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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.