The Atlanta Braves trade international signing bonus money for LH relief pitcher
As the 2018 MLB non-waivers rapidly approaches, the Atlanta Braves finally addressed their subpar situation in the bullpen. With names like Zach Britton, Brad Hand, Raisel Iglesias, and Brad Brach potentially available at some point in the past month, the Braves made an under-the-radar move by dealing with the Tampa Bay Rays to bring fan-favorite lefty Jonny Venters back to Atlanta for the first time since 2012.
Return to past glory?
The 2011 and 2012 Atlanta Braves teams featured one of the most dominant bullpens that we’ve seen in recent years. Led by the trio of Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty, and Venters, the Braves bullpen finished first and second in team bullpen ERA in 2011 (3.03) and 2012 (2.76).
Venters was especially devastating as the primary 8th inning setup man for Atlanta. From 2010 to 2012, Venters went 16-11 with a combined ERA of 2.23 over 230 appearances and struck out an average of 10.1 batters per nine innings.
Career decimated by injury
Prior to the 2013 season, Venters was placed on the disabled list with elbow discomfort and ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in his short career.
During an injury recovery period that ventured into the 2014 season, Venters experienced a series of setbacks that led to another torn ulnar collateral ligament. Requiring a third Tommy John surgery, Venters status on the Braves roster became tenuous at best, and he was designated for assignment by Atlanta and released in November 2014.
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In a show of good faith in hopes that Venters would be the first MLB pitcher to successfully recover from three Tommy John surgeries, the Tampa Bay Rays signed him to a 2 year minor league contract in 2015. He injured the ligament yet again in 2016 while rehabbing with Tampa, but managed to avoid a fourth surgery. After missing 2016 and 2017, Venters was invited to the Rays’ spring training camp in 2018.
Venters is the first MLB pitcher to come back after more than 2 Tommy John surgeries
After a long and winding road to full recovery, Venters made his first appearance in 2,048 days on April 25, 2018 and has been very effective in 22 outings for the Rays so far this year. Of those 22 appearances, Venters has allowed runs in only 2 games. He has been particularly effective against LH batters with an OPS against of .522. For comparison’s sake, Atlanta’s two LH middle relievers, Sam Freeman and Jesse Biddle, have an OPS against by LH batters of .711 and .950, respectively.
Atlanta General Manager Alex Anthopoulos achieved two of his primary goals during the trade deadline period by addressing the LHP weakness in the bullpen while holding on to all of the Braves’ minor league prospects.
With the bullpen situation somewhat addressed, the Braves will now turn their attention to shoring up a depleted starting pitching staff that has seen Brandon McCarthy and Mike Soroka go down with injuries with no real timetable for their return in 2018. In fact, the Braves have been in on several rumors, so we’ll have to play the waiting game to see if Anthopoulos is able to find the combination of controllable years at a reasonable prospect cost that he has sought since taking over as Braves GM late last year.