The Braves announced Friday that they’ve designated right-hander Nate Jones for assignment in order to open a spot on the 40-man roster for fellow righty reliever Carl Edwards Jr., whose contract has been selected from Triple-A Gwinnett. Atlanta also optioned right-hander Edgar Santana to Gwinnett.
Jones, 35, inked a minor league deal with the Braves over the winter and parlayed a dominant Spring Training effort into an Opening Day spot in the Atlanta ’pen. Unfortunately, the regular season didn’t bring about the same results as Jones enjoyed in Grapefruit League play. Through 10 1/3 innings this season, Jones has walked 10 batters, hit another and allowed eight hits (three homers). He’s limited the damage to six runs (four earned), but that lack of control ultimately cost him his roster spot.
The oft-injured Jones has scuffled in recent seasons but at one point was a lights-out setup man for the White Sox. He spent parts of eight seasons with the South Siders, pitching to a 3.12 ERA over the life of 291 1/3 innings out of the Chicago bullpen. Whether he can ever reclaim that form remains to be seen, but Jones came out of the gates in 2021 with a still-very-healthy 95.8 mph average velocity on his heater. The Braves will have a week to trade him, pass him through outright waivers or release him. He has more than enough service time to refuse an outright assignment if he clears waivers.
Edwards, 29, will be looking to bounce back from what has been a relatively swift decline in recent years. From 2016-18, he was one of the Cubs’ primary bullpen arms and was quite impressive along the way, compiling a 3.03 ERA while striking out nearly 35 percent of his opponents. Control was an issue (13.5 percent walk rate), but Edwards looked the part of a high-quality, late-inning arm.
However, Edwards began to unravel in Sept. 2018, when he walked 12 of the final 38 batters he faced in a total of just seven innings pitched. He began the 2019 campaign in similarly shaky fashion, pitching to a 5.87 ERA with nine walks, a hit batter and eight hits (three homers) allowed in 15 1/3 frames. The Cubs somewhat surprisingly moved on, and he’s been unable to find his stride again since that time. He looked sharp in a brief stint with the Mariners in 2020 but ended up missing the bulk of the season due to a forearm strain.
If Edwards is able to recapture his peak form, he’ll give the Braves a high-octane strikeout artist who can be controlled for another season via arbitration. Walks will likely to continue to be an issue even if he does find some success, however, which isn’t ideal for a club whose bullpen already has the fifth-highest walk rate in the Majors (12.2 percent).
Whether Edwards rebounds or not, Atlanta could eventually turn to the trade market to augment a bullpen that currently ranks 23rd in the Majors in ERA (4.58), 21st in FIP (4.41) and 25th in SIERA (4.23).