Unthinkable Roster Shake-Up in Atlanta Continues with Loss of O'Flaherty

Shane Maples@@BRShaneistakenContributor IJanuary 22, 2014

Atlanta Braves pitcher during Eric O'Flaherty pitches the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday, April 6, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

Eric O'Flaherty has been a part of the Atlanta Braves bullpen since the team claimed him off waivers from Seattle in November of 2008.  

He became an increasingly better pitcher during his time with the team, and in 2011 he partnered with Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel to create the strongest back end of a major league bullpen in years.  That season, according to MLB.com, he became the first reliever in history to record a sub-1.00 ERA with over 70 appearances.

So what in the world is Frank Wren doing by letting O'Flaherty go?  His contract with Oakland (per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports) is valued at $7 million with a possibility of becoming $10 million, which, for an elite reliever, is a great deal.

What could possibly be the ultimate goal in this decision?  If it is a move to save money, that makes no sense at all.  If it is to improve the bullpen, that is absolutely absurd.  The secret was out on O'Flaherty in 2012, when he threw for a 1.73 ERA over 64 appearances of undefeated pitching.  

He not only lived up to the hypehe clearly established himself as one of the game's greatest relievers.

The only feasible explanation for Atlanta allowing him to walk would be his new injury history.  O'Flaherty is coming off of Tommy John surgery, which historically bodes surprisingly well for pitchers, though the fear of the Braves is certainly not unfounded.

Of course, it would not be as big of a deal had this been the only head-scratching decision Atlanta made this offseason.

For starters, the team allowed All-Star catcher Brian McCann go to New York.  The Braves were not going to be able to afford to re-sign him, so this move does not raise as high of a red flag.

John Bazemore/Associated Press

One move does, however.  Tim Hudson was a fan favorite in Atlanta and probably would have loved the opportunity to end his incredible big league career in a Braves jersey.  But the Braves let him go as well, and lost an invaluable presence in the locker room.

Then came a move that can only be defined as crazy.  

Atlanta seriously thought Cincinnati would be interested in sending Brandon Phillips their way for Dan Uggla.

Yes, they thought they could acquire arguably the greatest second baseman in baseball for Uggla.  This is the same Uggla that has hit for an average seemingly in the negatives for two consecutive seasons.  His power is still existent, but so unpredictable that it might as well not be.  He is a player that the entire organization, most fans included, wants out of town.

Tim Hudson's departure makes none other than Dan Uggla the veteran leader of the team, almost forcing Uggla to stay in Atlanta.

The argument can be made (and probably won), however, that losing O'Flaherty is the hardest loss of them all.  The Braves are losing a left-handed specialist out of the pen that locked down seemingly every batter he faced. The team that built its success off of its abnormally great pen is losing one of that pen's building blocks.

There is only one remaining question:  Who goes next?