Craig Kimbrel

If not for Bud, Braves would be World Series favorites


Who’s with me?

The Nationals’ four projected starters are a combined 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in the postseason, with that entire track record belonging to Edwin Jackson. They have one hitter in their lineup with a .350 OBP. They don’t have any big holes in their lineup, but they also don’t have anyone with an OPS over .850.

The Reds’ No. 1 starter, Johnny Cueto, has a history of fatiguing as the year goes on, something that seems to have manifested again this year. He’ll enter the postseason having already topped his career high in innings by about 20. Their best hitter has gone 41 at-bats without homering since returning from a seven-week injury. The team as a whole has hit .249/.309/.395 in road games this year. Their elite closer has been dealing with shoulder weakness. They’ll almost certainly be starting Bronson Arroyo in Game 3 of the NLDS.

The Giants have the worst run differential of any of the NL’s big four. Their offense has performed surprisingly well without the suspended NL batting champ, but there’s only one guy with an .800 OPS left in the lineup. Besides Buster Posey, there isn’t anyone on the team with even a dozen homers. And while the Giants have the best one-two rotation punch in the NL, it’s going to be hard to trust Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong or Barry Zito in Games 3 and 4. Also, they don’t have a closer.

The Braves have the game’s hottest pitcher in Kris Medlen, with Tim Hudson available to start Game 2. They’ll have to choose from the Paul Maholm, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson trio after that, but the top two should be tough. They have an incredibly dominant force to pitch the ninth and a top notch lefty in front of him. With Michael Bourn and Martin Prado, they should be able to manufacture runs at the top of the lineup, and they have five guys behind them capable of delivering the long ball.

Atlanta isn’t about to make up 5 1/2 games on Washington to win the NL East. As a result, a one-game wild card playoff seems assured, and even if the Braves will be good bets to win that game with Medlen or Hudson starting, there’s still at least a 35-40 percent chance they come up short.

Under the old system, the Braves would be my pick to represent the NL in the World Series. The lack of home-field advantage would be a problem, but they look like the best team to me, particularly since they’d be able to get a little more out of Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel and Eric O’Flaherty with the additional days off in the postseason schedule.

As is, they’re a big underdog. Which is precisely what Bud Selig and the others wanted in agreeing to the new wild card format. The Braves are still capable of advancing, but I think I’d have to go with the Giants at the moment.

Wait, what is the non-tender deadline again?

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For the next day and a half you’ll hear a lot about the non-tender deadline and/or players being tendered or not tendered a contract. Here, in case you’re unaware, is what that means.

By midnight on Wednesday teams have to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. If they do, the team retains control over the player. Now, to be clear, the team is not simply “tendering” the player the actual contract specifying what he’ll be paid. Think of it as more of a token gesture — a placeholder contract — at that point the team and the player can negotiate salary for 2016 and, if they can’t come to an agreement over that (i.e. an agreement avoiding arbitration) they will proceed to submit proposed salaries to one another and have a salary arbitration early in the spring.

If the team non-tenders a player, however, that player immediately becomes a free agent, eligible to sign anywhere with no strings attached.

Basically, the calculus is whether or not the team thinks the player in question is worth the low end of what he might receive in arbitration. Or, put differently, if the guy isn’t worth what he made in 2015, he’s probably going to be non-tendered.

MLB Trade Rumors has a handy “Non-Tender Tracker” which lists the status of the couple hundred arbitration eligible players and whether or not they’ve been tendered a contract. We’ll, of course, make mention of notable non-tender guys as their status for 2016 becomes known over the next day or two.

Mariners interested in free agent outfielder Nori Aoki

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New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept pretty busy in his short time on the job and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that free agent outfielder Nori Aoki could be his next target. The club recently pursued a trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but the asking price has them looking at alternatives.

Aoki, who turns 34 in January, has hit .287 with a .353 on-base percentage over four seasons since coming over from Japan. He was having a fine season with the Giants this year prior to being shut down in September with lingering concussion symptoms.

The Giants decided against picking up Aoki’s $5.5 million club option for 2016 earlier this month, but he should still do pretty well for himself this winter assuming he’s feeling good.

Report: Johnny Cueto is believed to be looking for a $140-160 million deal

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It was reported Sunday that free agent right-hander Johnny Cueto had turned down a six-year, $120 million contract from the Diamondbacks. He’s hoping to land a bigger deal this winter and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has heard some chatter about what he’s looking for.

Jordan Zimmermann finalized a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers today, which works out to $22 million per season. Arizona’s offer to Cueto checked in at $20 million per season. A six-year offer to Cueto at the same AAV (average annual value) as Zimmermann would put him at $132 million, which is still a little shy of the figure stated by Crasnick. Of course, Cueto owns a 2.71 ERA (145 ERA+) over the last five seasons compared to a 3.14 ERA (123 ERA+) by Zimmermann during that same timespan, so there’s a case to be made that he should get more. Still, he’s the clear No. 3 starter on the market behind David Price and Zack Greinke.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Cubs are among the other teams who have interest in Cueto. One variable in his favor is that he is not attached to draft pick compensation, as he was traded from the Reds to the Royals during the 2015 season.

Report: Around 20 teams have contacted the Braves about Shelby Miller

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The rebuilding Braves have already been active on the trade market and they might not be done, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that right-hander Shelby Miller has been a very popular name. In fact, around 20 teams have checked in.

Nothing is considered close and the Braves have set a very high asking price, mostly centered around offense. They asked for right-hander Luis Severino in talks with the Yankees and would expect outfielder Marcell Ozuna among other pieces from the Marlins. The Diamondbacks and Giants are among the other interested clubs.

Miller is under team control through 2018, so there’s not necessarily a sense of urgency to move him, but anything is possible with the way the Braves are doing things right now. The 25-year-old is coming off a year where he went 6-17, but that was about really rotten luck more than anything else, as he had a fine 3.02 ERA and 171/73 K/BB ratio over 205 1/3 innings. The Braves gave him the worst run support of any starter in the majors.