The Braves are currently licking their wounds after collapsing in the first game of their National League Division Series matchup against the Cardinals on Thursday. Before the series began, Atlanta made the decision to leave right-hander Julio Teheran off its roster in order to deepen its bench. It wasn’t long ago that keeping Teheran out of a playoff series would have been unthinkable for the Braves, as he was once among the crown jewels of the franchise. In fact, during his first two full seasons (2013-14), Teheran notched 63 starts and 406 2/3 innings of 3.03 ERA/3.58 FIP ball with 7.88 K/9 and 2.12 BB/9. Prior to the second of those seasons, the Braves locked up Teheran to an extension worth a guaranteed $32.4MM over six years. At the time, it was the second-largest pact given to a pitcher with just two years’ service time.
Now 28, Teheran has hung with the Braves through the entirety of his deal, though he hasn’t been able to deliver the results he did during his early career coming-out party. Now, it’s possible he’s just about at the end of the line as a Brave. After the season concludes, the Braves will have a call to make on whether to exercise the $12MM club option for 2020 that they included in Teheran’s contract. They could pick it up with the goal of retaining Teheran, exercise it and try to trade him or decline it in favor of a $1MM buyout.
A one-year, $12MM gamble on Teheran wouldn’t look wholly unappealing for the Braves or anyone else. In Atlanta’s case, the club will head into the offseason with only Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz looking sure to return from this year’s staff (Game 1 NLDS starter Dallas Keuchel is a pending free agent). The team could also explore free agency and trades for other possible solutions and-or turn to young arms like Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Muller sometime in 2020. That foursome has little to no major league experience under its belt, though. Wright and Wilson have struggled over a small sample of MLB innings, while Anderson and Muller have not debuted yet.
If nothing else, Teheran has shown a consistent ability to eat innings. He’s fresh off his seventh consecutive regular season of 30-plus starts. Moreover, in 2019, Teheran continued an annual trend of yielding a low batting average on balls in play (.266), recording a solid home run-to-fly ball rate (11.2 percent) and outproducing his fielding-independent numbers. Across a team-high 174 2/3 innings, he managed a 3.81 ERA despite a far less appealing 4.66 FIP, 5.26 xFIP and 5.11 SIERA. While Teheran added a career-high 8.35 strikeouts per nine innings, he also turned in his second-largest walk rate (4.28 BB/9), once again induced few ground balls (39 percent), logged an all-time low swinging-strike percentage (9.2) and averaged a personal-worst 89.7 mph on his four-seam fastball – the pitch he relies on most.
Teheran clearly has his flaws, but that doesn’t mean the Braves will move on from him. It also doesn’t mean he’ll wind up making zero contributions this postseason (he could get back on their roster immediately as a result of Chris Martin’s oblique injury). Atlanta obviously has greater priorities right now than worrying about Teheran’s future, but once the Braves’ season ends, what do you think they’ll do with him?
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