Of all the arbitrations moves the Braves made, there were a few that stuck out as questionable – none more than agreeing to a deal with Arodys Vizcaino for a little below $5 million.
The hard-throwing right-hander became a stalwart of the Braves bullpen since returning to Atlanta during the 2015 season. He had a 1.60 ERA in 36 appearances that year, earning his way into high-leverage situations quickly and eventually went on to become the closer. The plan was for him and A.J. Minter to split the closing duties in 2019.
Nobody would have had a problem with that if Vizcaino didn’t show signs throughout 2018 of a potential significant arm injury. The Dominican native spent half of last season on the Disabled List and did not return until mid-Septemeber. The Braves didn’t use him much after that, but when he was in, he remained effective. But as I’ve alluded to, the issue here was never about Vizcaino’s ability. It was his health, and the Braves’ closer never showed signs of being back to himself.
So the front office was left with a decision this offseason. Reach a reasonable deal with Viz via arbitration or let their best reliever walk – and they completely fumbled the bag.
Five-million dollars to most teams might be chump change. But to the Braves, who failed to upgrade their miserable bullpen from 2018 at all this offseason, it might mean the difference between Craig Kimbrel and Josh Tomlin. Rumor has it at Liberty Media’s Annual Christmas party; they send Alex Anthopoulos out into the forest to catch elves. Each elf is worth one-hundred dollars. By the end, he knows his budget for the upcoming offseason. You’d think after all that grueling work; he wouldn’t throw it away on a closer whose arm was halfway off.
The Braves were well aware of the issues Vizcaino faced and the decisions he could ultimately make in the future – one being to opt to have surgery. They still chose to offer him a contract. I’m no negotiations expert, but if Vizcaino was well aware at some point last season that he might need surgery, why would he do it before arbitration? Why wouldn’t you attempt to get one sucker to offer you a contract before deciding to shut it down for a year? I’m not even saying these are ugly ulterior motives on Vizcaino’s part. It’s just the business part of sports.
Why wouldn’t Vizcaino try to get the extra $5 million dollars? There is no risk for him.
The risk was all on the Braves, and it was of particular importance because of how weak the bullpen was in 2018. They were the number one leader of hair loss in Atlanta, but they looked a whole lot worse without Vizcaino, even if he was available for only half of the season. Atlanta’s brass knew he could be done before the calendar turned to May – and they not only paid him $5 million but also took no initiative to prepare for him to miss significant time.
Everything about the way Anthopoulos handled the bullpen this offseason was a total gaffe but counting on Vizcaino to be healthy for the entire year was his most egregious lapse in judgment. It’s already cost the Braves several games and will continue to cost them games. It’s going to be difficult for Anthopoulos to find the right answers until further down the road. For everyone’s sake, it better not be too late.