Julio Teheran started the past five opening days for the Braves. Yet when they returned to relevancy, he was nowhere to be found.
Teheran didn’t start against the Dodgers in the National League Division Series. The Braves rolled with Mike Foltynewicz, Anibal Sanchez, Sean Newcomb and opted to bring back Foltynewicz on short rest for Game 4, in which the team was eliminated.
In essentially mop-up duty, Teheran pitched 1-2/3 innings, striking out two Dodgers. A subject of trade rumors for several years, some presumed that was his good bye.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos inherited Teheran, and the team once again started him on opening day in 2018. By season’s end, he was surpassed by multiple starters, with more on the way.
Teheran posted a 3.94 ERA with 162 strikeouts and 84 walks across 175-2/3 innings.
“He’d be part of the rotation (if season began today),” Anthopoulos said. “I know I wasn’t here for all those years, the opening day starts. I know the walks were up, but obviously the hits were down. His ERA is half a run lower than it was. Strikeouts are up and the walks are up. But I think if you ask Julio, it’s not because he was wild. It was by design. He would pick at the corners and wouldn’t give in.
“That’s why he didn’t give up the hits. He’s going to give up home runs, that’s who he is, that’s part of his game. But you look at the reliability piece, he’s basically 180 innings locked in each year. You can count on him. What he brings, ERA-wise and so on, and the innings, he’s a reliable piece for us. So it takes a lot to get through six months.”
Even if Teheran was on the trade block, there’s no benefit to say anything but what Anthopoulos stated above. There’s been a looming reality for the past couple seasons that Teheran could be edged out of the rotation.
Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman appear likely locks for the 2019 group. Anibal Sanchez is a free agent, and if he returns, probably wouldn’t be guaranteed a spot.
But it’s the incoming herd of arms that make it dicey. Mike Soroka will be healthy. The Braves loved what they saw from Touki Toussaint. Max Fried had his moments and presents another lefty option. Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright and Kolby Allard made their MLB debuts.
2018 Braves featured a plethora of young arms
Putting two and two together, the enigmatic Teheran wouldn’t be long for the rotation. But as Anthopoulos said, his reliability is important. The Braves can’t bank on their kids, and while Gausman gives them a veteran innings eater, selling Teheran at lower value isn’t an appealing proposition.
As for the postseason results, Anthopoulos warns not to over-analyze how that played out. Teheran had solid numbers at Coors Field, whereas his marks against the Dodgers were anything but encouraging. The Braves were playing matchups.
“Come playoff time, if we had faced Colorado, Julio would’ve been in the rotation, maybe starting Game 2,” Anthopoulos said. “We talked about that. We tried to line things up against the opponent. I wouldn’t read into Julio not starting against L.A. so much because if it had been Colorado, we talked about him potentially starting Game 2.
“And he was a candidate to start a game against L.A. Sean Newcomb was not a candidate to start Game 3 when we went into that series. We knew Folty and Anibal had the two best years on the staff. They were going to get the ball Game 1 and 2. After that, we were going to re-evaluate where we were.”
Teheran is an interesting subplot in what’s supposed to be an active offseason. If the Braves add another valuable starter, it’d be easier to part with their five-time opening day man. If they trust, say, Toussaint, perhaps they can part with Teheran without reservation.
The best news for Anthopoulos: He’s not forced to do anything. He doesn’t have to sell low on Teheran, who makes $11 million in 2019 with a $12 million club option. The organization has options with their starters, which was the rebuild’s intention all along.