Eric O'Flaherty rumors: Braves remain interested in RP

Scott Cunningham

O'Flaherty has been one of the best relievers in the game in recent years, but is coming off major surgery.

The Atlanta Braves are still talking with free agent relief pitcher Eric O'Flaherty, reports David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

O'Flaherty, 28, has been with the Braves for five years and has helped anchor one of the premiere bullpen crews in the MLB. As one of the best left-handed relievers in the game, he started off with more appearances that saw him come in for just a batter or two, but proved that he could handle full innings of work and eventually moved into a set-up role with Atlanta. In his five years with Atlanta, he has tossed nearly 250 innings and has a 1.99 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. O'Flaherty's best year came in 2011 when he pitched in 78 games with a 0.98 ERA.

Left-handed hitters have barely been able to touch O'Flaherty over his career. They have just a 531 OPS against him compared to a 717 OPS for righties. In 2012, left-handers hit for a minuscule 305 OPS against O'Flaherty. In 2011, neither handedness hit for over a 600 OPS.

The 2013 season had looked to be one of O'Flaherty's best yet. By mid-May, he had a 2.50 ERA and career-best 0.94 WHIP despite diminished strikeout numbers. Right-handed hitters posted just a 620 OPS against him. Lefties a 420 OPS. Unfortunately, after just 19 appearances, O'Flaherty blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery. Given that the procedure typically takes around a year to recover from, he likely will not be ready to pitch in the majors again until some time in May or June.

The Braves would boost an already strong relief staff with the re-addition of O'Flaherty. The team's bullpen has been the best in Major League Baseball over the past three years with a 2.76 ERA. That's well ahead of the second-place Royals, who have a 3.18 ERA over that time frame.

Going into 2014, they still have arguably the best closer in the game in Craig Kimbrel, along with Anthony Varvaro, David Carpenter, and Luis Avilan, all of whom were outstanding last season. Jordan Walden also remains with the team as does Jonny Venters, who is looking to return from Tommy John surgery of his own. Those players give the Braves an outstanding bullpen already. Avilan and Venters are also both left-handed, making O'Flaherty a luxury.

However, if the Braves want to keep him they may need to move fast. The Phillies, Nationals and Dodgers have all had their eye on O'Flaherty in free agency, as well. It had been reported that the Braves and O'Flaherty were close to an agreement three weeks ago.

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