The Atlanta Braves surprised the baseball world following a game with Tampa Bay in which Mike Foltynewicz made his first start of the season. They designated him for assignment.
With the availability of Foltynewicz, should the Milwaukee Brewers pursue a trade to bring in the hard throwing right-hander? On the surface. it seems like a no-brainer. The guy got Cy Young votes in 2018. He has pitched in big games, and he was a borderline ace for playoff level team. It begs a big question though?
Why on Earth, would a team designate a pitcher with top-of-the-rotation stuff that pitched like and ace in 2018 and in the later part of 2019? The probable reasons are multifaceted, and they do make some sense once you dig in.
Foltynewicz’ fastball velocity took a nose dive. According to Fangraphs, his fastball velocity averaged 91.1 mph in his one outing this season. He took a bit of a dip in velocity from 2018 to 2019 too. Could he be trending into an area where his fastball just doesn’t play up enough to get major league hitters out? The Braves’ front off might think so.
Owed $6.4M for 2020
Foltynewicz is to make the prorated chunk of $6.4 mil in 2020. With only 10-11 potential starts left, the Braves might not think it cost-effective to pay those dollars to a pitcher that has performed poorly all summer, and was hammered in his first outing of the season (6 ER, 3 HR, 3.1 IP). It took Folty until August of 2019, and a trip to AAA for him to get back to form. The Braves could feel that is just too long to wait, even if nothing is really wrong with him (i.e. injury or mechanical flaw).
Braves have a ton of young pitching prospects
Atlanta is already trying Kyle Wright (scouting grade - fastball: 60, overall: 55) in one of the rotation spots. Ian Anderson (scouting grade - fastball: 60, overall: 55), Bryce Wilson (scouting grade - fastball: 60, overall: 50), and Tucker Davidson (scouting grade - fastball: 60, overall: 50). Mike Soroka and Max Fried are already in the fold and performing well.
The Braves brought in Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, and Jhoulys Chacin as insurance for a young staff, and a bridge that helps them remain competitive. Obviously the pitching situation has not worked out as well as they would have liked since Hamels is done for most of the year and Hernandez opted out for the season.
Atlanta’s mindset is either one of extreme urgency or they are ready to give the youngsters their shot very soon. Either way, Foltynewicz was in the way if either one of those trains of thoughts are accurate.
Atlanta might have no consideration of bringing him back
Atlanta has a group of young pitchers coming. Foltynewicz will be looking to sign a long-term contract or test free agency going into his final year of arbitration. This moves certainly tells you that the Braves’ front office did not foresee a long-term future with their former ace. If he isn’t going to be good this year, or least not until later in the year, why keep in around and hinder the development of their younger pitchers? Again this is speculation about what their mindset might be.
The urgency of the season is just too much to bear
One twelfth of the season is done and gone. There is thought that the National League East is the best division in baseball. I think that opinion is a lot of “ballyhoo.” Nonetheless the Braves are 2-3 in a division that has the World Series champion Nationals, a talented Mets’ team, and a hyped Phillies team. Atlanta could be feeling a lot of pressure. Allowing Folty to take one of the rotation spots why he figures things out looks to be too much for the Braves’ front office to handle.
“We kind of feel a sense of urgency...We’re just not in a position in this short season to wait for something to happen.” - Brian Snitker
Teams also just might not be very patient this season as a whole. Atlanta might be the first of many of these types of moves. Forty is owed significant money and is coming into his final year of arbitration in 2021.
Foltynewicz is out of options
Coming into 2019, Foltynewicz opened the season on the IL because of a right elbow bone spur. He did not pitch until May 2, and he was not effective at all. In May of 2019 he pitched to a 6.12 ERA and a 6.86 ERA in June. He was subsequently sent down to Gwinnett to work on his mechanics. When he came back in August, the big right-hander was amazing posting a 2.65 ERA and a 1.50 ERA in the month of September.
What the Braves had at their disposal in 2019 that they do not in 2020 is that option. With the sense of urgency the shortened season is bringing, Atlanta does not have the luxury of allowing Folty to go down and work on things. They did last season.
If Braves get out of the gate slowly, that would make Folty even more expendable
A 2-3 record does not mean the end of the road for the Braves by any stretch. Yet if the Braves get off to a poor start then Foltynewicz, with only one more year of control beyond 2020, becomes more expendable. That is especially true if the team feels he is apt to test free agency.
Best time for his trade value
Atlanta might feel his trade value is as high as it will be. If they waited until the off-season, the Braves would lose significant value in what a trade would return. By DFA-ing him, the Braves could get a better return for him since the acquiring team would have him for two seasons instead of just one.
He could be hurt, not as strong as normal, or both
Foltynewicz came to camp noticeably thinner and with a less velocity on the fastball. The Atlanta Braves have invested a lot into this guy. Yet they are ready to possibly let him go? Do they know something the rest of us do not. His teammate Mike Soroka intimated that in an interview with Paul Newberry of the Associate Press.
Mike Soroka, who has assumed the role of the Braves’ top starter, said Foltynewicz appears to have some sort of undetected injury, though he also conceded that his problems could be mechanical flaws in his delivery.
“Obviously, there’s an elbow or shoulder (problem), whatever it may be,” Soroka said be before Tuesday night’s game at Tampa Bay. “I know Folty when he’s healthy. It’s what he looked like in 2018. It’s just not coming out quite the same. He’s got to address that.”
Foltynewicz also appears to be thinner than he was a season ago. Snitker wonders if that contributed to the loss of speed on his fastball.
Should the Milwaukee Brewers attempt to acquire him?
The answer to this question is that it depends. The Brewers’ pitching scouts likely have a pretty good read on the Foltynewicz situation. Based on their mindset, the answer could be yes or no.
The argument for Yes
While Foltynewicz has been inconsistent throughout his career, he is really talented. When he is on his game, his stuff plays as well as anyone in baseball. If this front-of-the-rotation starter is in need of ramping up because of being off for so long, or if he is going through mechanical problems, this could be a steal for the acquiring club.
The Brewers have a lot of pitching depth that could bridge a gap in time for Foltynewicz to get up to speed. Craig Counsell could utilize him in 2-3 inning starts and then 4-5 inning starts until he is back to being his dominant self. If that dominant self were to happen in this season, a Brandon Woodruff/Mike Foltynewicz front-of-the-rotation could be significant.
There is also the added fact that Foltynewicz is controlled for 2021. While the price tag for two season of Foltynewicz could be between $13-$15 million, that is a bargain for a good to really good starting pitcher.
Of course the Braves are probably looking for other assets in terms of prospects. That leads into the next argument.
The argument for No
Foltynewicz could be cost prohibitive. $13-$15 million for the services of a healthy Mike Foltynewicz is a no-brainer. However the Braves will want prospects in return. They DFA’d the right-hander to generate trade interest. Folty is a flawed asset that has risks that they would like to minimize and recuperate as much as possible for. What they get back is the only question. If the Braves want too much, maybe the Brewers say no.
There is also an argument to be made that the Brewers don’t have the prospects to make a deal happen. With one of the worst farm systems in MLB, Milwaukee just might not have enough prospect capital to make a deal work anyway. There is always something from the major league club, but whom? Then there is the biggest issue of all.
Folty could be really hurt. If he is in a situation where he might need Tommy John surgery that puts him out for 15 to 18 months, that would not be something the Brewers would want to invest in. In fact this could be the Braves trying to get a team to take on their burden instead of their asset.
Millions of dollars and prospects/MLB players for what could be another team’s burden is not a good investment. Nonetheless if the Brewers are in on Folty, they’ve likely done a lot of due diligence. If they were able to pull off something for him, it probably means the odds are good that Foltynewicz is fine at least in the foreseeable future.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, MLB.com, and Fangraphs