Sometimes, a bit of information becomes available to me, and it just becomes too bothersome to ignore.
On Wednesday, that information came in the form of a tweet from Athletic reporter David O’Brien. DOB was, as they say, just reporting the news after it had been announced that Sean Newcomb was being sent down to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Wednesday starter Max Fried, who pitched very well in a Braves’ win.
Now, Newcomb being sent down is not really a problem on the surface. Since returning from what was assumed to be a COVID-related absence last month, Newcomb surrendered 5 earned runs in just one inning over two appearances. And with the bullpen heavy on the left-handed side, sending Newk down to Gwinnett to get his mojo back makes some sense.
But the reasoning O’Brien reported, which matches past Braves’ decisions, made my eyes roll so hard I almost strained something.
DOB and I had a little back-and-forth related to that tweet, and despite what he may think, I fully understand the thinking behind decisions like that. Each player has a set number of options – or chances to be sent back down to the minors – in their careers. Newcomb has somehow not exhausted all of his, but others – most notably Jesse Biddle – have already been sent down the maximum number of times.
This means that if the team were to attempt to send down Biddle, he would have to instead be “designated for assignment” and go through waivers. If that happens, other teams obviously have a chance to claim that player for their own roster.
In response to that, I have a very complex and mature question: SO WHAT?
Jesse Biddle has surrendered 5 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings this year, and while most of those were in one outing, he also hasn’t been very good for a while. Since starting his major league career in Atlanta in 2018 with just 14 earned runs in his first 56 1/3 innings – good for a 2.24 ERA – Biddle has been flat-out not good. In 41 1/3 innings starting with the stretch run in 2018, he has surrendered 39 runs, which works out to an 8.49 ERA.
In fact, despite carrying that 2.24 ERA in September 2018, Biddle was so unreliable for the rest of that month that he was left off the playoff roster. And he hasn’t been good since.
This probably feels like I woke up today (yesterday, really, if you follow me on Twitter) and decided to make fun of Jesse Biddle. I promise that isn’t the case, though, because this isn’t an isolated incident. Over and over, even since the Braves started winning the division again in 2018, decisions are made about who to send down to the minors based on who has options rather than who makes the most sense.
Sometimes, that simply has to be a consideration. Sometimes, you’re sending down one of two promising players because of a temporary need, and one of them is out of options. In that case, sure, send down the guy who won’t be going through waivers.
But in other cases, like this one, other factors should take precedence.
First of all, the Braves’ bullpen has been a huge area of concern. The team really can’t afford to be putting a weaker product out there than is absolutely necessary, and there are zero situations in which I would rather see Jesse Biddle on the mound than Sean Newcomb, even with Newcomb’s recent struggles. Newcomb has weapons in his arsenal that Biddle simply doesn’t have. Newcomb also allowed just one run with 12 strikeouts in his first 5 1/3 innings of work this season, so there’s reason to hope these last couple outings are rust-related.
Second, why are we worried that someone will claim Jesse Biddle on waivers? Even if you don’t want to be mean and point out that it would probably be a net-win for the Braves to not have him in the system anymore, what reason would another team have for making a waiver claim for a pitcher that hasn’t been any good for almost 3 full years? That’s not to say it definitely wouldn’t happen, I just don’t understand placing that as a higher priority than giving the team its best chance to win.
Simply put, there’s a time and a season for everything, and the year after the Braves came mere innings away from the World Series is not the time or the season for placing minor-league options higher on the priority list than winning baseball games. If someone wants to claim one of your worst relievers off waivers, let them.
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