Braves sign arbitration-eligible Vizcaino, but not ‘Folty’

1:58 p.m Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 Atlanta Braves
Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz  had an impressive midseason run, then slumped and went 1-8 with a 7.27 ERA in his last nine starts before sustaining a season-ending finger cut Sept. 14. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

The Braves signed reliever Arodys Vizcaino to a one-year, $3.4 million contract to avoid going to arbitration with their top closer candidate, but didn’t agree to a deal with arbitration-eligible starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz before a Friday deadline.

That means Foltynewicz is likely to become just the second arbitration hearing in 17 years for the Braves, with a relatively paltry difference of only $100,000 between the salary figures filed by the two sides. 

The Braves filed at $2.2 million and Foltynewicz at $2.3 million. 

Major league teams had until 1 p.m. Friday to sign arbitration-eligible players or swap salary figures with them in advance of a February arbitration hearing in which a panel chooses one figure or the other as the player’s 2018 salary. 

The difference in the salary figures filed by two sides typically is far greater than this Braves-Foltynewicz situation.

Teams are permitted to continue negotiating and can sign arbitration-eligible players at any point before a hearing. However, the Braves are among approximately 20 teams that follow a “file-and-trial” policy of not negotiating past salary-swap day. 

The exception is if they sign a player to a multi-year deal; otherwise, they’ll go through with the arbitration hearing. The policy began years ago and continues under new Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

The Braves went to an arbitration hearing in February 2015 with Mike Minor, and the left-hander won his case. The team’s last arbitration hearing before Minor was in 2001, when center fielder Andruw Jones won his case and got $8.2 million – an arbitration record at the time – after the Braves offered $6.4 million.

Foltynewicz, 26, is coming off a roller coaster of a season in which he finished 10-13 with a 4.79 ERA in 29 games (28 starts) before sustaining a cut finger Sept. 14. He’s expected to fill a spot in the Braves rotation behind veteran Julio Teheran.

“Folty” is 23-25 with a 4.87 ERA in 85 games (65 starts) over parts of four major league seasons, including the past three with the Braves after a late-season stint as a reliever with the Astros in his 2014 debut.

MLBTradeRumors.com projected a $2.7 million salary for Foltynewicz, who’s eligible for arbitration for the first time after making $544,000 in 2017.

Vizcaino had a 2.83 ERA in 62 appearances in 2017, converting 14 of 17 saves and recording 64 strikeouts with 21 walks and seven home runs allowed in 57 1/3 innings. Taking over the closer role in late July following Jim Johnson’s extended struggles, Vizcaino converted 12 of 13 saves over the final two months of the season.

The 27-year-old had 18 scoreless appearances in 21 games over that stretch and posted 23 strikeouts with nine walks in 19 2/3 innings. MLBTR had projected a $3.7 million salary if he went to arbitration.

After missing the first half of the 2015 season while serving an 80-game PED suspension, Vizcaino has a 2.98 ERA in 141 appearances over the past 2 ½ seasons for the Braves, converting 33 of 41 saves and totaling 151 strikeouts with 60 walks and 11 homers allowed in 129 2/3 innings.

Foltynewicz, a hard-throwing former top prospect, followed a torrid midseason stretch by losing his last seven starts before the season-ending cut, a freak injury that he said occurred while he was rubbing the baseball too hard between pitches during a frustrating start at Washington.

That shortened a season that had been his most promising for 2 1/2 months, a career-best period of pitching that so impressive that some believed Foltynewicz had figured things out and turned a corner toward realizing his vast potential. 

He went 9-1 with a 3.56 ERA in 14 starts from May 12 through July 25, but was 1-8 with a 7.27 ERA and .307 opponents’ average in his last nine starts while lasting fewer than six innings in all but three of those games.

The Braves also avoided arbitration with relievers Dan Winkler, who signed a $610,000 deal Friday, and Sam Freeman, who signed for $1.075 million Thursday. Winkler was projected to get $1 million and Freeman $1.2 million if the Braves had gone to arbitration hearings.