The Braves announced Thursday that right-hander Mike Foltynewicz was sent outright to the team’s alternate training site after going unclaimed on waivers. He’ll continue to work out there in hopes of returning to form.
While some might be surprised to see a pitcher with Foltynewicz’s track record clear waivers, it’s notable that he’s earning $6.425MM in 2020 — about $2.38MM after factoring for prorated salaries. Any team that claimed him would’ve been on the hook for the entirety of that sum. At a time when some clubs still haven’t even committed to paying their minor leaguers a $400 weekly stipend through August, that additional $2.38MM in salary is surely viewed as a more sizable commitment by many owners than one would think upon first glance.
Had Foltynewicz simply gotten out to a rough start to the year, perhaps a club would’ve been willing to gamble on him. However, the right-hander also came out averaging just over 90 mph on a fastball that as recently as 2018 averaged 96.4 mph. That’s a glaring red flag — one that likely contributed to all 29 other clubs shying away from the 2018 All-Star. Manager Brian Snitker said after the game that the team wasn’t sure what prompted the velocity dip, though he acknowledged what was obvious to anyone who saw the right-hander pitch that night — Foltynewicz looks noticeably thinner than at any point in his career.
Whatever the reasons for Foltynewicz’s drop in velocity, the immediate results were ugly, to say the least. In his lone start this season, the right-hander was tagged for six runs on four hits and four walks with three strikeouts in just 3 1/3 frames. Three of the four hits he surrendered were long balls.
Even the 2019 season was a rough one for Foltnewicz, who missed time with a bone spur and at one point was even optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. The righty looked to have found himself late in the season, as he closed out the year with a 1.73 ERA and a 36-to-10 K/BB ratio in his final seven starts — a span of 41 2/3 innings. That he managed to salvage his season in that capacity is likely what led the Braves to tender a contract to Foltynewicz, who had carried a 6.37 ERA into late June before being optioned.
It’s clear to anyone who’s followed the game in recent years that Foltynewicz is a highly talented arm with a notable ceiling. He rattled off 183 innings of 2.85 ERA ball in 2018, averaging 9.9 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9 and hurling a pair of shutouts along the way. That terrific season landed him eighth in NL Cy Young Award voting. That looked to be the breakout moment for Foltynewicz, but the former first-round pick and top prospect has yet to replicate that year’s production.
The timing of Foltynewicz’s DFA likely wasn’t a coincidence. The right-hander entered the season with four years, 134 days of MLB service time, meaning he needed just 38 days of service to reach five total years. Prorated to match the shortened 2020 season, Foltynewicz needed only 14 days on the MLB roster to reach five years of service. And once a player reaches five years of big league service time, he’s able to reject an outright assignment in favor of free agency without forfeiting the remainder of his salary. Had the Braves given Foltynewicz even two more starts, he could’ve taken free agency after an outright assignment and gone to another club. Now, the organization will at least have the chance to see if he can right the ship and contribute later in the season.