the Braves off the waiver wire before the 2009 season.  He suddenly became one of the anchors in the Braves’ bullpen, posting ever-diminishing ERA’s of 3.04, 2.45, 0.98, and 1.73 before blowing out his elbow early in 2013, an injury that ended his season with Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.

This also effectively ended his tenure with Atlanta.

It had been widely reported back in December that O’Flaherty preferred to re-sign with Atlanta despite the injury.  The Nationals had been interested in him, but apparently backed off after this preference became known. While the Braves are said to have spoken with his representatives, it seems there was a gulf that could not be spanned:  the Braves wanted a single year deal; Eric wanted more.  As time wore on, it became fairly obvious that this was not going to end well.  Today he put ink to paper to make that a reality.

 

What The Braves Will Miss

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s beat writer for the Braves, David O’Brien is tweeting exactly this information today:

 

 

 

 

That says it all:  he brought performance and influence.  The combination of lefties Jonny Venters and O’Flaherty – neither one of whom was a LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out GuY) by any stretch of the imagination – was a huge factor in making the Braves’ bullpen the best in baseball over the past few years.  These bridges to Craig Kimbrel often meant that games were over once Atlanta had a lead after the sixth inning.

Yes, the team managed to survive the loss of both southpaws in 2013, but it was their influence that also helped their replacements quickly grow into their new roles.

 

The Annoying Bit

Now comes the commentary part:  Neither Venters nor O’Flaherty will be ready to pitch again until something in the June-ish time period, but both were seeking deals.  Venters signed quickly, getting a $1.625 million deal to avoid arbitration.  EOF’s situation was significantly different, being a free agent.

In 2013, Eric earned $4.32 million.  If healthy, he was probably in line for a multi-year deal (from somebody) that would get him perhaps $6-7 million per year.  Obviously, the injury killed that chance at big money, but it did open the door – it would have seemed – for Atlanta to bring him back at a reduced rate to rebuild his value.

If you look at the new deal Oakland got, you’d have to conclude that they have a bargain:  $7 million for a year-and-a-half of his services.  Given his value as a pitcher, and a lefty, and a leader… I personally cannot understand why the Braves would not have offered him that second year.  After all, he was Atlanta’s player to lose:

 

 

Yes:  without injury, it is very likely that O’Flaherty would not have received an offer from Atlanta since he would have been priced out of their reach.  But that’s not what happened.

Given this Oakland deal, you could reasonably project that a 2 year, $6 million deal would have easily been sufficient to retain O’Flaherty for 2014-15.  What a deal!  But now… frankly, I don’t understand allowing him to walk away… particularly given the arbitration dollars situation that Atlanta is now facing in Craig Kimbrel.  EOF’s presence would have allowed further options – yes, including that of trading Kimbrel if they so desired.  Never mind having that extra quality arm for the stretch run this year.

The optimist side of me thinks “well, maybe they have other plans for that money.”  The realist, however, is screaming “but it only required about 2 or 3 million this year!!”

Frank Wren missed the boat on this one.  And the bullpen will be weaker for it… for multiple years.

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WEDNESDAY PM UPDATES:

I will once again defer to Dave O’Brien, who has been all over this from the start.  He has new quotes from O’Flaherty:

 

 

 

I do give high praise to the Braves Front Office for being completely up front and respectful to Eric during this process – it certainly appears that there are no hard feelings involved.  This is the correct way to conduct business.  I will maintain that I believe this decision to be a mistake, though it is clear that the team may be able to overcome it given the bullpen depth present (many have noted that today way a good day for Braves’ minor league reliever Ryan Buchter, who could get a shot now).

Personally, my biggest concern is that for a team said recently to be relying on pitching despite a perhaps weakened offense (comments made recently by Fredi Gonzalez), the bullpen is demonstrably less formidable without O’Flaherty’s presence.  Just how much less will remain to be seen.

 

Tags: Atlanta Braves Eric O'flaherty

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