No Room in the Pen

Shane Greene was a high profile acquisition at the trade deadline in 2019 for the Braves, but a crowded bullpen could squeeze him off of the opening day roster

Projected Bullpen for 2020 – Mark Melancon (closer), Will Smith, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Darren O’Day, Luke Jackson, Josh Tomlin, Grant Dayton

Spring Training stats don’t matter, except when they do. Here are two stat lines to consider as we sit halfway through the Spring Training slate of games:

4 games, 0-2 9.64 ERA 5 ER 3 BB 6 K in 4 2/3 innings pitched
6 games, 0-0 0.00 ERA 0 ER 1 BB 9 K in 5 2/3 innings pitched

Obviously one of those stat lines is really good while the other is, well, not so good. Phil Pfeifer has yet to allow a run this spring, generating a 0.88 WHIP and allowing a .190 batting average against. He has been solid for the Braves to this point, is left handed, and plays at the major league minimum salary. The other stat line belongs to Shane Greene, former closer for the Detroit Tigers and mid-season acquisition for the Braves last year. He has not been good, to say the least, and he really wasn’t all that great for Atlanta after being acquired at the trade deadline, pitching to a 4.01 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP in 27 games. As it stands right now, however, Greene is poised to break camp with the Braves and Pfeifer will be optioned to Gwinnett to start his season because, as mentioned above, Spring Training stats don’t matter.

The case for moving Greene

There are a number of reasons to consider moving Shane Greene before the beginning of the season that don’t necessarily revolve around his Spring Training stats.

His value on the market – Teams are always looking for pitchers capable of finishing ballgames, and Shane Greene has shown in his career he’s more than capable. He had 22 saves for Detroit last season before coming to Atlanta, and in the last three seasons he’s combined for 77 saves and averages over a strikeout an inning. Sure, his peripherals have taken a bit of a hit over the years, but closing games is as much about mound presence and confidence as it is about stuff, and Greene could still be a reliable closer or setup man for many teams. While the Braves don’t have many needs on the major league roster, they are suffering some thinning of their minor league depth, and a trade of Shane Greene could net a prospect or two that could provide some relief.

His salary – Greene took the Braves to arbitration over his salary this season and lost, meaning the Braves are on the hook for $6,250,000 this season. Unlike free agent contracts, however, arbitration contracts are not guaranteed. If the Braves were to release Shane Greene between now and the end of the season, they would only owe him a portion of that $6.2MM salary instead of the full amount. Prorated at 45 days worth of termination pay, the Braves would only owe Greene roughly $1.7MM. While that’s still a significant amount of money, the $4.5MM in savings could come in handy at the trade deadline.

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His replacements – The Braves bullpen as it is currently constructed is heavily right-handed. Grant Dayton is projected above simply because he’s left handed and out of minor league options. Will Smith is left handed, of course, but depending on how the workload shakes out over the early part of the season he might end up being the best closing option for the Braves.I’ve already noted that Phil Pfeifer is having a tremendous spring so far for the Braves, but there are other names in camp that are doing equally well. Non-roster invitee Tyler Matzek has also managed to not give up a run this spring, and Chris Rusis has worked 5 games and has 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings, most of any reliever in camp so far. Tucker Davidson and Patrick Weigel are also having very strong outings this spring, so there are plenty of options for young players to step into the bullpen and provide depth.

The roster crunch – The Braves 40 man roster is full, and there are a number of players who are expected to break camp with the Braves that need a spot on the roster. Felix Hernandez and Josh Tomlin are both doing everything they were expected to do thus far and should head north with the big league club when Spring Training ends, and the Braves are still looking to add one more bat to their bench. Current options for the 26th man on the roster are Charlie Culberson, Yonder Alonso, Peter O’Brien, Rafael Ortega and Yangervis Solarte, all of whom are non-roster invitees to camp this year and would require a 40 man roster spot to open up if they were to make the club.

Closing arguments

The case for keeping Shane Greene is simple – he’s been there, done that, and can do it again if needed. There are never any guarantees in the bullpen, so having as much experience out there is a bonus, and as managers are fond of saying, you can never have too much pitching. His $6.2MM salary is not that expensive, relatively speaking, and having a closer available to the manager of your team in each of the last 3 innings of a game is a luxury that not many teams have.

With that said, the benefits of moving Greene outweigh the value he provides the Braves in the way of depth. Trading him would add depth to the farm system, frees up resources for mid-season acquisitions, and would open up a roster spot. It would also allow the team to balance out the mix of left and right handed pitchers, allowing for better matchups throughout the game.

Anthopoulos and Brian Snitker do love their veterans, however, so the chances of the Braves trading or releasing Shane Greene are slim. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do or, at the very least, something to consider as camp comes to a close in the next couple of weeks.


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