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Although the 2019 season just ended, the Braves already have some difficult decisions to make for 2020. Some of those initial decisions will focus on the four players on whom the Braves hold team options for the 2020 season. These decisions will have a significant impact in shaping the Braves’ focus and priorities this offseason.

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First, it is important to consider how options work and how they should be viewed. There are three main types of contract options: player option, team option, and mutual option. The difference in the three is who gets to make the decision whether the option is exercised. All the Braves’ options except for Billy Hamilton’s are team options, meaning that the team gets to decide whether they exercise the option under the parameters in the contract. Hamilton has a mutual option, meaning that both sides would need to agree to exercise the option, but you’ll see later that this is of little significance. (In fact, mutual options are basically a placebo, as Sam Miller notes here, fewer than five percent, or literally four all-time have ever been picked up by both sides, and one of those four was picked up 18 months in advance.)

Each option under consideration for the Braves includes a buyout. This means that the team must pay this amount regardless of whether they exercise the option. For example, a $7 million option with a $2 million buyout would mean that the team will have to pay the player $2 million regardless of whether or not they retain his services for the following season. The decision is whether they want to pay the additional $5 million to keep that player on the roster for the next season (not an additional $7 million on top of the $2 million).

This wrinkle is critical in determining whether a team should exercise the option. The correct question is, “Is this player worth the option cost minus the buyout amount?” (in our example, is the player worth $5 million – i.e. $7 million option minus $2 million buyout?). The team is already on the hook the buyout amount, so if they decline the option, the $5 million is all that has been saved, and this amount can be used to fill that roster spot, externally or internally.

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Now that you’re an expert on options, let’s look at the options that the Braves must consider:

Julio Teheran
Option: $12 million option for the 2020 season with a $1 million buyout

2019 season: 174 2⁄3 IP, 3.81 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 5.26 xFIP, 1.6 fWAR

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Teheran has a 3.67 career ERA in nine season with the Braves and is still somehow only 28 years old. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Teheran provided solid results for the Braves in 2019 and ate a lot of innings for a rotation that was fluid for much of the season. He tied for the team lead in innings pitched, and a respectable 3.81 ERA and 1.6 fWAR provided decent value for a back-of-rotation starter.

However, Teheran outperformed his peripherals by a good margin. His 5.26 xFIP was the highest in the NL and his 11% walk rate was third-highest in baseball among qualified pitchers. All his breaking pitches had below-average movement, and his fastball was in the 10th percentile in average velocity, per Statcast.

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Why are his peripherals important to the decision of whether to exercise Teheran’s option? Because the decision must be based 100 percent on how the team thinks he will perform in 2020, and these peripherals can be predictive. In other words, Teheran’s peripherals suggest that he had luck on his side in 2019, and the Braves shouldn’t throw $11 million at a pitcher that relies on luck so heavily to make his results decent.

The Atlanta Braves failed to advance to the next round of the 2019 playoffs, and with how this current series is playing out, it sure is irritating.
As a devoted Atlanta Braves fan — and admittingly still a discouraged one — there are a few different routes I could take when discussing the current National League Championship Series between the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals.

If you hadn’t noticed, the Cards are just a loss away from getting swept in the NLCS, now down 3-0 after Monday’s 8-1 defeat.

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They’re getting dominated to the tune of a minus-11 run differential in the current series, as the Nats have outscored the Redbirds 13-2 over these first three games.

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This should make Braves Country happy, right?

This is the same Cardinals team that unleashed a record amount of runs in the opening inning of an elimination game versus the Braves, quickly ending our team’s postseason experience in less than 30 minutes last Wednesday.

Even more, this is also a Cardinals team that beamed our best player — Ronald Acuna Jr. — because of course a 10-0 first-inning lead just wasn’t good enough.

And there were plenty more acts of kindness from the Cards, including an interesting Game 5 postgame speech by their leader, manager Mike Shildt, who felt like the Braves started something during last week’s NLDS.

Maybe karma really is such a thing?

But this isn’t about that. Sure, I’m rooting for an early Cardinals exit versus the Nationals, but this piece is less to do with that and more about something else.

That something else is the fact that I believe the Atlanta Braves could’ve given the Nationals a better fight thus far. More specifically, I don’t think our Braves would be down three games in the NLCS, with only 9 total hits in three games.

We could play the what-if game all day:

What if reliever Chris Martin didn’t get hurt?
What if Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis didn’t struggle so much in the NLDS?
What if Mike Foltynewicz could’ve gotten through the first inning of Game 5 unscathed?
I’m not one to dwell too much on the past, but watching the Nationals repeatedly outplay the Cards… it does make you wonder.

I mean, just look at how each contest has played out…

Game 1, Friday

Washington’s Anibal Sanchez carries a no-hitter into the 8th inning, as the Cards manage just one hit. The Nats shut St. Louis out, 2-0.

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Game 2, Saturday

Once again, Washington’s pitching is too much for the Cards. The Redbirds manage just one hit versus Max Scherzer, and only two overall, as Mad Max and the Nationals win 3-1. Scherzer punches out 11 in seven innings of pure domination.

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Game 3, Monday

This time St. Louis manages 7 hits, but Stephen Strasburg still strikes out 12 and the Nationals’ lineup scores four runs on Cardinals’ ace, Jack Flaherty. Washington’s Howie Kendrick hits three doubles and the Nats win 8-1.

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The @Nationals are the 1st team since the 1966 Orioles to allow 2 R or fewer through the first 3 games in a best-of-7 #postseason series.

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I’m not guaranteeing the Braves would’ve done better… but these aren’t competitive games — not in the least.

And it’s a shame that the Nationals will more than likely cruise right on to a World Series bid, the first time Washington has sent a team there since 1933 (when the Senators faced the New York Giants).

Also, considering only one team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit — the Red Sox in 2004 — it’s practically inevitable that the Nationals will compete for a World Championship this year. Which, obviously, they deserve.

The Braves didn’t get it done this year, and that’s just the way things ended up. It wasn’t any one thing, as there were numerous reasons for the team’s failure (as there is generally every year).

Heck, I may be way off here. The Braves’ lineup didn’t exactly do all that great versus the Nationals’ postseason rotation (even though previous performance shouldn’t count for much, theoretically):

Sanchez: 5 starts, 3.41 ERA
Scherzer: 2 starts, 3.27 ERA
Strasburg: 4 starts, 4.07 ERA
But as I’ve watched the primacy and one-sidedness of this year’s NLCS, there’s just this feeling that it would be different if the Braves were involved. Call me a homer, but at this point in the year… it really doesn’t matter.

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What do you think? Do you believe the Atlanta Braves would’ve been a more competitive opponent for the Nationals in the NLCS?

(Even if you believe that Teheran can outperform his peripherals to a substantial extent, his FIP-ERA gap in 2019 was 0.85, whereas for his career, it’s only been 0.56. His 2019 xFIP-ERA gap was 1.45; for his career, it’s 0.70. Regardless of whether Teheran can consistently outperform his peripherals, there’s no arguing that he did so to an extreme extent in 2019, and failing to do so again in 2020 would have adverse impacts on his run prevention.)

The biggest indication of how the Braves view Teheran is how he was used (or not used) in the last two postseasons. Teheran was not given a start and was only used in mop-up duty in both postseasons. He didn’t even initially make the postseason roster this season and was added only after Chris Martin was injured. A pitcher that has not been trusted in the postseason seems unlikely to be given $11 million.

Teheran has done some great things in Atlanta and has been a consummate professional and competitor in a Braves uniform. However, the Braves could spend $11 million more wisely than exercising his option. That said, I would not be surprised if the Braves declined Teheran’s option and tried to work out a less expensive deal to keep him.

Nick Markakis
Option: $6 million option for the 2020 season with a $2 million buyout

2019 season: .285/.356/.420, 9 HR, .332 wOBA, 102 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR

Markakis is coming off a less than inspiring season. He was slightly above average offensively (102 wRC+) and below average defensively (-2 Outs Above Average, -4 Defensive Runs Saved, -6 Ultimate Zone Rating) which led to an overall production slightly above replacement level (0.4 fWAR).

Markakis does have some value as a corner outfielder who hits right-handed pitching well. Additionally, with top prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters likely to be knocking on the door to the big leagues soon, the Braves probably do not want to dole out any big long-term contracts to outfielders this offseason. Having a veteran outfielder like Markakis on a one-year deal would certainly be a good fit for the Braves.

If I had any confidence that the Braves would use Markakis as a platoon player and pinch hitter against right-handed pitchers, I might be inclined to advocate for exercising his option. However, as long as Markakis is on the active roster, Brian Snitker will start him and bat him fifth in the lineup as routinely as he brushes his teeth every night before going to bed. The Braves can find other options that are just as good as or better than Markakis at probably a lower cost. Just like when the team signed Matt Joyce for $1 million this season (and I would much rather bring Joyce back than Markakis), there are usually some slightly above replacement-level outfielders out there that could help the team wean themselves off their Markakis addiction.

However, given this organization’s admiration of Markakis, I would not be surprised at all to see the Braves exercise Markakis’ option. I could see them deciding that they would like Markakis to serve as a mentor for and bridge to the young prospects and would rather focus their resources on third base, pitching, and catcher. While I don’t think this would be the worst decision they could make, it would be a big mistake to continue to start and hit a 36 year-old replacement-level player in the heart of the lineup on a team that is trying to win a World Series.

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NEW YORK — The short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium has gotten the best of several pitchers over the years.

Yet Houston Astros righty Gerrit Cole — arguably the greatest pitcher on the planet these days — was able to withstand the dreaded 314 sign and the mighty Bronx Bombers on Tuesday night.

He didn’t have his best stuff by many means.

But that’s what makes him the best in the business.

He can keep putting up zeroes on the scoreboard without it.

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“He wasn’t as electric or as sharp as usual,” a scout in attendance told Yahoo Sports. “But he was still able to win. And that’s what makes him great.”

Cole morphed from strikeout artist into escape artist in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, stranding nine Yankees over seven shutout innings, and the Astros beat New York 4-1 to take a 2-1 series lead.

“That’s one of his best qualities is when he doesn’t have a pitch or he doesn’t have command and he figures out how to get the job done,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “And we can all learn from that.”

The 29-year-old righty improved to 19-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his last 25 starts, posting 258 strikeouts in 169 1/3 innings over that span. In the playoffs, he’s 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA in three starts, posting 32 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings over that span.

“I think he’s the best pitcher in baseball right now,” Hinch said. “His competition is right next to him in the clubhouse (Justin Verlander). They’re certainly a good pair. I watch what (Stephen) Strasburg is doing, I see what (Max) Scherzer is doing, (Jacob) deGrom in this city. There’s a lot of big names. But I’m obviously biased to my guys.

“Gerrit is locked in. And to see him do it on the big stage in a playoff game with the magnitude of this game, it was pretty awesome.”

As Cole walked to his postgame press conference in the bowels of the stadium, Verlander’s wife, Kate Upon, waved to Cole and told him, “good game.”

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It sure was. A big-game pitcher stepping up on the biggest stage. His latest showcase heading into a winter of riches.

And unlike Stanton, his boos were strictly performance-based. Ottavino, in the midst of a nightmare October, was the primary seventh-inning saboteur in the Yankees’ 4-1 loss to the Astros, a deflating open to the Bronx portion of this ALCS, which Houston now leads, two games to one.

With the Yankees trying to stay close, down 2-0, Ottavino walked George Springer leading off the seventh and then with Springer running surrendered a single to Jose Altuve, who slapped it through the right side of the infield.

And that was it. Out came Aaron Boone, and after handing off the baseball, Ottavino was loudly booed on his way off the field. Mercifully, the annoyed crowd of 48,998 kept it brief, befitting Ottavino’s short cameo.

“I was just mad at myself,” Ottavino said. “It’s just frustrating when you go out there and you don’t perform the way you want to — despite having a good mindset, and being determined, and all that stuff. I didn’t shy away from it. I wanted it. It just didn’t happen. So I was frustrated that I put the team in a tough spot.”

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The problem with relying on bullpen superiority to mow through October is that you become a machine that needs many different parts to function together. If one of those pieces fail, the whole thing can blow up. After Ottavino spent that inning leaking oil, the Astros scored two runs off Zack Britton on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly.

“It’s just execution, and he knows that,” Britton said. “He’s been outstanding. He’s probably been our best reliever all year, so we’re going to need him.”

In theory, the Yankees built what they believed to be a mostly fail-safe bullpen, with Ottavino a crucial cog in the operation. Of Brian Cashman’s $66-million bullpen makeover last winter, the GM spent $27 million on Ottavino, the plan being that Ottavino’s wicked slider would compliment Britton’s bowling-ball sinker and Chad Green’s fearsome four-seam fastball.

NEW YORK — Josh Reddick is set to return to right field at Yankee Stadium.

Reddick didn’t play in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series and was a late-inning substitution in Game 2.

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Manager A.J. Hinch said Monday that Reddick will start Game 3, which will return Kyle Tucker to the Astros’ bench.

“Kyle has had a mixed bag of some success,” Hinch said Monday at Yankee Stadium. “I like the swing off (Masahiro) Tanaka, I thought he had some pretty good at-bats. I thought he had some good at-bats at the end of the ALDS. Obviously we all saw (Sunday) night it was a tough at-bat. Again, he’s still growing and maturing and learning. This is a really big stage for him; he can handle it.

“How right field maps out, honestly, if I’m going to ask our players to worry about one game, I’m going to worry about one game. Reddick is going to play right, as I said at the beginning of the series, in Game 3. How it goes after that will be announced at the appropriate time.”

During the regular season, Ottavino pitched mostly as advertised, with an 11.9 K/9 ratio, though his 1.312 WHIP pointed to a troubling amount of traffic. The Yankees are a team constructed for October, however, and Ottavino picked a terrible time for his worst stretch of the year.

Ottavino has faced 16 batters so far, allowing six hits, three walks and three runs — while recording only seven outs. Remember when those isolated walks to the Twins’ Nelson Cruz felt like a big deal during the Division Series? Turns out, that was merely the fire alarm going off. At the time, the Yankees preferred to believe it was a momentary glitch.

But there was no brushing aside what happened Sunday night in Game 2, when Ottavino’s first pitch — another wayward slider — wound up getting smashed by George Springer for the tying home run in the fifth inning. The Astros didn’t score again until Carlos Correa’s walkoff homer in the 11th.

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Despite Ottavino’s warning signs, Aaron Boone isn’t ready to give up on him in high-leverage situations. How can he? Ottavino already is written into the Yankees’ October script. To remove him now would mean finding another way to navigate all these innings, for a team that purposely wants to deploy its relief corps early and often. And the Yankees don’t have a replacement.

“Yeah, we’ll continue to use him,” Boone said. “I thought he was in the midst of a pretty good opening at-bat there with Springer and then he loses him. We’ve put him in some tough spots, obviously, in the lineup. He’s just got to be a little sharper with his command, a little sharper with his stuff, and we’re going to need him moving forward.”

Forget forward. The Yankees have turned to him twice already in this ALCS, and Ottavino has fallen on his face each time. They really can’t afford another one, but Boone must feel like he has no choice. Either Ottavino figures it out, or the Yankees’ bullpen strategy collapses, like a wobbly Jenga stack, and the pursuit of No. 28 ends prematurely.

“I think everybody’s thrown the ball really well, except for me,” Ottavino said. “I know they’re going to do their jobs and I have confidence, when I get another opportunity, I’ll do my job.”

Maybe this is the bottom for Ottavino. It doesn’t get much lower for a Yankee than being booed off the mound in the Bronx. October isn’t over yet, but he’s running out of time for redemption.

Back up the money truck
Cole is on the verge of being paid handsomely — a free-agent-to-be at season’s end.

There will be no shortage of suitors for his services, basically any big-market team with big bucks to spend.

And Cole may end up breaking David Price’s record contract for a starter of seven years, $217 million

The California Kid could head back home to the Los Angeles Dodgers (after their latest playoff disappointment) or Angels. Or maybe he could come east to join the Philadelphia Phillies or Washington Nationals (if they lose Stephen Strasburg). Or maybe he could finally join his childhood favorite team, the Yankees.

New York selected Cole, who grew up a Yankees fan, in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft, but couldn’t even get him to the negotiating table. Cole wanted to play college baseball for UCLA — and a reported $4 million signing bonus didn’t make him change his mind.

A decade later, the Yankees again tried to acquire him from the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the Bombers were unwilling to include emerging youngsters Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar in a trade package, instead insisting on Clint Frazier and Nick Solak as centerpieces of a potential deal.

It was understandable at the time, as Cole was coming off a down season in which he went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA and 31 homers allowed. Yet the Astros were the beneficiaries, ultimately landing Cole in exchange for Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin and then turning his career around.

In an era of juiced — or now maybe unjuiced — baseballs and openers, Cole is a rare commodity, a starter with the ability to go deep in games and face opposing lineups three or four times in a single night.

And on Tuesday night, 48,998 fans went home unhappy because of him.

Pulling off a Houdini Act
Cole’s fastball maxed out at 100.3 mph and he got 13 swinging strikes on 112 pitches. Five of his seven strikeouts came via his slider.

But he also gave up four hits and a staggering five walks, several times overcoming traffic on the basepaths. In the first, he stranded the bases loaded. In the second, third and fifth, he stranded a pair.

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius came closest to breaking through against Cole. With two on, two out and the Astros up 2-0 in the fifth, Gregorius lifted a long fly ball toward the short porch in right.